Throughout Terrence McNally's six decade career, he wrote a series of diverse plays, musicals, operas, films, and television projects

By Dave Quinn
March 24, 2020 04:06 PM
Terrence McNally
Al Pereira/Getty

Terrence McNally, one of the greatest contemporary playwrights in theater, died on Tuesday at the age of 81 due to complications from the coronavirus.

A spokesperson for McNally confirmed his death to PEOPLE.

McNally was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

He was being treated at the Sarasota Memorial Hospital in in Sarasota, Florida at the time of his death.

Born on Nov. 3, 1938 in St. Petersburg, Florida, McNally grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was educated at Columbia University, and also held honorary degrees from the prestigious Juilliard School (1998) and New York University (2019).

Throughout McNally’s six decade career, he wrote a series of diverse plays, musicals, operas, films, and television projects — receiving national acclaim in the process and a slew of awards.

The prolific playwright had his first produced work on Broadway with 1964’s And Things That Go Bump in the Night, a notorious flop that received the ire of theater critics for its frank depiction of homosexuality onstage. But McNally didn’t stop pushing boundaries from then on, chronically much of the gay experience throughout out his 30+ plays, including hits like The Ritz (1975), Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991), Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995), Corpus Christi (1998) and 2014’s Mother and Sons.

Christy Altomare, Derek Klena and the cast of Anastasia
Matthew Murphy

In between those works, McNally tackled other hot-topic issues with plays produced off Broadway and on, his earlier works earning a reputation for the their satirical take on moral complacency in America.

Other works opened McNally up to a much broader audience, including the 1982 farce It’s Only a Play and the 1982 romance Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which was later adapted into a hit 1991 movie with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Eventually, McNally became a go-to collaborator for penning books to musicals. His first credited Broadway musical was 1984’s The Rink, a project he collaborated on with composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. He partnered with them on 1992’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and 2015’s The Visit. 

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens were also frequent collaborators. He worked with them to write the librettos to Ragtime (1996), A Man of No Importance (2002), Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (2005), and Anastasia (2016).

The scripts other popular films were adapted into staged musicals by McNally: The Full Monty (2000) and Catch Me If You Can (2011).

Along the way, McNally picked up many awards, including four Tony awards — two for best play (Love! Valour! Compassion! and 1995’s Master Class) and two for best book of a musical (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime). He was also honored with a lifetime achievement Tony in 2019.

In 1990, McNally won an Emmy for best writing in a miniseries or special for Andre’s Mother, a drama starring Richard Thomas, Sada Thompson, and Sylvia Sidney about a woman coping with her son’s death from AIDS.

McNally is survived by his husband Tom Kirdahy. Thee longtime pair were first partnered n a civil union ceremony in Vermont on December 20, 2003,  before getting married in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2010.

Other surviving family members include brother Peter McNally and his wife Vicky McNally; their son Stephen McNally and his wife Carmen McNally and their daughter Kylie McNally; Mother-in-Law Joan Kirdahy, sister/brother-in-laws Carol Kirdahy, Kevin Kirdahy and his wife Patricia, James Kirdahy and his wife Nora, Kathleen Kirdahy Kay, Neil Kirdahy and his wife Sue.

As of Tuesday morning, coronavirus has taken the lives of at least 615 patients in the United States since its outbreak in January, The New York Times reported. At least 49,619 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, have tested positive for the virus.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDCWHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

Advertisement