Olympia Dukakis, Oscar-winning 'Moonstruck' star, dies at 89

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Copyright 1988 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 1988 file photo, Actress Olympia Dukakis, winner of a Golden Globe for "Best Performance in a Supporting Role" and Cher, winner of the "Best Performance by an Actress in a musical or comedy", hold the awards they received for performances in the hit movie "Moonstruck" at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Olympia Dukakis, the veteran stage and screen actress whose flair for maternal roles helped her win an Oscar as Chers mother in the romantic comedy Moonstruck, has died. She was 89. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – Olympia Dukakis, the veteran stage and screen actor whose flair for maternal roles helped her win an Oscar as Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” has died. She was 89.

Dukakis died Saturday morning in her home in New York City, according to Allison Levy, her agent at Innovative Artists. A cause of death was not immediately released, but her family said in a statement that she had been in failing health for months.

Dukakis won her Oscar through a surprising chain of circumstances, beginning with author Nora Ephron’s recommendation that she play Meryl Streep’s mother in the film version of Ephron’s book “Heartburn.” Dukakis got the role, but her scenes were cut from the film. To make it up to her, director Mike Nichols cast her in his hit play “Social Security.” Director Norman Jewison saw her in that role and cast her in “Moonstruck.”

Dukakis won the Oscar for best supporting actress and Cher took home the trophy for best actress.

She referred to her 1988 win as “the year of the Dukakii” because it was also the year Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, her cousin, was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high over her head and called out: “OK, Michael, let’s go!”

In 1989, her Oscar statuette was stolen from Dukakis’ New Jersey home.

“We’re not pretentious,” her husband, actor Louis Zorich, said at the time. “We kept the Oscar in the kitchen.”

Dukakis, who was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, had yearned to be an actor from an early age and had hoped to study drama in college. Her Greek immigrant parents insisted she pursue a more practical education, so she studied physical therapy at Boston University on a scholarship from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.