Actor, Playwright, Film Director, and Social Reformer. Born Raiford Chatman Davis, his father was a railway construction engineer. The name "Ossie" came from a county courthouse clerk who misheard his mother's pronunciation of his initials "R.C." when he was born. He attended Howard University in Washington, DC but dropped out in 1939 to fulfill his acting career in New York. His acting career, which spanned seven decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem, with his first stage debut in "Joy Exceeding Glory" (1939). From 1940 to 1995 he would appear in nearly 30 other stage productions, including "Booker T. Washington" (1940), "No Time for Sergeants' (1956, replacement for Earle Hyman), and "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959, replacement for Sidney Poitier), and "Purlie Victorious" (1961, which he wrote). In 1948 he married actress Ruby Dee. They were well known as civil rights activists, and were close personal friends of Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other icons of the era. They were instrumental in organizing the 1963 civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He, along with Ahmed Osman, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X and also delivered a stirring tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, at a memorial in New York's Central Park the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. In 1950 he made his film debut in the Sidney Poitier film "No Way Out" and went on to appear in over 40 other films, including "The Scalphunters" (1963, with Burt Lancaster), "The Hill" (1965, with Sean Connery), "Sam Whiskey" (1969, with Burt Reynolds), "Slaves" (1969, with Dionne Warwick), "Gladiator" (1992, with Cuba Gooding, Jr.), "Malcolm X" (1992, with Denzel Washington), and 12 Angry Men" (1997, with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott). He also found recognition late in his life by working in several of director Spike Lee's films, including "Do The Right Thing" (1989), "Jungle Fever" (1991), "Get on the Bus" (1996), and "She Hate Me" (2004)". He made numerous appearances on television, most memorably "King" (1978 miniseries), "Roots: The Next Generations" (1979), "Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy "Satchel" Paige" (1981), "Alex Haley's Queen" (1992), and "The Ghost of Christmas Eve" (1999). His credits as a film director include "Cotton Comes to Harlem' (1970), "Black Girl" (1972), "Gordon's War" (1973), "Kongi's Harvest" (1973), and "Countdown at Kusini" (1976). He was the voice of 'Anansi' the spider on the PBS children's television series "Sesame Street" in its animation segments. His last film role was a several episode guest role on the Showtime drama series "The L Word," as a father struggling with the acceptance of his daughter 'Bette' (played by actress Jennifer Beals) parenting a child with her lesbian partner. In 1989 he and his wife were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame and in 1995, they were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the US. In 2004 they were recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. He was found dead in a Miami, Florida hotel room at the age of 87. An official cause of death was not released, but he was known to have suffered from heart problems.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
1922–2014 (m. 1948)
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