It’s hard to lose such amazing greats in such a short amount of time. It’s the heavy breath then the thought, who will my children have to look to? We sadly report legendary actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee passed away at 91 on yesterday in her home in New Rochelle, N.Y. confirmed daughter Nora Davis Day on Thursday to The Associated Press.
Day noted that her mother, who often acted alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis, was surrounded by family and friends as she transitioned.
“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,” said Day. “She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went.”
Dee broke barriers on both stage and screen and her life continued to open gates for other African American women in the industry. During a time when our voices were constantly marginalized, Dee found a stage or a podium (March on Washington) for our lives to be told and respected. Whether it was her Broadway character in “Two Hah Hahs and a Homeboy” or her spunk in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever,” she brought grace, presence and a bit if grit to every character.
In 1949, Dee had her first break out role in the musical drama “That Man is Mine” and went on to play Rachel Robinson in “The Jackie Robinson Story.” She has shared stages with other greats such as Eartha Kitt, Nat King Cole, and Cab Calloway in 1958’s “St. Louis Blues.” Dee is also known for her star role in “A Raisin in the Sun” opposite of Sidney Poitier, eight years later the icon jumped into the character again for film.
Ruby Dee’s last Broadway performance was the 1988 “Checkmates” comedy, a play that introduced the world to Denzel Washington, who is currently playing Poitier’s role on Broadway. The NY Daily contacted Washington for comment, but understandably his spokesperson responded, “Not today.”
Dee’s final film was still in production, “Kind Dog” a crime drama alongside Ice-T.
The Emmy, Grammy, and Screen Actors Guild Award winner did not only gain awards through characters. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were heroines in the fight for civil rights. In 2005, both received the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We used the arts as part of our struggle,” she said at an appearance in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2006. “Ossie said he knew he had to conduct himself differently with skill and thought.” The couple were long-time friends of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whose eulogy Davis gave in 1965.
“I think you mustn’t tell your body, you mustn’t tell your soul, ‘I’m going to retire,’” Dee told The Associated Press in 2001. “You may be changing your life emphasis, but there’s still things that you have in mind to do that now seems the right time to do. I really don’t believe in retiring as long as you can breathe.”
We hear you.
Ruby Dee will forever have an impact on generations to come in both life and character. We salute the trailblazer and celebrate her long-lived life!