Actor Ossie Davis Dies at Age 87
Actor Ossie Davis Dies at Age 87 (Reuters)
Actor Ossie Davis, who brought dignity and a passion for social justice to the stage and screen in a career of more than 50 years, was found dead early on Friday at the age of 87. Davis’ body was discovered by his grandson and paramedics at the Shore Club hotel in Miami Beach, where the actor had been shooting the film “Retirement,” according to police and his office in Los Angeles. “According to the grandson, he was suffering from heart disease,” said police spokesman Bobby Hernandez. “The grandson knocked on the door, and when Mr. Davis didn’t respond, he called fire rescue.”
A longtime civil rights activist, Davis spoke at the funerals of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and gave voice to the famous United Negro College Fund slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
He and his wife of more than 50 years, actress and frequent collaborator Ruby Dee, received Kennedy Center Honors in 2004 for their body of work. In the late 1990s, they co-wrote the book “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together,” chronicling their struggles against racial injustice as well as their decades as a couple. They also spoke in the book about their decision to have an open marriage. The couple had three children.
Davis broke barriers for black performers on television, stage and in the movies and developed a reputation as one of the country’s most recognizable character actors. “In the roles he took, he was a standard bearer for dignity and integrity,” said longtime friend Madeleine Moore, an advertising executive who met Davis and his wife while working on a public affairs radio show the couple hosted together. “Even as a young actor, he took on the mantle of this wise sage, this person who carried wisdom and a sense of purpose and the history of a people,” Moore said.
Truly a loss.
Davis, who wrote, acted, directed and produced for the theater and Hollywood, was a central figure among black performers for decades. He and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, Ã¢€œIn This Life Together.Ã¢€
Their partnership called to mind other performing couples, such as the Lunts, or Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Davis and Dee first appeared together in the plays Ã¢€œJeb,Ã¢€ in 1946, and Ã¢€œAnna Lucasta,Ã¢€ in 1946-47. DavisÃ¢€™ first film, Ã¢€œNo Way OutÃ¢€ in 1950, was DeeÃ¢€™s fifth.
Both had key roles in the television series Ã¢€œRoots: The Next GenerationÃ¢€ (1978), Ã¢€œMartin Luther King: The Dream and the DrumÃ¢€ (1986) and Ã¢€œThe StandÃ¢€ (1994). Davis appeared in three Spike Lee films, including Ã¢€œSchool Daze,Ã¢€ Ã¢€œDo the Right ThingÃ¢€ and Ã¢€œJungle Fever.Ã¢€ Dee also appeared in the latter two; among her best-known films was Ã¢€œA Raisin in the Sun,Ã¢€ in 1961.
When not on stage or on camera, Davis and Dee were deeply involved in civil rights issues and efforts to promote the cause of blacks in the entertainment industry. They nearly ran afoul of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the early 1950s, but were never openly accused of any wrongdoing. Actor Roy Scheider, who had performed with Davis and attended anti-war rallies with him, called Davis and Dee Ã¢€œthe first political couple of America.Ã¢€ Ã¢€œOssie seemed to always show up at the right time, on the right side, which was always the human side,Ã¢€ Scheider said. Ã¢€œHe was always progressive and had a very heartfelt sympathy for all people everywhere.Ã¢€
Davis directed several films, most notably Ã¢€œCotton Comes to HarlemÃ¢€ (1970) and Ã¢€œCountdown at KusiniÃ¢€ (1976), in which he also appeared with Dee. Both wrote plays and screenplays, and [sic] Other films in which Davis appeared include Ã¢€œThe CardinalÃ¢€ (1963), Ã¢€œThe HillÃ¢€ (1965), Ã¢€œGrumpy Old MenÃ¢€ (1993), Ã¢€œThe ClientÃ¢€ (1994) and Ã¢€œIÃ¢€™m Not RappaportÃ¢€ (1996), a reprise of his stage role 10 years earlier. On television, he appeared in Ã¢€œThe Emperor JonesÃ¢€ (1955), Ã¢€œFreedom RoadÃ¢€ (1979), Ã¢€œMiss EversÃ¢€™ BoysÃ¢€ (1997) and Ã¢€œTwelve Angry MenÃ¢€ (1997). He was a cast member on Ã¢€œThe DefendersÃ¢€ from 1963-65, and Ã¢€œEvening ShadeÃ¢€ from 1990-94, among other shows.
Audio: “NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates offers an appreciation of Davis, whose career spanned more than half a century.”
To honor of the passing of legendary stage and screen actor-writer Ossie Davis, Broadway theatres will dim their lights at 8 PM, Feb. 4. As is tradition, the lights will dim on all marquees for one minute at 8 PM. Davis, playwright and actor of Purlie Victorious who co-wrote the book for the musical version Purlie passed away Feb. 3.
Playbill has a glowing and lengthy obituary here.