Actress, Activist & Humanitarian Ruby Dee Dies At 91
Acclaimed actress, activist, author and humanitarian Ruby Dee has died at her home in New Rochelle, NY at the age of 91. Her death on Wednesday night follows a storied career in theatre, radio, television and film, which often found her working alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis. Davis passed in 2005, preceding her in death. Ruby Dee’s daughter Nora Davis Day told the Associated Press that she died of “natural causes.” Recounting her mother’s final moments, Day noted:
“We have had her for so long and we loved her so much,” Day said. “She took her final bow last night at home surrounded by her children and grandchildren.” “We gave her our permission to set sail. She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went.”
Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ruby Dee relocated to Harlem, New York as a child. Despite a strong academic background, Dee is said to have “longed for the stage.” Over the course of her groundbreaking career Ruby Dee’s work was a marriage of art and activism that found her playing a very active role in the social justice efforts spearheaded by the Congress of Racial Equality, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Her work as an activist paralleled her rise to prominence as an established actor playing opposite Davis, Sidney Poitier and a host of others; Ruby Dee made waves for her portrayal of Ruth Younger in A Raisin In The Sun, which also starred Poitier as Walter Lee Younger – a role Davis would later assume. Other major screen roles cemented Dee as a legend and gave her relevance across eras, including her performances in The Jackie Robinson Story, Buck and The Preacher and Spike Lee‘s Do The Right Thing; Dee’s role as the sassy and super wise Mother Sister would ultimately endear her to younger generations of viewers.
Ruby Dee was nominated for a multitude of awards and received a number of them during her career, including a National Medal of the Arts, a Drama Desk Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, a Grammy, an Emmy, an Obie Award, a Kennedy Center Honor and a more recent Oscar nod at the age of 83 for her work in the 2007 film American Gangster. Ruby Dee is widely respected as a pillar amongst the pioneering class of black actors, directors, writers and other creatives credited with laying the foundation for people of color in theater and film. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis shared billing in 11 stage productions and five films. They worked together in radio on The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour – a show that featured a number of black themes. Sharing a life of artistic and civic activism, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis also served as masters of ceremonies at the 1963 March On Washington, addressed mourners at the funerals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and were later arrested together in 1999 while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo. The African American Film Critics Association issued a statement in response to Ruby Dee’s death, which sheds light on her profound contributions to social justice and the arts:
“The members of the African American Film Critics Association are deeply saddened at the loss of actress and humanitarian Ruby Dee,” said Robertson. “Throughout her seven-decade career, Ms. Dee embraced different creative platforms with her various interpretations of black womanhood and also used her gifts to champion for Human Rights. Her strength, courage and beauty will be greatly missed.”
Ruby Dee’s most recent performance series took her to stages across the country as the face of a one-woman show entitled My One Good Nerve: A Visit With Ruby Dee. The show included material from the short stories, poetry and humor included in her book of the same name. Ruby Dee is survived by her children Nora Davis Day, Hasna Muhammad Davis and Guy Davis, as well as seven grandchildren. Funeral services will reportedly be private, though a public memorial is planned. We remember Ruby Dee with a look back at some of her most memorable work and a few of her most poignant words. Rest in peace to the legendary Ruby Dee.