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Ossie Davis, Dead at 89

Feb 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Ossie Davis, the veteran actor, writer and director who was known for his commitment to civil rights, was found dead Friday in a hotel in Miami Beach, where he was working on a film. He was 89.

Mr. Davis, a featured speaker at the funerals of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, often performed with his wife of over 55 years, Ruby Dee. The pair were awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.

Born Raiford Chatman Davis in Cogdell, Ga., Mr. Davis got his unique nickname from his mother. After attending Howard and Columbia Universities, Mr. Davis served in World War II before making his Broadway debut in 1946, according to PBS.com.

Mr. Davis’ television career spanned six decades, from “Kraft Television Theatre’s”1955 production of “The Emperor Jones” to a guest appearance in 2004 on Showtime’s “The L Word,” according to the Web site IMDB.com. He played recurring roles on series as varied as the 1960s CBS legal drama “The Defenders” and the 1990s CBS drama “Touched By an Angel.”

Mr. Davis was also featured in a number of TV movies, including ABC’s “The Stand,” HBO’s “Miss Evers’ Boys” and Showtime’s 1997 remake of “Twelve Angry Men.”

Mr. Davis’ voice was familiar to television viewers; he served as narrator of documentaries on the lives of Arthur Ashe, Paul Robeson and Thomas Jefferson. He was also the voice in commercials for the United Negro College Fund, whose line “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” became well known.

Stephan Shelanski, senior VP of programming and acquisitions for Starz Entertainment Group said Friday in a statement that a documentary featuring Mr. Davis, Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks will premiere in Denver and New York next week and air as scheduled later in the month.

“Today’s sad news of the death of Ossie Davis makes us all so much more grateful for the chance we had to visit with him and record his thoughts and memories about his prolific career,” Mr. Shelanski said.

Mr. Davis is survived by his wife and three children.