Playwright Terrence McNally died Tuesday due to complications from COVID-19. McNally, who won an Emmy and multiple Tony awards, was known for productions like Master Class, The Full Monty and The Ritz. He was 81.
McNally was diagnosed with lung cancer decades ago and the disease cost him portions of both lungs, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He had since lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The acclaimed writer passed away at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. He is survived by husband, Tom Kirdahy.
McNally won four Tony awards over his six-decade career, the first for his book for the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993. He won Best Play in 1995 and 1996 for Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class respectively. In 1998, he took home an award for Best Book of a Musical for Ragtime. In June, he was honored with the 2019 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
"Lifetime achievement, not a moment too soon," McNally said onstage to laughter. "I love being a playwright. The hours are flexible, and you don’t have to wear a tie — unless you’re invited to the Tonys."
McNally made his Broadway debut in 1965 with And Things That Go Bump in the Night, which was poorly reviewed. In his June speech, McNally said he loved being a playwright even when that "crashed and burned."
"John Steinbeck told me to get right back on the horse. If you ain't been thrown, you ain't rode," he recalled. (McNally was hired by the Of Mice and Men writer to tutor his two teenage sons on a yearlong family trip around the world.)
McNally, who came out as gay in the late 50s, was one of the first playwrights to explore gay characters.
"I’m a playwright. I think the era when we need to categorize people is over. I went from always being 'the gay playwright Terrence McNally' to just being Terrence McNally. I’m glad to have been alive to see that happen," he told the New York Times last year. "It was always honorable to be a gay man and a gay writer. But I think categorizing people that way marginalizes them."
In the same interview, McNally recalled another conversation he had with Steinbeck who warned him, "Don’t become a playwright. It’ll break your heart."
"I remember it vividly. I think he meant failing in the theater is a very public humiliation. When a show of mine is not going well, and I’m sitting in the audience, I don’t need a critic to tell me. I can feel it," McNally shared, adding that being a playwright broke his heart "plenty of times."
"But it’s filled my heart, too," he explained. "And I picked myself up and started all over again several times, which is all you can do in life."
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Alexander and James Corden are among the celebrities mourning McNally.
Heartbroken over the loss of Terrence McNally, a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly. Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 24, 2020
My heart has cracked wide open learning of this loss. Terrence McNally will always be one of my great inspirations. Thank you for all you created. All you’ve left us with. https://t.co/AmZV30mSAF— Dustin Lance Black (@DLanceBlack) March 24, 2020
Please remember the brilliant Terrence McNally, “The playwright leaves a legacy of slowly changing people's minds by changing their hearts first.” He will be missed ❤️ https://t.co/jWm3gvX0YS— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) March 24, 2020
We lost a great artist today. 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. #RIPTerrenceMcNally— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) March 24, 2020
Saddened to hear of the passing of Terrence McNally. He was an absolute gentleman and his commitment to the theatre was unwavering. He will be missed by so many of us x— James Corden (@JKCorden) March 24, 2020
A huge loss. I was fortunate enough to grow up in NYC and could see myself in his plays long before the rest of Hollywood caught up. Wildly prolific and wonderful. Thank you Terrence McNally. ❤️🌈 https://t.co/PGeABycdhX— billy eichner (@billyeichner) March 24, 2020
Terrence McNally was a legend among legends on Broadway. If you are an actor, there's a good chance you have performed one of his works. If not, you surely will in your career, he was that prolific and gifted. Ah, my heart breaks at the news! https://t.co/N71IQcStFH— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) March 24, 2020
Heartbroken about Terrence McNally. A brilliant writer and a lovely gentleman. #LoveValourCompassion indeed— Andy Cohen (@Andy) March 24, 2020
McNally is also survived by brother Peter McNally and his wife Vicky, their son Stephen McNally and his wife Carmen McNally and their daughter Kylie McNally.
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