Frances Sternhagen, the Tony award-winning actress celebrated for her portrayals of formidable women on both stage and screen, has passed away at the age of 93 in her New York residence. Widely recognized for her roles in productions such as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Cheers,” “Misery,” and “Sex and the City,” Sternhagen’s son, John Carlin, confirmed her peaceful passing on Instagram. In his heartfelt post, he shared, “Frannie, 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.”
Sternhagen’s illustrious career earned her two Tony Awards, both in the category of featured actress in a play. These accolades were bestowed for her compelling performances in two distinct roles: as Aunt Lavinia in the 1995 Broadway revival of “The Heiress,” adapted from Henry James’ novel “Washington Square,” and for her portrayal of multiple characters in “The Good Doctor,” Neil Simon’s 1973 interpretation of Chekhov’s works.
Frances Sternhagen Carrer
However, Frances Sternhagen gained widespread recognition beyond Broadway for her memorable screen performances, notably as Cliff Clavin’s mother in Cheers, Dr. John Carter’s aristocratic grandmother on ER, and Trey MacDougal’s mother on Sex and the City. Her notable contributions earned her three Emmy nominations, two for Cheers and one for Sex and the City.
In more recent times, she took on the role of Kyra Sedgwick’s mother in the police procedural drama The Closer. Sternhagen’s presence extended to over two dozen films, including Misery, Bright Lights, Big City, Julie & Julia, The Hospital, and the 1983 film Independence Day.
Throughout her illustrious stage career, she received numerous Tony nominations, showcasing her talent in productions like On Golden Pond, Equus, Angel, and revivals of Morning’s at Seven and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. In 2013, she was honored with a lifetime achievement Obie award.
Born on January 13, 1930, Frances Hussey Sternhagen was the only child of John Meier Sternhagen, a United States tax court judge, and Gertrude (Wyckoff) Sternhagen, a First World War nurse turned homemaker. She attended the Potomac School and the Madeira School, both in Virginia, before enrolling at Vassar College. Although her initial focus was history, she was persuaded by an adviser to explore drama.
After graduating in 1951, Sternhagen briefly taught at Milton Academy in Massachusetts and unsuccessfully auditioned for roles at the Brattle Street Theater in nearby Cambridge. She returned to Washington, took theater courses at the Catholic University of America, and began appearing in Arena Stage productions.
Her New York stage debut at age 25 was in Jean Anouilh’s Thieves’ Carnival at the Cherry Lane Theater. In 1956, she won her first Obie for The Admirable Bashville, followed by another in 1965 for her performances in The Room and A Slight Ache.
Like many dedicated actors, Sternhagen consistently landed small television roles, including appearances on the soap opera Love of Live and various commercials. She continued working into her 80s, with her final stage performance in the off-Broadway play The Madrid at New York’s City Center, portraying the mother of Edie Falco. Her last film role was in the 2014 comic drama And So It Goes, where she played a wise, chain-smoking real estate agent alongside Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.
Sternhagen was married to fellow actor Thomas Carlin, whom she first met at Catholic University, from 1956 until his death in 1991. She is survived by the couple’s six children: sons Tony, Paul, Peter, and John; daughters Amanda Carlin Sanders and Sarah Carlin; nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.