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Actress Olympia Dukakis dies at 89

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Olympia Dukakis

By Jonathan Oatis and Will Dunham

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar for her performance as a sardonic, middle-aged mother who advises her headstrong daughter on matters of love in the 1987 romantic film comedy “Moonstruck,” died on Saturday at age 89.

Dukakis – a cousin of unsuccessful 1988 Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Michael Dukakis – passed away at her New York City home on Saturday morning after months of failing health, said her agent, Allison Levy. Her daughter, Christina Zorich, was by her side.

The Massachusetts-born daughter of Greek immigrants, Dukakis worked for decades as a stage, TV and film actor before rocketing to fame at age 56 playing the mother of Cher’s character in “Moonstruck.”

Dukakis built on that with roles in films including “Look Who’s Talking” (1989) and its sequels with John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, “Steel Magnolias” (1989) with Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field and Julia Roberts, director Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995) and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995) with Richard Dreyfuss.

Dukakis, a master of deadpan humor, also was nominated for Emmy awards for TV roles in 1991, 1998 and 1999.

She also co-founded the Whole Theater in the New York City suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, in the 1970s, after she and her husband, fellow actor Louis Zorich, moved there.

But, for many, her most indelible performance came in director Norman Jewison’s “Moonstruck” as Rose Castorini, a Brooklyn woman with a cheating plumber husband (Vincent Gardenia) and a widowed bookkeeper daughter, Loretta (Cher), who has an affair with her fiance’s opera-buff brother (Nicolas Cage).

Her banter with Cher was among the film’s highlights, including a scene in which Dukakis scolded her daughter during a kitchen dissection of her love life.

“Your life’s going down the toilet,” Dukakis said in her throaty voice.

At another point, she tells Cher it is good she did not love her fiance. “When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can.”

“Olympia Dukakis Was An Amazing, Academy Award Winning Actress,” actress and singer Cher wrote on Twitter. “… I talked to her 3Wks Ago. Rip Dear One.”

Another Oscar-winning actress, Viola Davis, called Dukakis “the consummate actress” on Twitter. “You made all around you step up their game. A joy to work with. Rest well.”

“Moonstruck,” considered one of Hollywood’s great romantic comedies, won three Academy Awards, including Cher as best actress, and was nominated in three other categories, including best picture. It also was one of the highest-grossing films of 1987.

In accepting her Oscar as best supporting actress in April 1988, when her cousin was battling to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, she thanked Jewison, her husband and a few others.

She then raised the golden statuette over her head and shouted to the worldwide TV audience, “OK, Michael, let’s go.”

Michael Dukakis won the nomination but lost badly in the general election to Republican George H.W. Bush. Olympia Dukakis embraced liberal views like her cousin, advocating for causes including women’s rights, gay rights and the environment.

Dukakis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on June 20, 1931 and continued to act into her 80s.

Referring to becoming a movie star at an age when many actresses have a hard time finding good roles, Dukakis told the Guardian newspaper in 2012, “Who knows how that happened? Chance, fate or a bit of both. But I’m very glad I did ‘Moonstruck.’ It meant that I woke up the next day and was finally able to pay the bills.”

Dukakis said she enjoyed her fame after “Moonstruck.”

“The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “For ‘Moonstruck’ they say, ‘You’re life is going down the toilet.'”

Her TV appearances included playing a transgender landlady in the 1993 miniseries “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” and its 1998 and 2001 follow-ups. Dukakis reprised her role in a 2019 revival of the miniseries for Netflix.

Other films included “Cloudburst” (2011) playing a foul-mouthed lesbian, “Away from Her” (2006) with Julie Christie, “The Event” (2003), “Better Living” (1998) with Roy Scheider, “Never Too Late” (1996) with Cloris Leachman, and “Dad” (1989) with Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson.

Dukakis married Louis Zorich in 1962, with whom she had two sons and a daughter, and who passed away in 2018. She also had four grandchildren.

(Reporting by Jonathan Oatis in New York and Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Daniel Wallis)

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AMC expects people to return to theaters as vaccine rollout gathers pace

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(Reuters) -AMC Entertainment Holdings said on Thursday its business was expected to improve in the coming months as the mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines draws moviegoers back to the cinema chain’s theaters.

A strong slate of big-budget movies, including “Fast & Furious” film “F9” and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” in the summer is expected to fuel a rebound in box-office sales after the pandemic-driven slump in 2020.

“We finally can now say that we are looking at an increasingly favorable environment for movie-going and for AMC as a company over the coming few months, Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron said in a statement.

However, the company’s revenue fell to $148.3 million in the quarter ended March 31, from $941.5 million a year earlier, missing a Refinitiv IBES estimate of $153.43 million.

Its net loss shrunk to $567.2 million, or $1.42 per share in the quarter, from a loss of $2.18 billion, or $20.88 per share, a year earlier.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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Drugmakers say Biden misguided over vaccine patent waiver

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By Stephanie Nebehay and Ludwig Burger

GENEVA/FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Drugmakers on Thursday said U.S. President Joe Biden’s support for waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines could disrupt a fragile supply chain and that rich countries should instead share more generously with the developing world.

Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, angering research-based pharmaceutical companies.

If adopted by the World Trade Organisation, the proposal would invite new manufacturers that lack essential know-how and oversight from the inventors to crowd out established contractors, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said.

