NEW YORK (TIP): Ruby 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 June 12 that her mother died at home at New Rochelle, New York, on Wednesday night of “natural causes.” Dee, who frequently acted alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis, was surrounded by family and friends, she added. “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.”
Day added: “We gave her our permission to set sail,” said Day. “She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went.” Her long career brought her an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film “American Gangster.” She also won an Emmy and was nominated for several others. Age didn’t slow her down. “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.” Since meeting on Broadway in 1946, she and her late husband were frequent collaborators. Their partnership rivaled the achievements of other celebrated performing couples, such as Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. 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 at an appearance in Jackson, Miss., in 2006. “Ossie said he knew he had to conduct himself differently with skill and thought.”
In 1998, the pair celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and an even longer association in show business with the publication of a dual autobiography, “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.” Davis died in February 2005. At his funeral, his widow sat near his coffin as former President Clinton led an array of famous mourners, including Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee. (In this October 28, 1957 file photo provided by Paramount Pictures, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Ruby Dee, relax on the set of the ‘St. Louis Blues,’ based on the life of WC Handy.) Davis and Dee met in 1945 when she auditioned for the Broadway play “Jeb,” starring Davis (both were cast in it).
In December 1948, on a day off from rehearsals from another play, “The Smile of the World,” Davis and Dee took a bus to New Jersey to get married. They already were so close that “it felt almost like an appointment we finally got around to keeping,” Dee wrote in “In This Life Together.” They shared billing in 11 stage productions and five movies during long parallel careers. Dee’s fifth film, “No Way Out” with Sidney Poitier in 1950, was her husband’s first. Along with film, stage and television, their richly honored careers extended to a radio show, “The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour,” that featutred a mix of black themes. Davis directed one of their joint film appearances, “Countdown at Kusini” (1976).