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Terrence McNally, 4-Time Tony Award Winning Playwright, Dead At 81

Acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally accepting a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2019

Playwright Terrence McNally, a four-time Tony Award winner, died Tuesday at the age of 81 from complications to the coronavirus.

He was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Throughout his career, he created richly layered stories that often explored the LGBTQ experience: Love! Valour! Compassion!Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Full Monty, The Ritz, Mothers and Sons.

His work validated and humanized our experiences.

Other McNally plays and musicals include The Rink, Master Class, Ragtime, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,The Lisbon Traviata, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, A Perfect Ganesh (Pulitzer Prize nomination), The Visit and Anastasia.

For his acclaimed efforts, he was honored by the Tony Awards with Best Book of a Musical for both Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1992 and Ragtime in 1998; and Best Play for both Love! Valour! Compassion in 1995 and Master Class in 1996.

He also received 3 Drama Desk Awards for Love! Valour! Compassion, Master Class and Ragtime.

In 2019, he received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

While he wasn’t fond of being called a “gay playwright,” since much of his material wasn’t limited to gay material, it is a topic he visited often.

In a preface to the published version of Love! Valour! Compassion!, he wrote,  “I think I wanted to write about what it’s like to be a gay man at this particular moment in our history.”

“I think I wanted to tell my friends how much they’ve meant to me,” he added. “I think I wanted to tell everyone else who we are when they aren’t around. I think I wanted to reach out and let more people into those places in my heart where I don’t ordinarily welcome strangers.”

For even more insight into the personal life of McNally, please make sure to add the recent documentary of his life, Every Act of Life, to your viewing playlist.

In that my time living in New York City as a working actor coincided with McNally’s heyday, it’s with great fondness that I remember seeing nearly all of the NY productions listed above.

Funny, life-affirming, and deeply human – that’s how I view the emotional landscapes created by McNally. To this day, I believe Ragtime is easily one of the greatest American musicals to arrive on Broadway.

I saw my own life in his plays. I vividly remember having to stifle sobbing when I heard Nathan Lane, during a performance of Love! Valour! Compassion! ask, “Who will be there to hold my hand when I let go?”

My husband worked with McNally on several projects over the years. At the end of each, Michael would receive a hand-written ‘thank you’ note that the word gracious can’t begin to describe.

Rest in power, Terrence McNally.

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