Terrence McNally, Tony Award-Winning Playwright, Dies From Coronavirus Complications

McNally’s career spanned more than 60 years across the world of entertainment.

Terrence McNally has died.
Terrence McNally has died.
(© David Gordon)

Terrence McNally, one of America's foremost playwrights, died March 24 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, from complications due to coronavirus. McNally, 81, was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic COPD.

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 3, 1939, and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally graduated from Columbia in 1960 with a degree in English. He began his career as a news reporter, a stage manager, and a tutor for John Steinbeck's two children before beginning his career as a playwright in the 1960s.

McNally's first produced play was The Side of the Door, presented off-Broadway in 1963. His first Broadway production, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, debuted in 1965 and ran for two weeks after scathing reviews. Off-Broadway, he found his footing in comedies, which he continued to write into the 1970s, including the Broadway farce The Ritz (1975), which was adapted into a film the next year.

The 1980s saw McNally's first foray into the world of musicals, with The Rink in 1984. As the 1990s began, the AIDS epidemic reached a fever pitch of public awareness, and McNally's writing pivoted from comedy into drama, with a several works dealing directly with the crisis, including Andre's Mother (1990), which won an Emmy for Best Writing in a Miniseries or Special; and Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991).

Over the course of his career, McNally was awarded four Tony Awards: 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. His credits in the 2000s included the books for The Full Monty (Tony nomination), Catch Me If You Can, The Visit (Tony nomination), and Anastasia.

His final original play to be staged in New York was titled Fire & Air, and it premiered at Classic Stage Company in 2018. A revised version, called Immortal Longings, premiered at the Zach Theatre in Texas in 2019. McNally's beloved romance Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune was revived on Broadway Broadway in the summer of 2019 in celebration of his 80th birthday, in a production that starred Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.

McNally is survived by his husband, Tom Kirdahy, whom he married in Washington, DC, on April 6, 2010, after a civil union in Vermont in 2003, as well as other family and friends. Donations can be made in McNally's name to BC/EFA and the Dramatist Guild Foundation, which he served for decades as a councilor and vice president.