Actress, activist Ruby Dee dies at 91
The African-American actress who earned lead roles in movies and on Broadway also spent her entire life fighting against injustice, even emceeing the 1963 March on Washington and protesting apartheid in South Africa.
“We are image makers. Why can’t we image makers become peacemakers, too?” she asked after she and her husband Ossie Davis accepted the Screen Actors Guild Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000.
That legacy of entertaining and pushing for change — in addition to her epic love affair with Davis — made Dee, who died at age 91 in her New Rochelle, New York, home on Wednesday night, a beloved figure in the US and beyond. Broadway theatres will dim their lights in her honour tonight.
As a sign of how influential Dee has been to generations of performers, she was thanked twice from the podium at this Sunday’s Tony Awards — by six-time winner Audra McDonald and new Tony winner director Kenny Leon.
Leon said in a statement yesterday: “Maya (Angelou) and Ruby leave us only days apart — those two women with four letter names instructed us on how to live.”
Dee’s long career earned her an Emmy, a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Art, and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She got an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film American Gangster.
Dee made her Broadway debut in the original production of South Pacific and in 1959 starred in the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play about black frustration amid racial discrimination, opposite Sidney Poitier. Both reprised that role in the film two years later.