Tony-Winning Stage and Screen Actress Frances Sternhagen Dies at 93

Frances Sternhagen has received two Tony Awards, as well as nominations for Drama Desk Awards, and Emmys.

By: Nov. 29, 2023

BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that stage and screen actress Frances Sternhagen has died at age 93.

A statement from her children confirmed the news: "It is with great sadness that we share the news that our dear mother, actress Frances Sternhagen died peacefully of natural causes on November 27th, 2023 at the age of 93.  She is survived by her 6 children, 9 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  A celebration of her remarkable career and life is planned for mid January, near her 94th birthday. We continue to be inspired by her love and life."

Sternhagen started her career teaching acting, singing, and dancing to school children at the Milton Academy in Massachusetts. She made her Broadway debut in 1955 as Miss T. Muse in The Skin of Our Teeth. She also made her off-Broadway debut the same year in Thieves' Carnival, By the following year, she had won her first Obie Award for her role in The Admirable Bashville.

Sternhagen has won two Tony Awards, for Best Supporting Actress, in 1974 for the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor and in 1995 for the revival of The Heiress. She has been nominated for Tony Awards five other times, including for her roles in the original Broadway casts of Equus (1975) and On Golden Pond (1979), as well as for Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (1972), the musical Angel (1978), and the 2002 revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven.

In 1988, Sternhagen portrayed the title character in Driving Miss Daisy. Her off-Broadway awards include two Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Play in 1998, for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and in 2005, for the World War I drama Echoes of the War.

Sternhagen appeared as the Daughter in the original 1971 Broadway production of Edward Albee's All Over with Colleen Dewhurst and Jessica Tandy. In the summer of 2005, she starred in the Broadway production of Steel Magnolias along with Marsha Mason, Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, Lily Rabe, and Rebecca Gayheart. She also starred in the 2005 revival of Edward Albee's Seascape, produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Booth Theater on Broadway.

In 2013, Sternhagen was awarded the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Sternhagen's film credits include Up the Down Staircase (1967), Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital (1971), Two People (1973), Billy Wilder's Fedora (1978), Starting Over (1979), Outland (1981), Bright Lights, Big City (1988), See You in the Morning (1989), Misery (1990), Doc Hollywood (1991), Raising Cain (1992), The Mist (2007), Dolphin Tale (2011), and And So It Goes (2014), her last acting role before retirement.

She may be best known to TV audiences as Esther Clavin, mother of John Ratzenberger's Boston postman character Cliff Clavin, on the long-running series Cheers, for which she received two Emmy Award nominations.

Other television credits include Millicent Carter on ER; Bunny MacDougal, mother of Trey, Charlotte's first husband on Sex and the City (for which she received another Emmy Award nomination); Willie Rae Johnson (mother of Brenda Leigh Johnson, played by Kyra Sedgwick) on The Closer; and Law & Order, among other network dramas and sitcoms.

She worked for many years in soap operas such as Another World, The Secret Storm, Love of Life, The Doctors, and she played two roles on One Life to Live. She recorded a voice-over for a May 2002 episode of The Simpsons ("The Frying Game"). She is also recognized as Mrs. Marsh from a series of television commercials for Colgate toothpaste that aired in the 1970s.

Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter Keddy