Frances Sternhagen, the accomplished actress with a theatrical legacy spanning over five decades, marked by two Tony Awards, seven nominations, and iconic performances in productions like Equus, On Golden Pond, and The Heiress, has passed away at the age of 93.
On Monday, Sternhagen peacefully departed due to natural causes, as confirmed by her family. In a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the family expressed ongoing inspiration from her love and life.
Despite her numerous successes on the stage, Sternhagen gained widespread recognition for her television portrayals, notably as the aristocratic Bunny MacDougal in HBO’s Sex and the City and the assertive Esther Clavin in NBC’s Cheers. Her performances in both roles earned her Emmy nominations.
Known for her adept depiction of characters with a no-nonsense and resilient demeanor, Sternhagen gravitated towards roles that were unconventional and eccentric. In a 2002 interview with the Los Angeles Times, she confessed, “I must say it’s fun to play these snobby older ladies. It’s always more fun to be obnoxious. I have known women like that, and I can imitate them, I guess.”
Sternhagen secured her first Tony Award in 1974 for her contributions to various stories in the original run of Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor. She claimed her second Tony in 1995 for her portrayal of the widowed Aunt Lavinia in a revival of The Heiress.
In the 1979 Broadway production of On Golden Pond, she earned a Tony nomination for originating the role of Ethel Thayer, the character played by Katharine Hepburn in the film. Additionally, she received accolades for her roles in Equus (1996), The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1972), Angel (1978), and Morning’s at Seven (2002).
Esther Clavin, portrayed by Sternhagen, entered the Cheers scene in the fifth season. Similar to her on-screen son, the mailman Cliff (John Ratzenberger), she had a penchant for delivering obscure trivia. Despite her often no-nonsense approach, Esther revealed a soft side, expressing to Cliff in her debut appearance in 1986, “You’re my pride and joy. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” with a reflective moment of amazement: “Gee, think of that.”