Mary Alice, actress in Fences, Sparkle, and The Matrix Revolutions dies at 85

Mary Alice, the Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress who starred in the original Broadway production of fencesdepicts the mother of three daughters singers in the sparkle It appeared as The Oracle in Matrix Revolutions, Die. She was 85 years old.

Alice died on Wednesday in her Manhattan apartment, a NYPD spokesperson said The Hollywood Reporter.

In the 1990 films, Alice played Nurse Margaret opposite Robin Williams and Robert De Niro waking updirected by Penny Marshall; The mother who deals with an annoying guest (Danny Glover) in Charles Burnett To sleep with anger; A woman whose son was hit by a car in the South Bronx in Brian de Palma vanity fire.

The Chicago teacher once received back-to-back Emmy nominations in 1992 and 93—she won the second year—for her supporting role as Margaret Peck, whose child is murdered, in the NBC legal drama Atlanta. I will fly awayStarring Sam Waterston and Regina Taylor.

She also played sleep manager Lettie Bostic in 1988-89 in the first two seasons of NBC different world; Matty Michael’s mother to Oprah Winfrey in the 1989 ABC mini-series Brewster Place Women; and Augustus Hill’s mother Harold Perino Jr. in 2002 on HBO’s Geese.

In cult favorite the sparkle (1976), a rags-to-riches Harlem-set story inspired by The Supremes, Alice was as unforgettable as Evie, the only mother raising her daughters played by Erin Kara, Lonet Mackie and Duane Smith. (In her last role, the character was played by Whitney Houston in the 2012 reboot.)

Bob McCann wrote in 2009: “Only in her mid-thirties when she played the role did Alice beautifully molded—and saluted—all the mothers who went the extra mile for their children.” Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television.

After the death in 2001 of Gloria Foster, who portrayed The Oracle in the first two Matrix films, Alice steps in to lead the way to enlightenment in Matrix Revolutions (2003). To explain the change in appearance, it was noted that the outer shell of the Oracle had been destroyed by the criminal program known as the Merovingian.

Alice received the Outstanding Tony for Best Actress in a Play in 1987 for her role as Rose, wife of James Earl Jones Troy and mother of Courtney B. Vance Cory, in Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson. fences.

“Miss. Alice’s performance emphasizes strength over self-pity, and outright anger at festering bitterness,” Frank Rich wrote in his book The New York Times reconsidering. “The actress finds the spiritual quotient in the acceptance that accompanies Rose’s love for a scarred man so complex.”

She received another Tony nomination in 1995 for playing Bessie Delaney in it to have our wordwhich is about two people who, after their 100th birthday, she and Foster are sisters who are contemplating life.

In 2000, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

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From left: Mary Alice, Ray Arana and James Earl Jones in Fences

Ron Sherle / Courtesy of The Everett Group

Mary Alice Smith, one of five children, was born on December 3, 1936, in Indianola, Mississippi, and raised in Chicago. Her father, Sam, worked in a laundry, and her mother, Ozilar, worked in a factory. After college, she was a Social Security secretary and then an elementary school teacher before joining a community theater group.

She got her first paid job as an actress in 1966 when Douglas Turner-Ward, co-founder of New York-based Negro Ensemble, brought a tour group to Chicago to perform plays including Absent days And the happy endings.

She said in 1979, “Fairness required the set to use one local actor, and I was assigned to do some roles and laundry. I loved it. I really liked it, and didn’t mind washing and ironing it twice a week.”

Alice came to New York in 1967 and studied with Lloyd Richards – he had directed the original 1959 Broadway production of A raisin in the sun And he will direct it fences Before appearing on stage for Negro Ensemble Company and Wynn Handman’s American Place Theatre.

In 1974, Alice starred in a PBS adaptation of Philip Hayes Dean blind pig styleDirected by Evan Dixon, she made her film debut sony carson education. A year later, she guest starred in episodes police womanAnd the happy times And the Sanford and his son (Like Fred’s sister, Frances, who has just married a white man.)

Alice said she didn’t really consider herself an actress until she worked with producer Joseph Pap and the New York Shakespeare Festival, and won an Obie Award for her performance as Portia in Julius Caesar in 1979.

Eleven years later, she starred opposite Denzel Washington at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in The Tragedy of Richard III.

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Mary Alice and Keanu Reeves in The Matrix Revolutions

Warner Bros. / The Everett Collection Courtesy of

Alice created the character Rose in fences During a 1983 workshop at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut.

“I based it on not just myself but my mom, aunts, grandmother, and other women I knew growing up in Chicago in the 1950s. Sometimes you just feel familiar; you know right away who the person is, and it’s one of those roles that I defined in Too early,” Alice told times in 1987.

“These were uneducated women, living at some time before women’s liberation, and their identities were tied up in their husbands. They had endured a lot of insults and humiliations because they were women and attached to men, and their lives outside the home were very limited. Other than going to church, it was family.”

Alice’s big screen biography also included Spike Lee Malcolm X (1992), Clint Eastwood perfect world (1993), inkwell (1994), go home (1994), bed of roses (1996), Maya Angelou down delta (1998), wish tree (1999) and John Sayles The country of the rising sun (2002).

Her last on-screen credit came with the 2005 episode of the reboot kojakVing Rams Championship.

Abby White contributed to this report.

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