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Actress, civil rights activist Ruby Dee dead at 91

14 june 2014, 10:47
0
Ruby Dee. ©Reuters/Stephen Chernin
Ruby Dee. ©Reuters/Stephen Chernin

Oscar-nominated actress Ruby Dee, who was also known for her activism during the US civil rights movement, has died at the age of 91, AFP reports.

The stage, television and film star -- a pioneer among America's black actresses -- died Wednesday at her home in New Rochelle, New York, with her family at her side, her agent Michael Livingston told AFP.

The diminutive actress -- a native of Cleveland, Ohio -- worked alongside her late husband Ossie Davis in some of her most memorable roles, in a career that began in the 1940s.

President Barack Obama said he would never forget watching Dee perform as an irascible neighborhood watchdog in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" on his first date with his now wife Michelle.

Dee "captivated and challenged us," the first African-American president of the United States said in a statement.

"Through her remarkable performances, Ruby paved the way for generations of black actors and actresses, and inspired African-American women across our country."

Dee was a student at the American Negro Theatre in New York's Harlem neighborhood that produced stars such as Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

She played more than 100 roles, including in 1950's "The Jackie Robinson Story" and the late 1970s television adaptation of Alex Haley's epic novel "Roots."

She appeared alongside her husband in the Broadway production "Jeb" in 1946, before marrying him two years later. The couple remained married until Davis's death in 2005.

One of Dee's most notable roles came alongside Poitier in the play "A Raisin In The Sun" in 1959 and the film version released two years later.

The actress received an Oscar nomination in 2008 for her small but memorable cameo in Ridley Scott's crime drama "American Gangster."

In addition to "Do the Right Thing," Dee also had a role in another classic Lee film, "Jungle Fever," as the loving but gullible mother of two very different children.

Civil rights leader

Dee and her late husband were ardent civil rights activists. Dee was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Their leadership in the civil rights movement "helped open new doors of opportunity for all," Obama said.

The couple also served together as masters of ceremony during the historic 1963 March on Washington led by civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr, who was a close friend of the couple's, as was firebrand activist Malcolm X.

At the Tony Awards in New York on Sunday, black actress Audra McDonald -- who made history in winning her sixth Tony -- paid tribute to Dee, Diahann Carroll, Maya Angelou and Billie Holiday in her acceptance speech.

In Dee's honor, Broadway theaters will dim their lights for a minute on Friday night.


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