Lois Smith becomes oldest winner of a Tony Award

Lois Smith made history on Sunday night by becoming the oldest performer to win a Tony Award for acting.

The 90-year-old took home the prize for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Matthew López’s The Inheritance.

“I love the processes of the live theatre,” Smith began her acceptance speech. “I first worked on The Inheritance in a workshop where Matthew López was finishing a play about the AIDS plague, and it was partly based on E.M. Forster’s book Howards End, which had been my favourite novel for as long as I can remember.

“E.M. Forster gave us – there’s a famous two-word message from Howards End, which is so apt, I think, tonight for all of us who are here celebrating the importance, the functions, of live theatre: ‘Only connect.’”

The star beat out Jane Alexander, 81, Annie McNamara, and Chalia La Tour for the award. Cicely Tyson previously held the record, as she was 88 when she won the same award for her 2013 performance in the revival of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. Tyson died in January at age 96.

In an interview with Variety last year, the nonagenarian spoke of her experience in López’s six-hour masterpiece, noting that she appeared later on in the show and only performed three times a week. “I think to myself, ‘Now what’s going to happen to me?’” Smith explained. “This may be the end of me. Suppose somebody asks me to do eight shows a week, what am I going to say? It’s hard to imagine at this point!”

Smith landed her first Tony nomination in 1990 for her performance in The Grapes of Wrath. She was nominated a second time six years later for Buried Child – both times for Best Featured Actress in a Play.