Ruby Dee left an indelible mark on whomever she worked with. One of her most memorable roles was that of Ruth Younger in the 1959 production of A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.
It was a production of historic proportions—the first time an African-American woman presented a play on a Broadway stage and the first play by an African-American director, Lloyd Richards. The play was nominated for four Tony Awards.
Fast forward 55 years later and the play is back on Broadway, in the same theater, and recently won three Tony Awards, including Best Performance by an Actress for actress Sophie Okonedo, who plays the same role as Ruby Dee.
"I am so sad to hear of her passing," Okonedo said of Dee. "She is one of my heroines and made so much possible for generations of Black actors that have followed her path, notwithstanding all the incredible civil rights work she has done too."
"It has been such a privilege and honor to play the role she originated on the very same stage every night. Tonight I will be thinking of her and sending her a prayer as the curtain goes up."
Director Kenny Leon also won a Tony Award this past Sunday. He thanked Dee in his speech. “When I mentioned her from the Tony Awards stage on Sunday, it was heartfelt," he said. "She and Ossie spent time with me during the staging of the Raisin revival 10 years ago, and I will never forget her passion for the play; and her example as a true American theatre artist that inspired many of us to speak through our art."
Leon added, "They don't get better than Ruby. Maya and Ruby leave us only days apart—those two women with four letter names instructed us on how to LIVE."
"She will be missed but never forgotten as she lives on in many of us," he said.
The current revival of A Raisin in the Sun also stars Denzel Washington, Anika Noni Rose, and LaTanya Richardson, and runs through June 15.