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Cheers and Sex and the City actor Frances Sternhagen dies aged 93

The two-time Tony Award-winner also appeared in ‘Cheers’, ‘On Golden Pond’, and ‘The Heiress’

Kevin E G Perry
Wednesday 29 November 2023 20:40 GMT
Frances Sternhagen in 2010
Frances Sternhagen in 2010 (Getty Images)

Sex and the City actor Frances Sternhagen has died. She was 93.

Her son, John Carlin, confirmed her death on Instagram. “Frannie,” he wrote. “Mom. Frances Sternhagen. On Monday night, Nov 27, she died peacefully at her home, a month and a half shy of her 94th birthday … Fly on, Frannie. The curtain goes down on a life so richly, passionately, humbly and generously lived.”

As well as being a well-known Broadway star in New York, where she won two Tony awards, Sternhagen was famous for playing Charlotte’s mother-in-law Bunny MacDougal on Sex and the City and Cliff’s mother Esther Clavin on Cheers. She received Emmy nominations for both roles.

She also appeared on The Closer and on ER as Dr John Carter's grandmother.

“I must say it’s fun to play these snobby older ladies," Sternhagen told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “It’s always more fun to be obnoxious. I have known women like that, and I can imitate them, I guess.”

Sternhagen attends the opening night party for ‘Seascape’ at The Tavern on the Green in 2005 (Getty Images)

Sternhagen was born in Washington D.C. on 13 January 1930. Her father was a tax court judge and her mother had served as a nurse during World War I.

She began her acting career in 1948 with performances in The Glass Menagerie and Angel Street at a Bryn Mawr summer theater in Pennsylvania. She made her Broadway debut a little over a decade later in 1955, playing Miss T. Muse in The Skin of Our Teeth.

Her film debut came in Up the Down Staircase in 1967, before she returned to Broadway. She won her first Tony in 1974 for her perfomance in Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, and her second decades later in 1995 for playing Aunt Lavinia in a revival of The Heiress.

She received many more Tony nominations throught her career, including for originating the role of Ethel Thayer in the 1979 Broadway production of On Golden Pond and for playing Dora Strang, the mother of an emotionally disturbed son, in Equus in 1996.

Her final screen credit was in the 2014 Rob Reiner romantic comedy And So It Goes, which also starred Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.

Sternhagen married Thomas Carlin, a fellow Broadway actor, in 1956. They had acted together in The Skin of Our Teeth and fell in love during a production of Thieves’ Carnival in New York. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1991.

She is survived by their six children, Paul, Amanda, Tony, Sarah, Peter, and John, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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