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Ruby Dee, Oscar-Nominated ‘American Gangster’ Actress, Dead at 91

Universal

Ruby Dee, the legendary actress of stage and screen, has died at the age of 91. According to the actress’ rep, Dee died peacefully of age-related causes in New Rochelle, New York.

Her 60-year career is nothing short of remarkable and her work helped open the door for countless other African-American actors and actresses.

Dee acted on the stage and in movies throughout the ’50s, but she truly rose to prominence by originating the role of Ruth Younger in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ on Broadway, alongside Sidney Poitier. From there, she continued her string of acclaimed performances, appearing on countless TV shows and transforming herself into one of live theater’s great powerhouses. Her background as a racial trailblazer and Civil Rights activist made her a natural fit for director Spike Lee, who cast her in ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Jungle Fever.’

Despite eight Emmy nominations and one win (not to mention her countless theatre accolades), Dee was only nominated for a single Academy Award — her work as Denzel Washington‘s mother in ‘American Gangster’ is brief but powerful, giving heart to a movie that’s otherwise completely chilling. While she didn’t take home the Oscar, she was awarded the Screen Actors Guild trophy for Best Actress in a supporting role.

Dee was married to actor Ossie Davis for 56 years before he passed away in 2005. She is survived by her three children.

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