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Legendary Actress Ruby Dee Dies at 91

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Ruby Dee during 43rd Annual Emmy Awards at Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, California, United States.

Ruby Dee, an Oscar nominated actress whose career in film spanned four decades, died on Wednesday, her agent Michael Livingston confirms to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 91. In the course of her accomplished career, Dee collected acclaim and awards including an Emmy and a Grammy.

Dee passed away peacefully at her New Rochelle, New York home from age-related causes, Livingston said. Dee's son, blues musician Guy Davis, posted a tribute to his mom on Facebook. "Rest easy and in peace mom," he wrote.

Dee won an Obie Award in 1971 for her portrayal of Lena in Athol Fugard's “Boseman and Lena” (1970) and a Drama Desk Award for “Wedding Band” (1974).

She had an impressive stage career, including a highly praised performance in “Purlie Victorious” (1963). Also on stage, Dee was notable as the proud working-mother Ruth in “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961). In 1988, she starred with Denzel Washington and Paul Winfield in “Checkmates” on Broadway and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Along with her late husband, Ossie Davis, Dee was honored with the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award in 2001. They were the second couple to receive that honor, with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tributed in 1995.With Davis, Dee was also honored in 1970 with the Frederick Douglass Award from New York's Urban League for bringing “a sense of fervor and pride to countless millions.”

In 1989, Davis and Dee were voted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame. She and Davis won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 2007 for "With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together."

Dee was the first black actress to play a leading role in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Connecticut when she played in “King Lear” (1965). She later triumphed in “Taming of the Shrew” (1965) on Broadway.

Dee and Davis conceived the acclaimed PBS series “With Ossie & Ruby” (1981).The couple co-hosted, performed and co-produced 26 half-hour programs. She co-produced “The Ossie Davis and Rudy Dee Story Hour” (1974) broadcast over the national Black Network from 1974-78.

Ruby Dee: A True Original

In film, she starred most notably in “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), which featured Sidney Poitier's directorial debut. She also performed in such movies as “St. Louis Blues” (1958), “Cat People” (1982) and Spike Lee's “Do the Right Thing” (1989), where she starred as the stern mother of the block. She also performed in two other Spike Lee films: “Get off the Bus” (1996) and “Jungle Fever” (1991).

Other films include: “Go, Man, Go!” (1954), “St. Louis Blues” (1958), “Our Virgin Island” (1959), “The Balcony” (1963), “The Incident” (1967) and, more recently, “Cop and a ½” (1993).

On TV, she performed in “All God's Children” and “Roots II: The New Generation.” She had a leading role in Maya Angelou's “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and 'It's Good to Be Alive,” a bio on Roy Campanella. She also starred in “To Be Young, Gifted and “Black.” She also played on “Peyton Place.

She played Mary Tyrone in the ABC cable production of “Long Day's Journey into Night,” which was her husband's favorite performances of hers.

She directed and starred in “Zora is My Name!” for PBS.

She was born Ruby Ann Wallace on Oct. 27, 1924 in Cleveland but was raised in Harlem. She graduated from Hunter College. She first performed professionally in 1941 at the American Negro Theatre, where her classmates included Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. The three starred in “Buck and the Preacher,” with Dee playing a no-nonsense pioneer woman. Dee made her Broadway debut in 1946 with a rave performance in “Anna Lucasta.”

She made her film debut in “No Way Out” in 1950. That same year she played Jackie Robinson's wife in “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Forty years later, she played Robinson's mother in a TV biopic.

Dee's talents included writing: She penned a column for the “Amsterdam News” and served as a contributing editor on “Freedomways Magazine.” She also co-wrote a film, “Uptight.” In addition, she created a “poedansical,” “Take it From the Top.” She made many recordings of poems and stories and regularly gave concert readings, primarily from the works of black writers.

Active in politics, Dee was a member of the NAACP, CORE, Southern Christian Leadership Council and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The couple had three children: Nora, Guy and Hasna.


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