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February 5, 2005
Ossie Davis, RIP

One of the classiest presences on film and stage passed away yesterday. Ossie Davis, husband to Ruby Dee and together two of the most visible campaigners for civil rights during those most turbulent years, died at 87 of natural causes in a Miami hotel room:

Ossie Davis, whose rich baritone and elegant, unshakable bearing made him a giant of the stage, screen and the civil rights movement often in tandem with his wife, Ruby Dee has died. He was 87.

Davis was found dead Friday in his hotel room in Miami Beach, Fla., according to officials there. He was making a film, Retirement, said Arminda Thomas, who works in his New Rochelle office and confirmed the death.

Miami Beach police spokesman Bobby Hernandez said Davis grandson called shortly before 7 a.m. when Davis would not open the door to his room at the Shore Club Hotel. Davis was found dead, apparently of natural causes, Hernandez said.

Davis wrote, acted, directed and produced for the theater and Hollywood. Even light fare such as the comedy Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau was somehow enriched by his strong, but gentle presence. Davis and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, With Ossie & Ruby: In This Life Together.

Davis appeared in an almost-innumerable list of films, a tribute to a working spirit that kept him going until the very end; Davis was in Miami, working on a new project when he passed away. Davis lent a touch of class to everything he did, including his fight for equal rights. The role for which I'll probably remember him best is a great example of that, as it seems relatively minor in a film few recall. In the vastly-underrated modern fairy tale Joe Versus The Volcano, he played a philosophical limousine driver who takes Tom Hanks in hand and teaches him to define himself, rather than let others do it for him. Davis typically understates the performance and in that brief appearance (along with Hanks' own performance), elevates the film from a silly farce to a thoughtful if uneven essay on the meaning of life and living.

Davis, of course, did much more significant work than JVTV. He did more significant work in the civil-rights movement than he did on screen, for that matter, and that will be his shining legacy. I always thought, though, that the few minutes he spent in that cameo communicated more about truth than some actors give in an entire career. It's that kind of truth that movie fans like myself will miss the most with Ossie Davis gone. Rest in peace, Mr. Davis, and may choirs of angels shepherd you home.

UPDATE: No, apart from Davis' work in the civil-rights movement, I'm not a fan of his politics. I am a fan of his work on screen, though.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 5, 2005 9:06 AM

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» Remembering Ossie Davis from DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS
While I didn't always agree with Davis' politics, I admired his strength. That strength was perhaps never more apparent than in a made-for-TV film called "A Vow to Cherish." [Read More]

Tracked on February 5, 2005 11:52 AM

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