R.I.P Frances Sternhagen, Tony award-winning actress and Willie Ray Johnson on The Closer

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: December 1, 2023, 1:38PM    Tags: The Closer, Willie Ray Johnson, Brenda Leigh Johnson

Frances Sternhagen, a two-time Tony award-winning actress beloved for her Broadway role in Driving Miss Daisy, has died.

The veteran actress' son, Tony Carlin, confirmed that Sternhagen passed away on Monday at her home in New Rochelle, New York. Born on January 13, 1930, in the District of Columbia, her love for performing came when she would make her dad, who had Parkinson's disease, laugh by imitating her classmates at The Potomac School.

She made her big-screen appearance in 1967 as Charlotte Wolf in Up the Down Staircase and later in Starting Over (1979). Other incredible performances include the 1972 production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Equus (1975), Angel (1978), On Golden Pond (1979) and Morning's at Seven (2002). She earned Tony nominations for all five of those projects.

She's best remembered for her Broadway performances but had major roles portraying iconic mothers on television. Sternhagen was Bunny MacDougal on Sex and the City, the overbearing and blunt mother to Cliff Clavin on Cheers and Brenda Leigh Johnson's mom on The Closer.

On The Closer, she was introduced in season two. Willie Ray was the mediator between Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) and her father, and she was intrigued by her daughter's work. Sternhagen's character played a minor yet vital role in the show, especially after the character died in season seven before telling Brenda something she had to say.

The actress specialized in characters with no-nonsense attitudes, adding to her already powerful presence as an actress. She also rose to the top in roles that were out of the box. She thrived at playing characters who were uncomfortable—it was her personal comfort zone.

Sternhagen received her first Tony Award in 1974 for her work in several stories from the original production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor and won another in 1995 for her role as Aunt Lavinia in the revival of The Heiress.

She was 93.

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