NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Pioneering African-American actress Ruby Dee has died, her agent said Thursday.
The legendary stage and screen actress and civil rights activist was 91.
Dee died at the same New Rochelle, New York, home she shared with her husband of 56 years, actor Ossie Davis, until his death in 2005.
She was surrounded by friends and family at the time of her death Wednesday night.
“Ruby Dee was a phenomenally rare artist and a jewel to our nation and community,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “I was privileged to work on several civil rights cases with her and her husband, Ossie Davis. She was as committed to social justice as she was to the screen and stage. She will be greatly missed. ”
Dee was raised in Harlem and graduated from Hunter College in 1944. She told 1010 WINS’ Larry Mullins in 2012 her mother and her girlfriends’ mothers were responsible for letting NYC know that segregated schools were unacceptable.
Dee’s breakout film was 1950’s “The Jackie Robinson Story,” in which she co-starred with her friend who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Her Broadway career started in 1943. Her sixth play, in 1959, was “A Raisin in the Sun,” which became an American classic. Dee originated the role of Ruth, the struggling housewife — a role she re-created for film opposite Sidney Poitier.
Dee made more than 70 films.
After learning of Dee’s death, director Spike Lee, who worked with her and Davis on his 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” posted on Instragram: “God bless you Ruby Dee. God bless you Ossie Davis. The both of you told us ‘To Always Do The Right Thing.'”