Actress Zoe Caldwell, Tony winner for 'Medea,' dies at 86

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FILE - In this June 2, 1996, file photo, Zoe Caldwell holds her award for Leading Actress in a Play for her role in "Master Class" at the 50th Annual Tony Awards in New York. Caldwell, a four-time Tony Award winner famous for portraying larger-than-life characters, has died. Her son Charlie Whitehead said Caldwell died peacefully Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, at her home in Pound Ridge, New York. She was 86. Whitehead said her death was due to complications from Parkinson's disease. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm, File)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Zoe Caldwell, a four-time Tony Award winner who brought humanity to larger-than-life characters, whether it be the dotty schoolteacher Miss Jean Brodie, an aging opera star Maria Callas or the betrayed, murderous Medea, has died. She was 86.

Her son Charlie Whitehead said Caldwell died peacefully Sunday at her home in Pound Ridge, New York. Whitehead said her death was due to complications from Parkinson's disease.

The Australian-born actress played in regional theaters around the English-speaking world before becoming the toast of Broadway in 1968, and winning her second Tony, for "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

Among her other characters were Cleopatra, Saint Joan, Mother Courage and authors Colette and Lillian Hellman. As she matured, she accepted only roles that offer a particular challenge. If she thought, "Oh, I can do that," she didn't want to do them, she said in 1986.

Three of her four Tonys came in collaborations with her husband, Robert Whitehead, who was one of Broadway's most prolific producers of serious drama.

She cited his influence in her decision to do "Medea," the ancient Greek drama of a woman who is betrayed by her lover and kills their children in revenge. It won her a third Tony in 1982.

"Medea wasn't a character I believed in until my Robert started to talk to me about her in human terms," she told The New York Times a few days after the Tony ceremony. "I suddenly understood how a creative force of nature can become destructive if it is mucked up, polluted, depurified — like the atom."

Times critic Frank Rich cited the flashes of sensuality — which she said derived from the study of Greek painting and sculpture — and wit that she brought to the character.