by Alana Seldon
July 29, 2022
Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Mary Alice, best known for her roles as Leticia “Lettie” Bostic on A Different World, Effie Williams in the 1976 musical Sparkle and Rose Maxson in the 1987 production of Fences, has died, Variety reports. She was 85.
Alice died Wednesday in her Manhattan home, according to NYPD. However, additional details regarding her death have not yet been released.
A daughter of Indianola, Mississippi, but raised in Chicago, Mary Alice was a school teacher-turned actress who went on to win prestigious awards and even get inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
The veteran actress got her start in the entertainment industry in the late 1960s, moving to New York to study with Lloyd Richards, the director of the original 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun. She continued to take the stage throughout the early 1970s before transitioning into film roles.
Alice made her on-screen debut in “The Education of Sonny Carson” in 1974, and began making guest appearances on popular sitcoms like Good Times and Sanford and Son shortly after.
In ’76, she starred in the original Sparkle as single mom Effie raising three singing daughters. The musical told the story of how The Supremes achieved fame.
For two seasons, she also appeared in the iconic Black sitcom A Different World, which brought the HBCU culture to primetime and gave the world a glimpse of student life at the fictional Hillman College.
Her performance as Rose in the 1987 production of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences secured her Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. She starred alongside James Earl Jones and Courtney B. Vance. Surprisingly, she revealed nearly 30-years-ago, that she created the character of Rose during a 1983 workshop in Connecticut.
“I based her not only on myself but on my mother, my aunts, my grandmother and other women I knew growing up in Chicago in the 1950s,” Alice told the Times back in 1987. “Sometimes you just feel an affinity; you immediately know who a person is, and she’s one of those roles I identified with very early on.”
Alice nabbed her Emmy Award in 1993 — after being nominated back-to-back — for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for NBC’s I’ll Fly Away.
With a career spanning four decades, her credits also include films such as The Matrix Revolutions, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, The Inkwell, Down in the Delta, Beat Street, To Sleep With Anger, Awakenings, The Bonfire of the Vanities and Sunshine State, among many others. Alice retired from acting in 2005.
As the news of her death circulated online, several Hollywood stars and fans took to social media to pay their respects.
Viola Davis, who also played Rose in Fences both on Broadway (Tony Awards) and in the 2016 movie opposite Denzel Washington, shared a thoughtful note, calling Mary Alice “one of the greatest actresses of all time.”
RIP Mary Alice…the original Rose Maxson. You were one of the greatest actresses of all time!! Thank you for the work, inspiration and thank you for Rose. Godspeed Queen ❤️❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/Yv3CKGOrDE
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) July 28, 2022
Colman Domingo also took to Twitter, thanking the “legend” and acknowledging her as “a shoulder we all stood on.”
A shoulder we all stood on. A round of applause for Mary Alice. Thank you legend. Rest Easy. pic.twitter.com/WXYEqSOlJA
— Colman Domingo (@colmandomingo) July 28, 2022
Wendell Pierce said Alice was an “intense, ferociously creative, profoundly authentic artist” who was an “icon of the craft.”
Mary Alice was an intense,ferociously creative, profoundly authentic artist. Her spirit of expression was infectious. An icon of the craft. I saw her in the original Broadway production of FENCES. A tour de force performance matched by none.Transcendental. Once in a lifetime. RIP pic.twitter.com/jNROq2D09A
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) July 29, 2022
Jennifer Lewis added: “So much love and laughter with Mary Alice in our NY days. An amazing role model and certainly one of our absolute best.”
Mary Alice was truly an incomparable talent who left her mark on the Hollywood TV & film industry and especially on Black culture.
TV One extends our deepest condolences to the family, loved ones and colleagues of Ms. Mary Alice. What was your favorite role of hers during her career?