Playwright Terrence McNally dies aged 81 of coronavirus complications

The Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally has died at 81.

The writer of Kiss of the Spider Woman and Frankie and Johnny was a survivor of lung cancer who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He died of complications from the coronavirus, his spokesman confirmed.

McNally’s long career began in 1961 when John Steinbeck asked him to work together on a number of projects, including a musical version of East of Eden. Throughout the 60s, McNally wrote a number of plays, including Noon, Next directed by Elaine May and And Things That Go Bump in the Night, which drew criticism at the time for its gay content.

One of his most notable successes came in 1987 with the off-Broadway production of Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune which originally starred Kathy Bates and F Murray Abraham. It was later made into a film starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer and made it to Broadway in 2002 picking up a Tony nomination for best revival the following year.

McNally’s 1992 musical Kiss of the Spider Woman won him his first of four Tony awards. His other major works included Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class and Ragtime. He was awarded the Tony for lifetime achievement in 2019

“To think how reviled my first play was,” McNally said in an interview last year soon after his win. “One review began: ‘The American theater would be a better place this morning if Terrence McNally’s parents had smothered him in his cradle.’ That’s quite a journey, isn’t it?”

Tributes have arrived on Twitter from stage luminaries including Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Heartbroken over the loss of Terrence McNally, a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly,” he tweeted. “Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.”

Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander tweeted: “I worked for and with Terrence McNally twice in my life and they were two of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. His work was vital, intense, hysterical and rare. My hope is that he will inspire writers for years to come.”

Actor Patrick Wilson, who starred in two shows written by McNally, including The Full Monty, also tweeted: “He had a monumental impact on my career and will be missed.”

Chita Rivera, who starred in four of McNally’s shows released the following statement: “A huge part of me is gone. But then it’s not. Terrence wouldn’t like that. He helped to make me who I am as a person. He is the epitome of love and friendship. Only God knows how much I will miss him.”

He is survived by his husband, Tom Kirdahy.

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