Ruby Dee

  • Born: October 27, 1922
  • Died: June 11, 2014
  • Location: New Rochelle, New York

Tribute


This Feb. 14, 2008 file photo shows Ruby Dee backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards, in Los Angeles. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 12, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.

Acclaimed actress and civil rights activist dead at 91

MARK KENNEDY, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — For Ruby Dee, acting and activism weren't contradictory things. They were inseparable, and they were intertwined.

The African-American actress, who earned lead roles in movies and on Broadway, also spent her 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 the epic love affair with Davis — made Dee, who died at age 91 in her New Rochelle home on Wednesday night, a beloved figure in America and beyond. Broadway theaters will dim their lights in her honor Friday night.

As a sign of how influential Dee has been to generations of performers, she was thanked twice from the podium at Sunday's Tony Awards, by six-time winner Audra McDonald and new Tony winner director Kenny Leon.

"She will be missed but never forgotten as she lives on in many of us," Leon said in a statement Thursday, noting Dee's death came just weeks after that of Maya Angelou. "Maya 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."

Spike Lee, who directed Dee and her husband in "Do the Right Thing," took to Instagram to say he was "crushed." He said it was one of his "great blessings in life to work with two of the finest artists and activists — Ruby and Ossie."

President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle Obama, were saddened to hear of Dee's death and will never forget seeing her in "Do the Right Thing" on their first date.

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

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," about black frustration amid racial discrimination, opposite Sidney Poitier. Both reprised the roles in the film two years later.

Davis and Dee, who met in 1945 when she auditioned for the Broadway play "Jeb" and married on a day off from another play in 1948, shared billing in 11 stage productions and five movies during long parallel careers.

But they were more than a performing couple. They were also activists who fought for civil rights, particularly for blacks.

"We used the arts as part of our struggle," she said in 2006.

Along with film, stage and television, their richly honored careers extended to a radio show, "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour," which featured a mix of black themes.

As young performers, they participated in the growing U.S. movement for social and racial justice. They were friends with barrier-breaking baseball star Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel Robinson — Dee played her, opposite Robinson himself, in the 1950 movie "The Jackie Robinson Story" — and with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. They spoke at the funerals for King and Malcom X.

Their activism never waned. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by helping to launch the 30th-anniversary celebration of the University of Iowa Black Action Theatre and in 1999 were arrested protesting the shooting death of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York police.

In 1998, they released a dual autobiography, "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together."

Dee and Davis, who died in 2005, were celebrated as national treasures when they received the National Medal of Arts in 1995 and got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000. In 2004, Dee and Davis received Kennedy Center Honors. Another honor came in 2007 when the recording of their memoir won a Grammy for best spoken word album.

Dee, born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, moved to Harlem with her family as an infant. She attended her first protests as a child, joining picket lines to rail against discriminatory hiring practices. She graduated from a highly competitive high school and enrolled in college but longed to act.

"I wanted to be an actor, but the chances for success did not look promising," she wrote in their autobiography.

But in 1940 she got a part in a Harlem production of a new play, "On Strivers Row," which she later called "one giant step" to becoming a person and a performer.

In 1965, she became the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She won an Obie Award for the title role in Athol Fugard's "Boesman and Lena" and a Drama Desk Award for her role in "Wedding Band."

On television, Dee was a leading cast member on the soap operas "Guiding Light" and "Peyton Place," a rare sight for a black actress in the 1950s and 60s. As she aged, her career did not ebb. She was the voice of wisdom and reason as Mother Sister in 1989's "Do the Right Thing" and won an Emmy as supporting actress in a miniseries or special for 1990's "Decoration Day."

Most recently, Dee performed her one-woman stage show, "My One Good Nerve: A Visit With Ruby Dee," in theaters across the country.

She is survived by three children and seven grandchildren. Her family and friends surrounded her when she died, Nora Davis Day said.

"We have had her for so long and we loved her so much," Day said. "We gave her our permission to set sail. She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went."

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AP Writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.

______________________________________________________________________________

The Associated Press, The Associated Press

"Ruby Dee was a phenomenally rare artist and a jewel to our nation and community. I was privileged to work on several civil rights cases with her and her husband Ossie Davis. She was as committed to social justice as she was to the screen and stage. She will be greatly missed. " — The Rev. Al Sharpton.

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"We have lost another Tall Tree. What a life and an example of how to live it richly. When I mentioned her from the Tony Awards stage on Sunday, it was heartfelt. She and Ossie spent time with me during the staging of the Raisin revival ten years ago, and I will never forget her passion for the play; and her example as a true American theatre artist that inspired many of us to speak through our art. They don't get better than Ruby. Maya and Ruby leave us only days apart - those two women with four letter names instructed us on how to live. She will be missed but never forgotten as she lives on in many of us." — Director Kenny Leon.

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"I'm crushed by this bad news and I know Ruby has already been embraced in a warm loving hug from her life partner of 57 years — Mr. Ossie Davis. It has been one of my great blessings in life to work with two of the finest artist and activist — Ruby and Ossie... The both of you told us 'to always do the right thing.' — Spike Lee.

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"Standing on the shoulders of your legend and Forever grateful for ur impact on this world and my life Miss #RubyDee. Rest on High." — Tony winner Billy Porter.

