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Terrence McNally

Terrence McNally (1938–2020), Tony-winning playwright who dramatized gay lives

by Linnea Crowther

Terrence McNally was an acclaimed playwright who dramatized gay lives in Tony-winning plays and musicals including “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

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Died: March 24, 2020 (Who else died on March 24?)


Details of death: Died at a hospital in Sarasota, Florida of complications of COVID-19 at the age of 81.

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A prolific career: McNally focused on gay characters from the earliest days of his career, beginning with “And Things That Go Bump in the Night,” his 1964 Broadway debut. Though it fared poorly with audiences, McNally soon worked his way to Broadway hits including “The Ritz” (1975) and off-Broadway successes including “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” (1987) and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991). The 1990s brought major accolades for McNally, beginning with “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1992), an adaptation of the novel that won him the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. He’d win three more Tonys in the 1990s: Best Play for “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1994) and “Master Class” (1995), and Best Book of a Musical for “Ragtime” (1996). His 1998 play “Corpus Christi” met with controversy as it portrayed Jesus and his disciples as gay men. Later projects included “The Full Monty” (2000), “The Visit” (2001), and “Mothers and Sons” (2014). In 2019, McNally was honored with the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

Notable quote: “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. 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 in to those places in my heart where I don’t ordinarily welcome strangers.” —from McNally’s preface to “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

What people said about him: “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, creator of “Hamilton”

“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.” —“Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander

“I am terribly sad that we have lost Terrence McNally, a gift to the theater and to all who knew him. His vast body of work — droll and savage, down-to-earth and spiritual, sly and humane — is a treasure, and his contribution to LGBT representation is a legacy in itself.” —journalist Mark Harris

“Terrence McNally did so much to humanize and validate LGBT experiences and lives. Such a loss.” —journalist Sewell Chan

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Mart Crowley (1935 – 2020), “Boys in the Band” playwright
  • Neil Simon (1927 – 2018), “The Odd Couple” playwright
  • Ntozake Shange (1948 – 2018), pioneering black feminist poet and playwright

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