February 4, 2005
By Deardra Shuler
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death
what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil… (Hamlet)
The final curtain fell on one of the great legends of our time, Friday,
February 4th. Ossie Davis retired from life ironically while in the process of
filming a movie entitled “Retirement.” He succumbed to death at age 87, still
working at the craft he loved so well. Davis was a giant in the entertainment
business having devoted five decades as an actor, director, producer and writer.
There was no entertainment genre that he did not master. His talents were
featured in print, on stage, screen and radio. Many remember him from his role in
the 1978 television series "Roots: The Next Generation." He is also remembered
for his appearances in several Spike Lee films: “School Daze,” “Do The Right
Thing,” and “Jungle Fever.” His best known film was “A Raisin In The Sun.”
More recently, Davis appeared in “Dr. Dolittle” and “Get on the Bus.”
Born in Cogdell, Georgia, in 1917, Davis developed a love for theatre at an
early age. He pursued his interest at Howard University after winning a
National Youth Administration scholarship in 1935. In 1946, Davis made his Broadway
debut in Jeb. He later performed in the Broadway productions of “A Raisin in
the Sun,” “I’m Not Rappaport,” “Purlie Victorious,” a play Davis both starred
in and wrote. He also appeared in “Anna Lucasta” “Green Pastures,” “No Time
for Sergeants” and “The Zulu and the Zayda” to name a few of his Broadway
performances. As a result of his large volume of work on Broadway, Davis was
inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994.
Married to his wife, Ruby Dee, for close to 56 years, the couple met in 1946
and married in 1948, thus beginning a lengthy acting partnership that lasted
until Ossie’s death. The two came to epitomize theatre royalty as its
distinguished couple. The pair first appeared together in the plays "Jeb," in 1946, and "Anna Lucasta," in 1946-47. Davis' first film, "No Way Out" in 1950, was
Dee's fifth. They also appeared together in "Roots: The Next Generation” in 1978;
"Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum" in1986; "The Stand" in 1994; "Do
the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever."
Ruby Dee once said she would marry Davis if he kept her working and work they
did. The two have produced an impressive cache of work between them, both
separately and as a couple. They also produced the book “With Ossie and Ruby: In
This Life Together,” which featured their dual autobiography. Although, I am
sure, the couples would say their greatest accomplishment are their three
children, Nora, Guy and Hasna as well as their many grandchildren.
Once asked how the dynamic team managed to work and live together in harmony.
Dee remarked: “Couples must remember that they are two separate individuals
who may see things quite differently. We have to respect those differences in
Davis received Emmy nominations for Teacher, Teacher, King and Miss Evers'
Boys. He was highly respected by audiences and peers alike thus won numerous
kudos and honors including the Hall of Fame Award for Outstanding Artistic
Achievement; the Screen Actor's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award; the U.S. National
Medal for the Arts; NAACP Image Award and the New York Urban League Frederick
Douglass Award. Recently Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were among the artists who
received the Kennedy Center Honors.
Davis was a leading activist in the civil rights era of the 1960s. He joined
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the crusade for jobs and freedom and helped to
raise money for the Freedom Riders. He eulogized both King and Malcolm X at
their funerals. Famous theatrical producer Woodie King (and friend to Ossie),
once credited Davis with opening doors for many artists who followed in Davis’
stead; performers, who received work as the direct result of Ossie Davis’
having looked out for his fellow thespians.
Davis was found dead in his hotel room in Miami Beach, Fla. Police spokesman,
Bobby Hernandez, said Davis' grandson called the police shortly before 7
a.m., after having become concerned that his grandfather did not respond to
efforts to access his room at the Shore Club Hotel.
Davis’s death leaves a huge hole in the artistic community and his presence
will be surely missed.
Alas, the curtain has come down and the theatre is dark. In the great play of
life, each plays out their season in their moment in time. We who continue
the play have much to thank Ossie Davis for. For in his parting, he left for us
a grand season and many treasured moments that will surpass all time.
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..Theodore Myles Publishing
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