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Mark Medoff, Tony Award-Winning ‘Children of a Lesser God’ Playwright, Dies at 79

Marlee Matlin won an Oscar for her role in the 1986 film adaptation

Mark Medoff, the prolific playwright and educator best known for his 1979 play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday of undisclosed causes. He was 79.

His death was announced on Facebook by his daughter, Jessica Medoff Bunchman. The Las Cruces Sun News reported that he was battling cancer at the time of his death.

“It’s heartbreaking to see him move on from this place, but so heartwarming to remember the enormous love he gave,” Medoff Bunchman wrote Tuesday.

Born in 1940 in Illinois and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, Medoff studied at the University of Miami and Stanford, beginning his career in theater in 1966 with his first play, “The Wager.”

He wrote prolifically over the next decade, but his breakthrough came with “Children of a Lesser God.” The play, which follows the complicated relationship between a deaf woman and her former teacher, was a critical and popular success, winning Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play for star John Rubinstein.

The 1986 film adaptation, co-written by Medoff and Hesper Anderson, was similarly successful. Starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, it was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Matlin winning for Best Actress. Matlin remains the only deaf performer to win an Oscar.

Medoff’s other plays include 1974’s “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” and most recently, “Marilee and Baby Lamb: Assassination of an American Goddess” in 2015. His other screenplays include “Clara’s Heart” in 1988, notable as the debut of Neil Patrick Harris, and the 1992 film adaptation of the novel “City of Joy,” starring Patrick Swayze.

Medoff also taught, and served as a professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces for more than 50 years. Beginning in the English department, he later transferred to the school’s Theatre Arts department, and co-founded its American Southwest Theatre Company in 2005.

He’s survived by his second wife, Stephanie, their three children, and several grandchildren.

On Twitter, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham paid tribute to Medeoff. “He selflessly invested in the development of countless actors and writers,” she wrote. “Our state is better for his decades of commitment.”

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