Actress, civil rights champion Ruby Dee dead at 91

The Associated Press
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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.

Ruby Dee backstage with the Chairman’s award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., in February 2008.

Nora Davis Day told The Associated Press Thursday her mother died of “natural causes” at home in New Rochelle Wednesday night.

Dee, who frequently acted alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis, was with loved ones, 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. 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 rivalled the achievements of other celebrated acting couples. But they were more than performers. 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, Mississippi, 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. Among those who mourned at his funeral were former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee.

Davis and Dee met when she auditioned for the Broadway play “Jeb,” starring Davis (both were cast in it). In December 1948, on a day off from rehearsals for another play, 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.”

Like her husband, Dee was active in civil rights issues and efforts to promote the cause of blacks in the entertainment industry.

As young performers, they found themselves caught up in the fight for social and racial justice in the United States. Dee and Davis served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington, and she spoke at both the funerals for Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

Organizations: The Associated Press

Geographic location: New Rochelle, Broadway, United States Jackson, Mississippi New Jersey Washington

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