Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally died Tuesday from complications due to coronavirus at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida, according to a representative. He was 81.
McNally, who was a lung cancer survivor with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was frequently described as the “bard of American theater.”
His first original work, “And Things That Go Bump in the Night,” ran at the Royale Theater for two weeks in 1965 and was criticized for portraying an openly gay character. From there, McNally went on to write comedies that appeared off-Broadway and on Broadway, including the 1975 play “The Ritz,” which was adapted into a film by Richard Lester the next year. He won the first of four Tony Awards in 1993 for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” a play about a gay window dresser serving jail time in Argentina.
In 2018, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters — one of the highest accolades celebrating artistic merit in the United States — and in 2019, he received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I think theater teaches us who we are, what our society is, where we are going. I don’t think theater can solve the problems of a society, nor should it be expected to,” McNally said in a speech to members of the League of American Theatres and Producers. “But plays can provide a forum for the ideas and feelings that can lead a society to decide to heal and change itself.”
He is survived by his husband, Tom Kirdahy, and his brother, Peter McNally.