Acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally has died of complications due to coronavirus. The author of Master Class, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Love! Valour! Compassion!, among many other major works, was a lung cancer survivor with chronic pulmonary disease, and died Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, FL. He was 81.
McNally’s death was confirmed by his spokesperson Matt Polk. The Tony Award-winning playwright is survived by his husband, Broadway producer Tom Kirdahy.
One of the greatest American playwrights of his generation, McNally was a four-time Tony Award winner, recipient of the 2019 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, and 1994 Pulitzer Prize nominee. He wrote landmark and popular plays and musicals including Master Class, Ragtime, The Ritz, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, The Full Monty, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink and And Things That Go Bump in the Night. His more recent productions include Anastasia and Mothers and Sons.
With his death, McNally becomes the nation’s highest profile victim of COVID-19 to date.
McNally’s body of work was not only praised by critics and embraced by audiences, it stands as a landmark in gay theater, with frank, affectionate, shrewd and witty portrayals of gay life dating back at least to 1975’s bathhouse-set comedy The Ritz and continuing through such productions as Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Mothers and Sons, The Lisbon Traviata and Lips Together, Teeth Apart.
Confronting the AIDS epidemic both directly (Love! Valour! Compassion!, Mothers and Sons) and obliquely if no less powerfully: Lips Together, Teeth Apart debuted Off Broadway in 1992 with a cast starring Christine Baranski, Swoosie Kurtz, Nathan Lane and Anthony Heald, and followed two heterosexual couples as they spend a Fourth of July weekend at Fire Island Pines in a house inherited from a man who had recently died of AIDS.
The playwright also confronted homophobia, both onstage (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and off: Corpus Christi, a 1997 contemporary take on the New Testament in which Jesus and his disciples were portrayed as gay men, prompted threats of violence against the Manhattan Theatre Club. McNally’s longtime theatrical home canceled the production, drawing outrage from the theater community. The decision was quickly reversed, and the play was staged as picketers protested outside.
“Heartbroken over the loss of Terrence McNally,” tweeted Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly. Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.”
Following his Broadway debut in 1965 with the poorly received And Things That Go Bump in the Night, McNally focused on one-act Off Broadway plays, the most widely known of which was Next, a 1967 play directed by Elaine May.
McNally would go on to win four Tonys, including for plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, and the books for musicals Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994 for A Perfect Ganesh.
Three of McNally’s musicals were collaborations with composer John Kander and lyricist Freb Ebb (The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Visit) and starred Chita Rivera. His collaborations with Lane included the stage version of Love! Valour! Compassion! (Jason Alexander played the role in the 1997 film) and The Lisbon Traviata.
McNally’s roster of credits, featuring many developed at the Manhattan Theater Club, include Anastasia (2017), Mothers and Sons (2014), It’s Only A Play (2014), Catch Me If You Can (2011), Master Class (2011, 1995), Ragtime (2009, 1998), The Ritz (2007, 1983, 1975), The Stuff of Dreams (2005), Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (2002), The Full Monty (2000), Corpus Christi (1997) Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991), The Lisbon Traviata (1989), The Rink (1984) and And Things That Go Bump in the Night (1965).
Film credits include The Ritz (1976), Frankie and Johnny (1991) and Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997). For television he wrote Andre’s Mother (1990), The Last Mile (1992), Common Ground (2000) and Mama Malone (1984).
A passionate devote of opera — as evidenced in The Lisbon Traviata starring Lane as a die-hard fan of Maria Callas — McNally wrote the librettos to The Food of Love (1999), Dead Man Walking (2000), Three Decembers (2008) and Great Scott (2015).
A documentary about the playwright, Every Act of Life, premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival (and subsequently aired on PBS’ American Masters). Participants included a long list of theater’s greatest names, a reflection of the number who were touched or influenced by McNally’s work. They included Lane, Patrick Wilson, Joe Mantello, F. Murray Abraham, Jon Robin Baitz, Baranski, Zoe Caldwell, Bryan Cranston, Tyne Daly, Jason Danieley, Edie Falco, John Glover, Heald, Larry Kramer, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Rivera, Micah Stock, Meryl Streep and Richard Thomas.
In addition to his husband, McNally is survived by brother Peter McNally and his wife Vicky McNally, and their son Stephen McNally; his wife Carmen McNally and their daughter Kylie McNally; and extended family.