The Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award is to be given annually to a writer, actor or actress, musician, painter or other type of artist who has created a body of work that places them among the great artists and entertainers of all time.
Playwright Eugene O’Neill embodied the highest level of artistic achievement. With his unparalleled body of work in the theater, he not only won many prestigious awards (including four Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize for Literature), he maintained a level of artistic integrity that still resonates with actors, directors and audiences today.
Born on October 16, 1888 in a Broadway hotel room in Times Square (at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway), O’Neill was the son of Ella Quinlan and James O’Neill, an accomplished stage actor. As a boy he attended a Catholic boarding school, and as a young man he enrolled in and was eventually suspended from Princeton University. After leaving Princeton, he spent several years at sea. He later spent a year in a sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis. It was there that he began writing poetry and short plays; he later worked as a reporter for the New London Telegraph in New London, Connecticut.
His early plays grew out of an affiliation with the Provincetown Players. His first published play, Beyond the Horizon, opened on Broadway in 1920 to great acclaim and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He went on to write some of the great plays in American theater, including Anna Christie (Pulitzer Prize 1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (Pulitzer Prize 1928), The Iceman Cometh (1946), Long Day’s Journey into Night (Pulitzer Prize 1957), A Moon for the Misbegotten (1947), and man others. In 1936 he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
O’Neill suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholism, much of it brought on by a life of considerable tragedy. While still a young man in his twenties, his parents and elder brother Jamie (he drank himself to death at the age of 45) died within a three-year period. He was married three times and had three children; two of his children would eventually commit suicide. Late in life, O’Neill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which greatly inhibited his physical writing ability. Somehow, he managed to continue writing and producing incomparable work. At the time of his death, he had begun what he planned to be an 11-play cycle chronicling an American family from the 1880. Only two of these plays (A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions) were completed.
Eugene O’Neill, age 65, died on November 27, 1953 in room 401 at the Sheraton Hotel on Bay Street Road in Boston. His last words were, “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room, and godammit, died in a hotel room.”