A 'Familiar Maternal Face on TV' Dead at 93

Frances Sternhagen acted on Broadway, as well as the big and small screens
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 30, 2023 1:00 AM CST
A 'Familiar Maternal Face on TV' Dead at 93
Actress Frances Sternhagen attends the premiere of "Julie & Julia" in New York, on July 30, 2009.   (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)

Frances Sternhagen, the veteran character actor who won two Tony Awards and became a familiar maternal face to TV viewers later in life in such shows as Cheers, ER, Sex and the City, and The Closer, has died, the AP reports. She was 93. Sternhagen died peacefully of natural causes Monday her son, John Carlin, said in a statement posted to Instagram on Wednesday. "Fly on, Frannie," he wrote. "The curtain goes down on a life so richly, passionately, humbly, and generously lived." Sternhagen's publicist confirmed the death and said it occurred in New Rochelle, New York.

Sternhagen won a Tony for best featured actress in a play in 1974 for her role in Neil Simon's The Good Doctor and a second one in 1995 for a revival of The Heiress. Her last turn on Broadway was in Seascape in 2005. She was nominated for Tonys four other times, for starring or featured roles in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Equus, Angel, and Morning's at Seven. In 2013, she played Edie Falco's mother in the off-Broadway play The Madrid. She made her film debut in Up the Down Staircase in 1967, and acted in many movies after that including Misery, Doc Hollywood, Raising Cain, and Bright Lights Big City.

TV viewers knew her for playing the rich grandmother of Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) in the long-running ER. On Cheers she was the know-it-all mother of postman Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger). The role brought her two Emmy nominations. More recently, she had a recurring role in Sex and the City as Bunny MacDougal, the strong-minded mother-in-law of Charlotte (Kristin Davis), which brought her a third Emmy nomination, and played Kyra Sedgwick's mother in The Closer. Soap opera fans in the 1960s knew her in Love of Life as Toni Prentiss Davis, who carried a gun and went mad.

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"I have been very fortunate," Sternhagen told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California, in 2002. "And I think a lot of that is because I'm considered a character actor—which really means you can do a variety of things. It doesn't mean that you can't do leading parts, because I have. But you're not limited to playing yourself." She kept up a flourishing career while at the same time raising six children. (More on her remarkable life here.)

(More obituary stories.)

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