If you thought Olympia Dukakis was tough as a sharp-tongued widow in Steel Magnolias, you haven’t heard about her time growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“The other kids made fun of Greek immigrants, so things could get pretty rough,” Olympia, 89, exclusively tells Closer magazine, on newsstands now. “One time they tied me to a tree, stuffed my mouth with a sock and left me there. After that, I made sure they knew I carried a knife!”
Standing up for herself is something Olympia learned to do early on, but her “rebellious, independent” nature didn’t always sit well with her strict parents. “They were the most important ‘battle’ I had to fight, and I learned to stand my ground,” says the star, who is also the subject of the new documentary Olympia. “My anger became a motor that gave me strength and confidence.”
Olympia would face an even tougher battle after graduating Boston University in 1957. She became addicted to uppers and downers while “trying to keep up with life and its pressures,” she says. Things got so bad that at one point, she even attempted suicide. “I thought, ‘Oh, it would be so easy. I’ll just stand in front of the [oncoming] truck.’ I did, and a woman pushed me out of the way,” she recalls. “I had anger issues from my family and society, and was unsure if I was any good at acting. Sometimes we give in to our insecurities. My family, friends and work made me want to stick around.”
In 1962, she married actor Louis Zorich and the dark clouds lifted. “There was respect, love, friendship, laughter,” Olympia tells Closer. “We supported each other in everything the other person wanted to do in life.”
Their three children — Christina, 55, Peter, 51, and Stefan, 49 — gave Olympia “a sense of belonging” and the chance to do things differently than her own parents. “Whereas my parents had so many rules and regulations, I wanted to allow my kids to be free, to find themselves, whether or not that was the right thing to do,” she says.
When Louis died in 2018, Olympia lost her soulmate and partner of 55 years, but she still finds comfort in the joyful memories of their time together — and in her life today. “I’m grateful to have reached 89, and at my age, I just want to have a good time!”
You can find this story and more in the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now!