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"I was 8 years old when I worked with her and although I was getting paid more than most people my age at the time — she made sure I stayed humble and that I still enjoyed my childhood. She always gave me food and drinks on set and made sure I wasn't playing too much in the Tampa heat (where we filmed the movie). She was like a second mom to me and always taught me great life lessons. One in particular was to appreciate everything I had and to be respectful and kind to everyone, even if they didn't give the same back. — Actor Norman D. Golden II, who co-starred with Dee in "Cop and a Half."


Condolence & Memory Journal

I know it's been a few years since ruby

Posted by Marty Koon    August 18, 2018

Many thanks to the Family of Mrs. Ruby Dee for sharing such an outstanding treasure to our memories...the comfort of God be with you always...God's Day....His Way...Praise Him as he cradles her in his loving arms. Condolences!

Posted by Ria - Fayetteville, GA - a true friend   June 13, 2015

May the peace God gives sustain your family during this difficult time. Lean on one another as the days ahead become too hard to bear alone. Share your memories, they will be a source of joy. Seeing the promises in God's word the bible will help you to gain strength and fortify your hearts, granting you comfort. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17; jw.org)

Posted by Cameron    March 05, 2015

The Remembrance of the good done those we have loved is the only consolation when we have lost them.

Posted by Collie Deloach - Los Angeles, CA - Student   December 25, 2014

Ruby I loved your cooking and couldn't get enough if it. This picture was taken of me after I ate some of your famous chit lens and puckered pigs eye socket surprise. I remember you handing me an extra bowl of your plantation nuggets and I couldn't keep them down so I vomited. You snapped this picture just before your Pomeranians ran over and lapped up my vomit. I wish you realized your dream of publishing that cookbook with Paula Dean and her grandmother.

Posted by Patrice Tinerson - Peoria, IL - Food lovers   June 22, 2014

This amazing woman fought for decades to stop the black market weasel skin trade in mexico. Her dedication to saving these musk odered rodents from becoming coats for african royalty was truly amazing. Ruby single handedly rescued and raised over 2100 weasels from death. Bless her heart for givig so much of her time and money to such a useless cause. Miss Dee you made us proud to be freedom fighters for these majestic creatures.

Posted by marion - cangon - weaealologists   June 22, 2014

Ruby you made a lot of money from your company Mammies Switch & Strap. Many a great colored asswhoopins came from it.

Posted by Mammy    June 21, 2014

Ruby your star was a B grade at best but your determination and tenacity brought out a certain redness in your hair. My aunt Laquisha always said that Ruby Dee was the first black woman to expose the renegade sinus community before congress back in 78.

Posted by Keshia - Friend   June 18, 2014

Candle

She was small in size but she was very tall in her deeds, God bless Mrs. Ruby Dee, I know Mr. Ossie Davis is waiting to welcome her home

Posted by Diane Bronson - Newark, NJ - Grateful Fan of her's   June 16, 2014

Ruby lived through some hard times of racial strife and discrimination. Her likeness to an orangutan truly helped her land the role of Clyde in Any Which Way But Lose with Clint Eastwood.

Posted by Ruth Gordon - Dighton, MA - Coworkers   June 14, 2014

Ruby modeled for this ad in Pulaski Texas back in 1949. She was a great sport and a great actress.

Posted by G.L. Rockwell - Portland - Former Employee   June 12, 2014


Family Album

This Feb. 14, 2008 file photo shows Ruby Dee backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards, in Los Angeles. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 12, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.
In this March 8, 2004 file photo, from left, hotel industrialist J.W. Marriot, actress Ruby Dee, Sean "Puffy" Combs, actor Ossie Davis and Sharon Robinson pose for photographers following the presentation of the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award that was given to Davis and Lee at the Jackie Robinson Foundation Annual Dinner, in New York. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 11, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.
In this Nov. 17, 2010 file photo, Ruby Dee attends a special screening of "Frankie & Alice" in New York. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 12, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.
In this Feb. 24, 2008 file photo, Ruby Dee, right, nominated for an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role for her work in "American Gangster," and guest arrive for the 80th Academy Awards, in Los Angeles. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 12, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.
In this June 29, 2009 file photo, actress Ruby Dee, left, and director Spike Lee attend a special 20th anniversary screening of "Do the Right Thing," in New York. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 12, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.

Family Album

In this March 11, 2001 file photo, lifetime achievement award winners Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee pose with their award at the 7th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, in Los Angeles. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 11, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.
In this May 15, 2006 file photo shows actors Morgan Freeman, from left, Ruby Dee, accepting for her husband Ossie Davis, awarded the 2006 Ford Freedom Award posthumously, and director Woodie King, Jr., after being honored as the 2006 Ford Freedom Award winners in Detroit. Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television and film, has died at age 91, according to her daughter. Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 11, 2014, that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night.

Community Photos

Ruby modeled for this ad in Pulaski Texas back in 1949. She was a great sport and a great actress.
Ruby lived through some hard times of racial strife and discrimination. Her likeness to an orangutan truly helped her land the role of Clyde in Any Which Way But Lose with Clint Eastwood.
Ruby you made a lot of money from your company Mammies Switch & Strap. Many a great colored asswhoopins came from it.
Ruby I loved your cooking and couldn't get enough if it. This picture was taken of me after I ate some of your famous chit lens and puckered pigs eye socket surprise. I remember you handing me an extra bowl of your plantation nuggets and I couldn't keep them down so I vomited. You snapped this picture just before your Pomeranians ran over and lapped up my vomit. I wish you realized your dream of publishing that cookbook with Paula Dean and her grandmother.