“I have heard many (vaccine makers) talking about ‘our resources are stretched, our technicians are stretched’,” IFPMA Director General Thomas Cueni told Reuters. He warned of a possible free for all if “sort of rogue companies” were allowed to become involved.

Vaccine developers echoed his comments that waiving intellectual property rights was not a solution.

“Patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine. They would not increase the global production and supply of vaccine doses in the short and middle term,” said Germany’s BioNTech, which aims to supply up 3 billion doses together with Pfizer this year.

BioNTech said it took more than a decade to develop its vaccines manufacturing process and replicating it required experienced personnel and a meticulous technology transfer, among several other factors beyond patents.

Another German company CureVac, which hopes to release trial results on its messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine as early as this month, said patents were not to blame for supply bottlenecks.

“Since mRNA technology has emerged as the key technology in the fight against COVID-19, the world now needs the same raw materials in unfathomable amounts. The biggest problem is how to coordinate this,” a spokeswoman said.

IFPMA’s Cueni said the real bottlenecks were trade barriers, in particular the U.S. Defense Production Act (DPA).

The DPA is a decades-old U.S. law that prioritised procurement orders related to U.S. national defence, but it has been widely used in non-military crises, such as natural disasters.

Cueni said the way to kickstart low-income countries’ vaccination campaigns was for rich countries to donate vaccine, rather than widen eligibility to young and healthy people at home.

Moderna, which on Thursday reported quarterly results, said waiving intellectual property rights would not help to increase supply of its vaccines in 2021 and 2022.

The U.S. drugmaker said last year it would not enforce its vaccine patents. CureVac said on Thursday it would also not enforce its patents during the pandemic and that it knew of no other developer that would.

Italy’s ReiThera which is in late-stage tests on an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, was also critical of patent waivers.

“There is proprietary know-how that has to be transferred by the owner. And then there is the problem with process materials, which at the moment have delivery times of almost a year,” ReiThera’s chief of technology Stefano Colloca said.

In contrast to the industry reaction, the GAVI vaccine alliance, which co-leads the COVAX dose-sharing programme with the WHO and faces major supply constraints, welcomed Biden’s support for waiving intellectual property rights.

(Writing by Ludwig BurgerAdditional Reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan; editing by Barbara Lewis and Jane Merriman)

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EU supports COVID vaccine patent waiver talks, but critics say won’t solve scarcity

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By Philip Blenkinsop and Carl O’Donnell

BRUSSELS/NEW YORK (Reuters) -The European Union on Thursday backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but drugmakers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed willingness to explore a waiver after President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted the plan, reversing the U.S. position.

“The main thing is, we have to speed this up,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Thursday as India battled a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. “None of us are going to be fully safe until … we get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

A patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture, and access to vaccines,” he said, as the White House denied a split among officials over the waiver idea.

Biden’s administration endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization to gain global agreement.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move. “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying,” she said.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19,” and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States.”

Despite that enthusiasm, drugmakers, who stand to lose revenue if they are stripped of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines, and other critics found flaws in the proposal.

The complexities of manufacturing means free access to the intellectual property is not enough to immediately increase vaccine production, they said. Moderna waived its patent rights in October, and on Thursday noted the lack of companies able to rapidly manufacture a similar vaccine and secure approval for it.

Combined, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have forecast over $45 billion in sales this year for their COVID-19 vaccines.

In the long term, a waiver would discourage pharmaceutical companies from rapidly responding to future global health threats with large research investments, some said.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying vaccine shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he shared Biden’s goal of providing the whole world with vaccines. But a government spokeswoman said in a statement that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”

Moreover, a waiver would take months to negotiate and require unanimous agreement among the 164 countries in the WTO. Drug companies urged rich countries instead to share vaccines more generously with the developing world.

DOES NOT ADDRESS ‘THE REAL CHALLENGES’

Stock prices for drugmakers largely recovered after initially falling sharply after Biden backed the waiver idea. Moderna was off 1.3% after earlier dropping 12%, and the U.S. shares of its German partner BioNTech SE shed 0.6% after falling as much as 15% earlier. “The bottleneck is neither access nor patents (or price) butsimply that there aren’t enough vials, raw materials, etc tomanufacture it regardless of patents,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production.

The pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group, PhRMA, said: “This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

There have been more than 155 million confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide and almost 3.4 million peopled have died for COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally.

But the vast bulk of the 624 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Our World in Data website, live in wealthier countries.

The global COVAX vaccine distribution program, led by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), that aims to supply vaccines to low-income countries, has so far handed out around 41 million doses.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property. However, a French government official said vaccine shortages was the result of a lack of production capacity and ingredients, not of patents.

“I would remind you that it is the United States that has not exported a single dose to other countries, and is now talking about lifting the patents,” the official said.

The United States has shipped a few million vaccine doses it was not using to Mexico and Canada on loan.

South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.

Until now, the European Union has been aligned with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland – home to large pharmaceutical companies – that have opposed the waiver.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Sabine Siebold in Brussels, additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Francesco Guarascio and John Chalmers in Brussels, Emilio Parodi in Milan, Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt aboard Air Force One, Andrea Shalal in Washington, Carl O’Donnell and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Writing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Heinrich and Bill Berkrot)

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