Terrence McNally, Tony-Winning Playwright, Dies at 81 of Coronavirus Complications

McNally wrote classic plays like “Master Class” as well as musicals such as “Kiss of the Spider Woman”

Last Updated: March 24, 2020 @ 3:45 PM

Terrence McNally, a four-time Tony Award-winning playwright, died on Tuesday of complications from the coronavirus. He was 81.

McNally, a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, won back-to-back Tony Awards for his dramas “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1995) and “Master Class” (1996). He also earned Tonys for the books of the musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993) and “Ragtime” (1998).

Last year, he accepted the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre just as a Broadway revival of his 1982 drama “Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune” opened in an acclaimed production starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.

McNally also wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film version of that two-character drama, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino as a waitress and a short-order cook in a fraught romance. The film, retitled “Frankie and Johnny,” earned Pfeiffer a Golden Globe nomination.

In 1991, he won an Emmy Award for the TV special “Andre’s Mother,” about the lover, mother and grandmother of a young man who has died of AIDS. He later adapted the “American Playhouse” production into the play “Mothers and Sons,” which opened on Broadway in 2014.

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, but raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally attended Columbia University and embedded himself in the urban sophistication of 1960s New York City. Beginning with his first Broadway play, 1965’s “And Things That Go Bump in the Night,” McNally charted a multifaceted career that touched on his diverse interests in subjects such as opera, history and gay culture of the late 20th century.

“Love! Valour! Compassion!” — which followed eight gay male friends summering in upstate New York in the midst of the AIDS epidemic — was also adapted into an acclaimed 1997 indie film starring Jason Alexander, Justin Kirk, John Glover and John Benjamin Hickey.

The following year, his drama “Corpus Christi,” depicting Jesus as a modern-day gay man, prompted death threats against the Off Broadway theater that staged it — and that temporarily canceled the production before reversing itself for a long and successful run.

Other noteworthy productions include the musicals “The Rink” (1984), “The Full Monty” (2000), and “Anastasia” (2017) as well as the dramas “Bad Habits” (1975), “The Ritz” (1975), “Deuce” (2007) and “It’s Only a Play” (2014).

The playwright remained a celebrated part of the Broadway community right up until the end of his long, storied career. “Theater changes hearts, that secret place where we all truly live,” McNally said while accepting his lifetime achievement award at last year’s Tonys. “The world needs artists more than ever to remind us what truth and beauty and kindness really are.”

He is survived by his husband, Tom Kirdahy, whom he wed in 2003 in a civil union ceremony followed by a 2010 wedding.

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