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Tony and Emmy winning actress Mary Alice has died at age 85

Actress Mary Alice holding her Emmy Award in the press room in 1993.
Dan Watson
Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
Actress Mary Alice holding her Emmy Award in the press room in 1993.

Emmy and Tony winning actress Mary Alice has died. A spokesperson for the NYPD confirms to NPR that she died of natural causes at her home in New York. She was 85.

Mary Alice won a Tony in 1987 for her performance as Rose Maxson in the original Broadway production of August Wilson's Fences. Among the tributes to Alice on social media, actress Viola Davis, who played Rose in stage and movie versions, writes, "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."

Mary Alice's career

She was born Mary Alice Smith in 1936 in Indianola, Miss., and spent several years as a schoolteacher in Chicago before moving to New York to pursue acting full time. In a career that spanned more than three decades, Alice performed on stage and screen, in comedies and dramas. She won an Obie Award in 1979 for her performance as Portia in Joseph Papp's Off-Broadway production of Julius Caesar. Her TV credits included Police Woman, Cosby and Sanford & Son. In 1991, she won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for I'll Fly Away.

In A Different World Alice played the delightfully eccentric, soft-spoken Leticia "Lettie" Bostic. Among her more than a dozen movie credits are Sparkle in 1976, Malcolm X in 1992 and The Matrix Revolutions in 2003.

In an interview with Contemporary Film, Theatre & Television, Alice said she was "proud" to be an actor. "I chose this profession because I feel this is how I can fulfill my service as a human being--communicating the human condition," she continued, "My desire is to create interesting and complex characters on film and television."

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.