Zoe Caldwell, four-time Tony Award winner, dies at 86
Broadway actress Zoe Caldwell, who won four Tony Awards over the course of her decades-long career, died Feb. 16 from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. She was 86. Her son Charlie Whitehead confirmed the news via a spokesperson.
Caldwell won her first Tony in 1966, for Slapstick Tragedy, a double bill of short Tennessee Williams plays. She went on to win again for 1968’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and 1982’s Medea, and her final Tony Award came in 1995, for her portrayal of famed opera singer Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class.
Her acting career spanned continents, beginning in her native Australia before she joined England’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959 and made her Broadway debut in 1965’s The Devils.
In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, she starred as a stern teacher in the 1930s (a role that won Maggie Smith an Oscar in 1970). She worked sparingly on the big screen, with film credits including Birth, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Zoe Caldwell was born Sept. 14, 1933, in Melbourne. She began her professional career at age 9, in a production of Peter Pan, and went on to work with Melbourne’s Union Theatre Repertory Company. Her American career began as an original member of the company at the renowned Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.
She starred in a dozen Broadway plays over the course of her career, in addition to a robust list of Off Broadway and regional theater credits. In 1968 she married noted theater producer and director Robert Whitehead, who went on to direct her to her third Tony Award in a production of the Greek tragedy Medea.
Audra McDonald, Caldwell’s costar (and fellow Tony winner) on Master Class, mourned her death on Twitter, writing, “My heart is breaking. She was my mentor, my friend, my teacher, my daughter’s namesake and the most brilliant actress and soul I have ever known. I will miss and love her forever. RIP Zoe.”
Caldwell was preceded in death by her husband in 2002. She is survived by two sons, Sam and Charlie, and two grandchildren.