Justin Walters / AP
Mark Medoff, whose Tony Award-winning play Children of a Lower God opened the stage for deaf actresses, died Tuesday at his home in Las Cruces, NM, at the age of 79.
He had multiple myeloma and kidney failure, the Associated Press said, citing his daughter Jessica Bunchman.
Medoff wrote 30 pieces and is best known for the groundbreaking Children of a Lesser God story, known to a young deaf woman and her love affair with her language teacher.
The piece was inspired by Medoff's encounter with the deaf actress Phyllis Frelich, who told him that there are no stage roles for deaf actresses. Medoff's answer was his promise to write a play for her.
Children of Lesser God ran Broadway for nearly 900 performances, with Frelich playing the role of strong-willed Sarah Norman. In 1980, Frelich received a Tony Award for Best Actress and an Award for Best Actor for John Rubenstein.
The play was later made into a film with Marlee Matlin and William Hurt from 1986. Matlin won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sarah.
"He insisted and fought in the studio that the role would be played by a deaf actor, I would not be here without an Oscar RIP Dear Mark," Matlin tweeted on Tuesday .
Medoff gained first fame as a playwright in the early '70s with when Red Ryder? Award 1974. This piece was followed by The Wager and another strong review of The New York Times .
Medoff, who also wrote, produced or directed 19 films, founded the American Southwest Theater Company and for nine years was director of the Department of Theater Arts at New Mexico State University. He has been teaching there for over 50 years Las Cruces Sun News .
He was born on March 18, 1940 in Mount Carmel, Illinois, and grew up in Florida, where he received his undergraduate degree in English from the University of Miami. Medoff received in 1966 a master's degree from Stanford University.
Medoff is survived by his wife Stephanie, three daughters and eight grandchildren.