Irish American actor and NYC icon Malachy McCourt dies at 92

Malachy McCourt
Malachy McCourt in 2016 at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Woodside, Queens.
Walter Karling

Legendary actor, storyteller and Irish American icon Malachy McCourt, perhaps best known for his role as Kevin the bartender on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope,” died on Monday at the age of 92. 

According to the Washington Post, McCourt died in a New York City hospital. His son Conor confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause.

Born in Brooklyn in 1931, he was raised in Limerick, Ireland, before making his journey back to the United States in 1952, opening an Irish pub called Malachy’s and eventually setting off on an acting career.

While he was famous for his work on Ryan’s Hope, the Irish-American thespian was much more than an actor. He was a crafter of storytelling, a lost art that he kept alive through TV, film and stage work, often appearing alongside his brother, Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist of “Angela’s Ashes.”

A beloved champion of Irish Americans and many others across the country, McCourt authored several works about both Ireland and the United States. In 1998, he wrote “A Monk Swimming,” a memoir that details his life in Limerick, Ireland, and his experiences in America; the title of the memoir reflects a line in the Hail Mary prayer which he misunderstood as a lad. The book is said to pick up just about where his older brother’s book, “Angela’s Ashes,” leaves off.

Not one to shy away from the truth, McCourt often spoke of the adversity in his life, from his experiences living through a poverty-stricken childhood to his later troubles with alcohol. 

A dedicated writer of Irish heritage and culture, McCourt’s acting accomplishments were nothing to be ignored. In addition to Ryan’s Hope, McCourt appeared in many NYC-based soap operas, including “Another World” and “One Life to Live.” He was also in the films “The Molly Maguires,” “The Brink’s Job” and “Brewster’s Millions.”

Malachy McCourt’s Advocacy Work

McCourt made many friends both in and out of the acting world, many of whom he met through advocacy work. Victoria Schneps, president of Schneps Media, the parent company amNY, met McCourt in the early 1970s when they each had children who lived in the infamous Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. 

McCourt’s step daughter Nina, and Schneps’ daughter, Lara, were residents at the school that eventually experienced severe budget cuts that led to overcrowding and deplorable living conditions. 

The pair, along with Schneps’ late husband Murray, led the fight to close Willowbrook. 

“Malachy and my late husband Murray led the ‘Willowbrook wars,’” Schneps recounted. “Malachy was on WMCA radio and was an extraordinary partner to Murray, who was a lawyer fighting side by side, never wavering from the state officials’ pressures to back off. Both led the way to have the Legal Aid Society file a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the 5,400 people living at Willowbrook.”

Both Schneps’ and McCourt’s children were named plaintiffs in the case that successfully changed how children with disabilities were able to live in dignity in small family-like group homes. 

Schneps also spoke highly of McCourt’s career, his resiliency in life and dedication to his acting and writing crafts.

“Malachy was a wonderfully talented man who turned his challenging childhood into a meaningful life, making me cry and making me laugh,” she said. “Murray and I were always his cheerleaders when he and his brother Frank created a terrific show ‘A Couple of Blaguards,’ then Malachy running an Irish bar that brought people together to share their life with him.”

Perhaps an example of his resiliency can be illustrated in an article he penned in Irish America magazine in 2013, where he discussed sobriety and his family.

My years of sobriety have been happy years,” he wrote. “I begin my day by telling my wife Diana that I love her. My children and my grandchildren delight me. I obey Oscar Wilde’s dictum: Forgive your enemies, it will annoy them.”

McCourt is survived by his wife Diana, four children, a step daughter, nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.