Award-winning actress Ruby Dee, best known for her parts in A Raisin in the Sun, American Gangster, and Do the Right Thing, died on Wednesday at the age of 91.
Dee might not be immediately recognizable to many contemporary filmgoers, but both her biography and her filmography are impressive ones. She’s acknowledged as a major force in the generation of African-American actors who aspired to greater dramatic roles than those allowed to their forebears. Alongside the likes of Sidney Poitier, Dee appeared in significant film, stage, and television roles across decades, carving a niche for herself and opening the pathway for other African-American stars.
She appeared opposite Poitier in the film version of A Raisin in the Sun, where they both reprised the roles they originated on stage, and she later appeared opposite Jackie Robinson as his wife in The Jackie Robinson Story. She also received an Oscar nomination for American Gangster, playing Denzel Washington’s mother – a notable nomination, given that Dee only had ten minutes of screentime. She had previously received Emmy nods for her roles in Roots: The Next Generations, and an adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.
Ruby Dee was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist alongside her husband Ossie Davis, who died in 2005. Both were involved in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, and in the protests over the Rosenberg Trial. Dee and Davis were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, described as “one of the most revered couples of the American stage.” The couple was married for 56 years, and had three children.
Like so many actors of her generation, Dee’s death marks the end of era. SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard released a statement today, saying, “Ruby Dee was truly one of a kind. She was a woman who believed deeply in fairness, a conviction that motivated her lifelong efforts to advance civil rights. The acting community — and the world — is a poorer place for her loss.”
Ruby Dee, you will be missed.