Stage, film and television actress Ruby Dee has died. The Harlem native, 91, died at home in New Rochelle, N.Y. this past Wednesday, and a nation mourns one of the greatest and most celebrated actresses of all time. Dee honed her craft at the American Negro Theater alongside fellow future stars Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.
Here time there would align her with other actors who would figure prominently in her career much later. Dee was one of Broadway’s singular talents, getting her first big break in 1946 in a stage adaptation of Anna Lucasta. It was during this time she met another Broadway fixture, her future husband, Ossie Davis.
The pair would marry in 1948 and were together until Davis’ passing in 2005. Hollywood took notice of Dee’s talent as she starred opposite baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson for the 1950 film, The Jackie Robinson Story. She continued her stage career and starred in smaller film productions before dazzling audiences in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin In The Sun in 1959.
Two years later, a film adaptation of the play hit the big screen with Dee and her American Negro Theater compatriot Poitier.
Davis wrote the screenplay for the play Purlie Victorious which the couple starred in, and in 1963 a film version of the play was another star-making turn for the actress. During this period, the couple involved themselves in the civil rights movement, working alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
As their politics began evolve, Dee found footing as a playwright and film producer. Her civil rights-themed 1967 film, Uptight, starred Rawhide actor Raymond St. Jacques. Davis served as a producer and co-writer as well. Dee continued to star in a series of movies and plays throughout the 70s, making a notable mark in the miniseries Roots and in a film adaptation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in 1979.
In 1991, Dee won an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her role in Decoration Day. She was also awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995. The Screen Actors Guild gave Dee its Lifetime Achievement Award honor in 2000 and in 2007, she won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together.
Amazingly, she received her first and only Oscar nomination in 2007 for her role as Mama Lucas in the crime drama, American Gangster.
Listing Dee’s accomplishments barely captures the great legacy she leaves behind. Dee served as an inspiration for young Black actresses across the nation and the world.
Tony Award winner Audra McDonald thanked her just this past Sunday during her acceptance speech for her historic sixth win.
While Dee will be sorely missed, her films, recordings and stunning photos will live on forever and will serve to inspire others who wish to follow her mighty path.