Mark Medoff, creator of “Children of a Lesser God,” dies at 79


Mark Medoff, who wrote the play “Children of a Lesser God,” passed away at 79 in New Mexico from cancer. 

The story, written in 1979 and first shown on Broadway in 1980, helped to launch acting careers for several Deaf women over nearly four decades. 

The first was Phyllis Frelich, who won a Tony Award for Best Actress in 1980. The play also won Best Play and Best Actor that year. 

The second is Marlee Matlin, who became an overnight Hollywood star with her role on the 1986 film, eventually winning a Best Actress Oscar. 

The third is Lauren Ridloff, who was in a Broadway revival of the play last year. She would later go on to have a role on “The Walking Dead.” 

The New York Times reported that Medoff was inspired to write the play after Phyllis Frelich told him that there was a lack of roles for deaf actresses. 

Frelich passed away in 2014. 

Matlin tweeted a tribute to him. 

@MarleeMatlin: “Mark Medoff, the brilliant mind behind the Tony Award winning play, “Children Of A Lesser God,” has passed at 79. He insisted and fought the studio that the role be played by a deaf actor; I would not be here as an Oscar winner if it weren’t for him. RIP Dear Mark.” 

Matlin said Medoff fought with the studio to ensure the role was cast by a Deaf actor. 

Shoshannah Stern and Nyle DiMarco also tweeted tributes to him, saying he made a difference in their careers. 

@Shoshannah7: “Mark Medoff, who wrote Children of a Lesser God, changed my life. His creation of Sarah allowed Phyllis Frelich and @MarleeMatlin to inspire me to take the path I’m currently on. Forever honored to have played Sarah for the 30th anniversary revival at @deafwest. Rest In Peace.” 

@NyleDiMarco: “Rest in Peace, Mark Medoff.” [Includes an image of DiMarco posing for a picture with Medoff and a text screenshot where DiMarco writes, “…Thank you for believing in me and allowing me join as Producer for your Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God last year. It was my very first time as Producer…” 

DeafinMedia tweeted an image of a page in Medoff’s play where he insists that any professional production of the play should have deaf actors for the roles of Sarah, Orin, and Lydia. 

@DeafInMedia: “‘Children of a Lesser God’ came about when deaf actress Phyllis Frelich told Mark Medoff that there were no substantive roles for deaf actresses, and he vowed to write one. Later, @MarleeMatlin said, he “fought the studio that the role be played by a deaf actor." RIP Mark Medoff.” [Image of a page from a play with the text, “…The author insists that—in any professional production of this play—the roles of Sarah, Orin, and Lydia be performed by deaf or hearing impaired actors.”

Medoff was a professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces for over 50 years and wrote more than 30 plays. 

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) tweeted her condolences to his family and to the students who loved him.





Deaf in Media:

Gov Grisham: