News & Opinion

Terrence McNally: 1938-2020

Terrence McNally, Tony-award winning playwright, dies of complications due to coronavirus at 81

The Daily Beast

March 24, 2020

Terrence McNally, the 81-year-old Tony Award-winning playwright of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class,” died at a Florida hospital.

Terrence McNally, the four-time Tony Award-winning playwright and one of the leading chroniclers on stage of modern gay life, has died of complications arising from coronavirus.

The 81-year-old died Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida.

McNally won his first Tony for writing the book of Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993). He won two Best Play Tonys in 1995 and 1996; the first for what many consider to be his master-work, Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995), about the lives of a group of gay men. He also won for Master Class (1996), which focuses on an imperious Maria Callas looking back on her life. McNally won his fourth Tony for writing the book of the musical for Ragtime (1998). He won a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in in 2019.

McNally was nominated for three other Tonys in 2001 for writing the book of The Full Monty; for Best Play in 2014 for Mothers and Sons; and for the book of the musical The Visit in 2015.

He also won an Emmy Award in 1990 for writing the script of the film André’s Mother, adapted from his play of the same name, about a mother confronting the death of her son from AIDS.

In recent years, his breakthrough 1987 odd-couple play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, was last year revived on Broadway in a critically hailed production starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon. His last-performed play, Fire and Air, about the Ballets Russes and Sergei Diaghilev, premiered at the New York Theater Workshop in 2018.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of the many celebrities expressing their condolences online, tweeted that he was “heartbroken” over McNally’s death, calling him “a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly. Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.”

In a preface to a published version of Love! Valour! Compassion!, published in 1995, McNally 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. 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. I think a lot of things about this play, but mainly I think it’s much too soon to know what they are. These things take time.”

McNally is survived by his husband, the Broadway producer and lawyer Tom Kirdahy, whom he married first in 2003 and again in 2010.

In a moving New York Times interview in 2017, McNally said of Kirdahy, “I do believe in love at first sight. It just seemed right from the very beginning. I had lost a partner [producer Gary Bonasorte] from AIDS the year before [in 2000; he and Kirdahy met in 2001]. I was 63 at the time and didn’t expect to meet someone again. We’ve spent almost every night together since.”