Two-time Tony winner Frances Sternhagen passed away November 27 at the age of 93. News of her death was confirmed by members of her family on social media.
Born January 13, 1930, in Washington, D.C., Ms. Sternhagen showed an aptitude for nuanced performance from a young age. While a student at Vassar College, she was elected as the student head of the Drama Club following a particularly impactful performance as Richard III, which in time led her to public performance and leadership, two of her lifelong passions.
Ms. Sternhagen began her career as a teacher at the Milton Academy in Massachusetts, where she taught acting, singing, and dancing to school children. Starting at 18, she began developing significant artistic relationships with many esteemed regional theatres in the area, including Bryn Mawr and Arena Stage, but her time in the DMV area was suddenly upended when, at 25, she was swept away to Broadway to star as Miss T. Muse in a revival of The Skin of Our Teeth.
The same year, she debuted Off-Broadway in Thieves' Carnival and debuted on television in The Great Bank Robbery. Her meteoric ascent as one of the great stage performers of her generation was undeniable, and by the end of the 1960's, she had starred to great acclaim in an additional seven Broadway productions, including The Carefree Tree, Viva Madison Avenue!, Great Day in the Morning, The Right Honourable Gentleman, You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running, The Cocktail Party, and Cock-a-Doodle Dandy.
On film, Ms. Sternhagen was similarly prolific, if not as publicly lauded: In all, she appeared in 26 films and 51 television programs, racking up multiple Emmy, Satellite, and Saturn nominations in addition to her 1981 win for the film Outland.
On screen, she primarily played character roles, with notable appearances in Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital and Billy Wilder's Fedora, as well as opposite Burt Reynolds in Starting Over and Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights, Big City. She played Farrah Fawcett's mother in See You in the Morning, Richard Farnsworth's wife in Misery, Lillian in Doc Hollywood, and John Lithgow's psychiatrist in Raising Cain. Ms. Sternhagen's final role came in the form of 2014's And So It Goes, Rob Reiner's 2014 comedy drama that centers on two elderly individuals finding purpose and connection later in life. She was also particularly well-known to TV fans as mom of Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) on the Emmy-winning series Cheers.
In all, Ms. Sternhagen appeared on Broadway in a total of 26 productions, as well as an impressive expanse of Off-Broadway productions. She won two Tony Awards, the first in 1974 for Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic) for her performance in the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor, and the second in 1995 for her performance in the revival of The Heiress. She was nominated for an additional five Tony Awards for her work in the original Broadway casts of Equus and On Golden Pond, as well as in Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, the musical Angel, and the 2002 revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven.
Off-Broadway, Ms. Sternhagen was also heavily awarded, picking up three Drama Desk nominations for her work in On Golden Pond and Echoes of the War, as well as a special Irish Repertory Theatre production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night that co-starred her son, Paul Carlin.
Ms. Sternhagen's final Broadway appearance was in 2005, when she starred in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of Edward Albee's Seascape. She continued to appear Off-Broadway through 2013, with her final stage production being The Madrid at at Manhattan Theatre Club. Also in 2013, Ms. Sternhagen was awarded the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement, mirroring her first professional award, when she received the 1955 Obie Award for Distinguished Performance (Actress) for her work in The Admirable Bashville.
Ms. Sternhagen is survived by her six children and nine grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, actor and director Thomas Carlin. A celebration honoring her life will be held in early 2024.