In Memoriam: Ruby Dee

We mourn the loss of Ruby Dee, a great lady of the theatre and a member of LPTW. Ms. Dee graced us as a Leading Lady during our 30th Anniversary year, and is a past recipient of the LPTW Lee Reynolds Award. She is loved and will be missed by all.


Ruby Dee was a member of the League, a 30th Anniversary Leading Lady, and a recipient of the LPTW Lee Reynolds Award.

Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 27, 1924, African-American actress Ruby Dee has enjoyed a tremendous career on the stage, on television and in film. She grew up in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and got involved in acting as a teenager. Dee began studying her craft at the American Negro Theatre, a company that also educated talents like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Dee also attended Hunter College.

Dee had her first major career breakthrough in 1946, when she took the title role in the ANT’s Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. That same year, she met actor Ossie Davis while performing in the play Jeb. The couple married two years later and eventually had three children together. Dee soon landed some film roles, including playing the wife to a baseball great in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950). Dee landed a starring role on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. She earned great acclaim for her portrayal of Ruth Younger in this drama about a struggling African-American family. Sidney Poitier played her husband. Two years later, Dee reprised her role in the film version of the play. Through the 1970s and ’80s, Dee gave a number of stellar performances. She picked up Drama Desk and Obie awards for the 1970 play Boesman and Lena, and an Emmy Award nomination for her role in the 1979 miniseriesRoots: The Next Generation. That same year, Dee starred in a family theatrical effort. She wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Take It from the Top!, for which her son, Guy, composed the music. Her husband directed the production. Dee delivered one of her great performances in 2007’s American Gangster. She played the mother of notorious crime figure Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, in the film. For her work, she received an Academy Award nomination and won a Screen Actors Guild Award. Dee continued to perform into her 90s. Among her recent work, Dee was hired to narrate the Lifetime original movie Betty and Coretta (2013), which followed the lives of Coretta Scott King, played by Angela Bassett, and Betty Shabazz, played by Mary J. Blige, after the assassinations of their husbands.

On June 11, 2014, Dee died of natural causes at her home in New Rochelle, New York, at the age of 91.

Read more about Ruby Dee in the New York Times.



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