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Broadway playwright Terrence McNally dies from coronavirus

Terrence McNally, one of America’s great playwrights whose prolific career included Tony Awards for the plays “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class” and the musicals “Ragtime” and “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” has died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 81.

McNally died Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. McNally was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic inflammatory lung disease, McNally’s spokesman Matt Polk said.

The coronavirus, COVID-19, is deadlier to older patients and those people who are already immunocompromised or have underlying health issues. 

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Terrence McNally Coronavirus

Terrence McNally and his husband, Tom Kirdahy, attend the 73rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

McNally identified as a gay writer and wrote with humor and intelligence about homophobia, love, and AIDS, and his career spanned six decades.

McNally was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1996.

In 2019, the Tonys gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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McNally’s 1991 play “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” about two married couples who spend a weekend at a summer house on Fire Island, was a landmark play about AIDS. 

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The house has been willed to Sally Truman by her brother who has just died of AIDS, and it soon becomes evident that both couples are afraid to get in the swimming pool that Sally’s brother enjoyed using.

In 1990, McNally won an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Miniseries or Special for “Andre’s Mother,” a drama about a woman trying to cope with her son’s death from AIDS.

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McNally’s 1975 play “The Ritz” was a comedic farce that became one of the first plays with unapologetic gay characters to reach a mainstream audience. It’s set in a gay bathhouse in Manhattan, where an unsuspecting heterosexual businessman has taken refuge from his homicidal brother-in-law, who also is a mobster. The film version hit the silver screens in 1976.

McNally also explored gay themes  in the book for the musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” for which he won his first Tony Award.

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McNally and his partner, Thomas Kirdahy, married in Vermont in 2003, and in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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