Ossie Davis Biography

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Birth Name: Ossie Davis
Born: 12/18/1917
Birth Place: Cogdell, Georgia, USA
Death Place: Miami Beach, Florida, USA
Died: 02/04/2005


The young Davis set out on foot from Waycross, GA, to Washington, DC, to attend Howard University. He left before graduation and moved to New York, where he joined Harlem's Rose McClendon Players and studied acting under Lloyd Richards. After a stint in the Army during WWII, Davis made his Broadway debut in 1946, playing the title role of "Jeb". This also marked his first collaboration with Ruby Dee, who was also in the cast. The pair went on to tour together in a production of "Anna Lucasta" and married in 1948. Davis amassed numerous roles on Broadway including the lead in "A Raisin in the Sun" (succeeding Sidney Poitier). In 1961, he wrote and starred in the Broadway hit, "Purlie Victorious", an irreverent send-up of racism in the Old South, which he then adapted for the screen as "Gone Are the Days" (1963). He also wrote the book for "Purlie", the well-received 1970 Broadway musical version.

Davis debuted in features (along with Poitier) with "No Way Out" (1950), a powerful tale of racial hatred directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Subsequent film credits included "The Cardinal" (1963), "The Hill" (1965), and "The Scalphunters" (1968). Davis made a memorable feature debut as a writer-director in 1970 with a jaunty adaptation of Chester Himes's colorful novel, "Cotton Comes to Harlem", and subsequently directed "Kongi's Harvest" (1971), "Black Girl" (1972), "Gordon's War" (1973) and "Countdown at Kusini" (1976). He has since become a fixture in the films of Spike Lee, playing the enthusiuastic football coach in "School Daze" (1988), the wise neighborhood drunk in "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and the righteously intolerant minister father of Wesley Snipes in "Jungle Fever" (1991), a eulogist in "Malcolm X" (1992), "Get On the Bus" (1996) and "She Hate Me" (2004).

Davis has been a frequent presence on TV since his 1951 debut in a televised production of "Green Pastures". He and Dee have also hosted a radio and TV series. Davis produced the latter, "Ossie and Ruby" (PBS, 1987), a dramatic anthology series on which he often served as a director, writer, and actor. Davis has appeared in numerous TV-movies and several high-minded miniseries including "Roots: The Next Generations" (ABC, 1979) and "King" (NBC, 1978), delivering an acclaimed performance as Martin Luther King Sr. in the latter. More recently, after co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in ABC's series of "B.L. Stryker" TV movies, Davis lent his considerable air of dignity and wry, bemused stability to the small-town hijinks of Reynolds' popular sitcom "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94) as Ponder Blue. He performed similar duties playing a heroic judge during the post-apocalyptic goings-on of "Stephen King's The Stand" (ABC, 1994). In 1996, Davis joined the ensemble cast of the CBS family drama "Promised Land" through 1998. He appeared in the short-lived crime drama series "The Protector" (1997) and the Anne Rice mini-series "The Feast of All Saints" (2001), and made guest appearances on several dramatic series, including "JAG," "Touched By an Angel," "Third Watch" and "City of Angels" (for which he won an Image Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series).

Davis's recent film credits are not limited to "Spike Lee Joints". The septuagenarian supporting player was far more dapper than the two top-billed "Grumpy Old Men" (1993) and he again presided as a jurist in "The Client" (1994), a role he recreated in the TV spinoff. Davis was praised for his turn opposite Walter Matthau in the screen adaptation of Herb Gardner's play "I'm Not Rappaport" (1996) and he appeared in the ensembles of two well-regarded telepics based on classic theatrical productions, "Miss Evers' Boys" (1997)--for which he recieved an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special--and "12 Angry Men" (1997). The actor also appeared briefly as Eddie Murphy's father Archer Doolittle in the comedy remake "Dr. Doolittle" (1998).

In 2001 Davis was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild and his acting output had not slowed a bit: he continued to appear in a multitude of telepics, and especially received praise for his turn in "Finding Buck McHenry" (2000) as a school custodian who coaches an independent Little League team and is revealed to be a long-forgotten ex-Negro League legend. Davis appeared alongside Bruce Campbell in the instant cult classic "Bubba Ho-Tep" (2003) as Jack, a nursing home resident convinced he's John F. Kennedy, who teams with an eged Elvis (Bruce Campbell) to battle an evil ancient Egyptian entity. He was also one of the two central figures in the telepic "Deacons for the Defense" (2003) for which he was nominated for his seventh NAACP Image Award for playing the peaceful minister who co-founded the Deacons for Defense and Justice in 1964. The actor also took a pivitol role in "Baadasssss!" (2004), writer-director-star Mario Van Peebles' depiction of his father Melvin's struggles to film the influential 1971 classic "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." That same year Davis and his wife both received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor, and, a consummate actor until the very end, Davis had four films in various stages of production when he died unexpectedly in early 2005. Davis famously delivered the quote "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" in a long-running series of promotional spots for the United Negro College Fund, and his long and accomplished career serves as proof that he wasted neither his mind nor his talent.




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