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Loretta Devine Biography


Home > Actresses > D > Devine, Loretta > Biography


Birth Name: Loretta Devine
Born: 08/21/1949
Birth Place: Houston, Texas, USA


Devine was born in Houston, TX on Aug. 21, 1949 to parents Eunice, a beautician, and James, a laborer. Raised in the Acres Homes neighborhood of Houston, she enjoyed performing in a variety of settings while attending George Washington Carver High School. After earning twin degrees in Language and Performing Arts from the University of Houston in 1971, Devine began her career as a stage director in 1972 at the Black Arts Center, where she worked on such productions as "Who's Got His Own" and "Black Cycle." Later, she moved eastward to secure an MFA in Theater from Massachusetts's Brandeis University in 1976. Soon after, Devine made her professional stage debut in a production of the musical "Godsong" at the famed La MaMa Etc. Company in New York City. Her Broadway debut came with a revival of "Hair" (1977), though she scored her first big success in 1981 as Lorrell, one of the "Dreamgirls" in Michael Bennett's award-winning production of the Motown-inspired musical. Bob Fosse next cast the much sought after Devine in his musical "Big Deal" (1986), and later that year she earned praise for multiple roles in George C. Wolfe's bitingly satirical "The Colored Museum."

After her success on stage, Devine began working on the small screen with a supporting role on Lisa Bonet's collegiate sitcom spin-off "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993) for its first season before being dropped alongside future Oscar-winner, Marisa Tomei, from the series. Despite the attention her musical career had received, it was several years before steady film roles found their way onto Devine's résumé. Her first film jobs were bit parts in the Sidney Poitier-River Phoenix thriller "Little Nikita" (1988) and the stoner-comedy "Sticky Fingers" (1988). Picking up momentum, she made her TV-movie debut on "The Murder of Mary Phagan" (NBC, 1988), a fact-based miniseries about the notorious case of a Jewish factory worker (Peter Gallagher) accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl. Two years later, Devine was given her own extremely short-lived series, "Sugar and Spice" (CBS, 1990), in which she played a free-spirit attempting to raise her orphaned niece (Dana Hill) alongside her more conservative sister (Vickilyn Reynolds). Despite the failure of that venture, she was working steadily, with notable supporting roles in such feature films as "Stanley and Iris" (1990) and "Livin' Large" (1991).

That same year, Devine was given the rare opportunity to reprise a role she had originated on stage in the televised adaptation of "The Colored Museum" (PBS, 1990). Beginning in the early 1990s, she maintained a constant television presence with dozens of appearances on shows ranging from "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998) to "Cop Rock" (ABC, 1990) to "Roc" (FOX, 1991-94). In theaters, Devine picked a matronly role in the Kid 'n Play comedy "Class Act" (1992), an urban updating of the Prince and the Pauper tale. But it was her turn in the hit "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), a romantic drama based on the best-selling novel by Terry McMillan, that brought Devine mainstream attention. Co-starring Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston, the film was notable for proving that an almost exclusively African-American cast could carry a film to first place at the box-office. Her work in "Exhale" won Devine a 1996 NAACP Image Award, as well as a strong supporting role alongside her co-star from the earlier film, Whitney Houston, in the fantasy-romance, "The Preacher's Wife" (1996), which also starred Denzel Washington.

By now, the in-demand Devine was taking on as much work as she could handle, including parts in the little-seen features "The Price of Kissing" (1997) and "Lover Girl" (1997). More memorable that year was her brief appearance in the period gangster biopic "Hoodlum" (1997) as Pigfoot Mary, girlfriend to the cousin (Chi McBride) of a released con (Laurence Fishburne) vying for control of Harlem's numbers racket against the brutal mobster 'Dutch' Schultz (Tim Roth). Continuing a streak of grittier fare, she next played a university rent-a-cop with attitude in the moderately inventive slasher flick, "Urban Legends" (1998), then moved on to a more dramatic turn when she appeared as the loving caregiver to an Alzheimer's patient (Esther Rolle) in Maya Angelou's heartwarming drama, "Down in the Delta" (1998). The following year she appeared as Ruby Dandridge, the mother of the eponymous doomed singer-actress (Halle Berry) in the critically-acclaimed cable biopic "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (HBO, 1999).

On network television, Devine landed a regular spot on the claymation-animated sitcom, "The PJs" (WB, 1998-2001), voicing matriarch Muriel Stubbs to creator Eddie Murphy's patriarchal Thurgood Stubbs. As prolific as ever, she turned up in the Mel Gibson romantic comedy hit, "What Women Want" (2000), before reviving her tough campus cop, Reese, in the less-imaginative sequel, "Urban Legends: Final Cut" (2000). Simultaneously, she began her run on the acclaimed high school drama, "Boston Public" (FOX, 2000-04), in which she played a special coed teacher dependent on medication just to get her through the day. Following a supporting turn as an overbearing mom prone to quoting the 'Good Book' to her nephew (Darius McCrary) in the feature "Kingdom Come" (2001), Devine essayed a social worker who attempts to separate a mentally disabled man (Sean Penn) from his seven year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning) in the mawkish drama, "I Am Sam" (2001).

When "Boston Public" closed its books in 2004, Devine made the move over to another series for the second season of "Wild Card" (Lifetime, 2003-05), a drama about a former blackjack dealer (Joely Fisher) embarking on a new career as an insurance fraud investigator after the death of her sister. At the same time, Devine could be seen in movie theaters as a part of an impressive ensemble cast in writer-director Paul Haggis' emotionally-taxing Los Angeles drama "Crash" (2004). In a sort of part-time job, she picked up a sporadically recurring role on the hit medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005- ) as Adele Webber, the loyal wife of Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.). Although not able to reprise the role that she had performed so wonderfully on stage decades earlier, Devine was given a small cameo as a jazz singer in the Academy Award-winning feature film adaptation of "Dreamgirls" (2006), which featured Broadway performer Anika Noni Rose as 'Dreamgirl' Lorrell Robinson. Also in theaters, although far less critically hailed, she played a sympathetic nun in the Ice Cube-Tracy Morgan comedy, "First Sunday" (2008).

In addition to her periodic on-going appearances in "Grey's Anatomy," Devine signed on as a regular cast member on the quirky fantasy-comedy-drama "Eli Stone" (ABC, 2008-09), as the titular lawyer's (Jonny Lee Miller) brassy and brutally honest office assistant. Sadly, the show proved a bit too quirky for mass audiences and was canceled after its second season. Steady work with supporting roles in feature films continued to be Devine's bread and butter, however. While recognized largely for her participation in urban comedies, she was occasionally seen in unexpected projects like idiosyncratic director Werner Herzog's grim, fact-based crime drama "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?" (2009), in which she played an eyewitness to a grizzly case of matricide. Other more typical film work included the comedy "Lottery Ticket" (2010), writer-director Tyler Perry's interpretation of the play "For Colored Girls" (2010), and the wedding comedy-drama "Jumping the Broom" (2011). Devine teamed with Perry once again with a leading role as the dying matriarch of a large, dysfunctional brood in "Madea's Big Happy Family" (2011). Meanwhile, in 2011 Devine was recognized for her portrayal of Adele Webber on "Grey's Anatomy" with an Emmy win for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama. She was nominated again the following year.