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Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

We've lost another showbiz legend.

Ruby Dee photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1962

Ruby Dee, the showbiz legend and awards magnet -- the list is seriously long and includes an Emmy & Grammy -- rose to fame on stage and screen in the 1940s. Her feature debut was That Man of Mine (1946) but her best remembered roles came later with The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), the screen adaptation of the oft-revived play A Raisin in the Sun (1961, which just netted yet more Tony Awards) opposite Sidney Poitier, and the first Off Broadway production of "Boesman and Lena" with James Earl Jones on stage in 1970.

Ruby Dee during her victory lap of events honoring her in the Aughts. This one is from 2008Younger audiences undoubtedly know her best from her screen return in the classic Do The Right Thing (1989, with her longtime husband Ossie Davie who passed away nine years ago), her political activism, and that round of lifetime achievement prizes in the Aughts starting with SAG in 2001.

That victory lap arguably peaked when she gave Denzel Washington the slap he deserved in American Gangster (2007). The resulting Oscar nod was surely a recognition of a sturdy cross-media showbiz career that stretch all the way to 1939 (gasp) with a stage debut at 17. She died in her home at 91 yesterday after a full, vibrant and influential life. 

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Reader Comments (13)

FWIW, My 2007 comment on her American Gangster perf (which also contemplates her body of work):

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStinkyLulu

rest in peace Ruby Dee. it's sad to think she would not be as remembered right now if she hadn't have gotten the Oscar nomination in 2007, as that brought her name to a younger audience's attention.
So thankful she got one as she was great in the film and really deserved it. She had won the National Board of Review award in 1961 for Raisin in the Sun but Oscar didn't bite back then. Ruby had a lot in common with Maya Angelou and it's so weird they died so close to eachother. After Joan Lorring and Martha Hyer dying as well, and Ann B. Davis, I hope we don't lose anymore elder actresses for awhile. RIP <3

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlola

Just a beautiful lady. She always just seemed to bring this soulfulness and grace to all of her work. Her performance in the film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun just breaks my heart. The scene where Ruth hears about the new house and says goodbye to the "rat trap" is just beyond amazing. She'll be greatly missed.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I think that there's a bit of poetry in her dying so soon after a Tony telecast that saw her legacy honored in both Audra McDonald's acceptance speech and Sophie Okonedo's win for a role that she originated, almost as if the universe wanted to precognitively remind us all of her lasting contributions. I will always have a special fondness for her work in "A Raisin in the Sun," which is brilliantly heartbreaking and full of fortitude.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I remember seeing American Gangster with some friends during my freshman year of college and thinking "hello Oscar nom" as soon as she gave Denzel that slap. I never thought she'd win, but I was just so happy for her when she actually got the nomination. She was a real class act and, truthfully, deserved more opportunities to shine than what she got, but such is the plight of many minority actresses. She will be missed.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThefilmjunkie

Thanks Ruby for your performance in The stand and THAT SLAP!!

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

I'm with @lola what with the news just yesterday about Martha Hyer, now Ruby Dee, last week Ann B. Davis not that long ago Joan Lorring it's been a rough month. Add into that Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Mickey Rooney, Sheila MacRae and Maximilian Schell recently and of course Shirley Temple Black and classic Hollywood has taken quite a hit this year.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Always classy and really beautiful, Ruby Dee will be missed. I feel like watching Do the Right Thing again just to see her and Ossie Davis together. Or maybe I should finally watch Jungle Fever? I recently saw her in the Shelley Winters-Peter Falk drama "The Balcony" from 1963. She was the best part and really stood out in a good cast. Rest in peace!

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman


June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

I know this is not the right time to write this and I really don't want to offend anyone, but I got SO happy when she lost to Tilda, even if I was totally predicting her for the gold.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I think your comment was better suited for the Tilda thread.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

The NZ film "No.2" is a small delight and one that was a pleasure to work on with Miss Ruby Dee. Though it did less box office in NZ than other titles the year of its release it took home the majority of that year's NZ Film Awards. I prefer it to "Whale Rider" (Disclaimer: I worked on sales and marketing for both).

June 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBede NZ

@Sean Troutman - you absolutely SHOULD watch Jungle Fever... all-star cast and Dee's most memorable exchange (for me) -

"Boy, where's my TV?"
"Mama, I smoked the TV!"

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

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