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Playwright Terrence McNally dies aged 81

Published 25 March 2020

Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally has died at 81. A survivor of lung cancer, Terrence lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and died yesterday of complications from the coronavirus.

Across a six-decade career, Terrence McNally carved out a title for himself as one of the greatest modern American playwrights. With an incredibly diverse catalogue of plays, musicals and operas, Terrence’s work spanned genres as well as geography, being performed in venues large and small all over the world.

Terrence wrote many acclaimed plays at the beginning of his career in New York, including Noon, Next; And Things That Go Bump In The Night; Sweet Eros and a musical version of East Of Eden with John Steinbeck. Many of his plays throughout the 60s and 70s drew controversy by putting homosexuality at the centre of the stage.

Throughout the 1980s, Terrence’s plays received wide acclaim and attention. Frankie And Johnny In The Clair De Lune reached success with Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham on the stage and was later adapted for the screen, starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. He won an Emmy Award for Best Writing In A Miniseries Or Special for Andre’s Mother, a drama about a mother coping with her son’s death from AIDS.

In the 1990s, Terrence won four Tony Awards for his plays: Best Book Of A Musical in 1993 for Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Best Play in 1995 for Love! Valour! Compassion!, Best Play in 1996 for Master Class and Best Book Of A Musical in 1998 for Ragtime.

Last year, he was the recipient of the Tony Award For Lifetime Achievement as well as the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also named one of Queerty magazine’s top 50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people”.

Terrence often talked about the ability of theatre to bridge gaps created by difference and to bring communities together and told Parade magazine that “the most significant thing a writer can do is reach someone emotionally”.

He is remembered as a trailblazer not only in the arts but in championing gay rights on and off the stage. He is survived by his husband, Tom Kirdahy. 

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