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Ruby Dee dead at 91

News Desk | 6/12/2014, 1:56 p.m.

Legendary actress Ruby Dee has died at age 91, says daughter Nora Davis Day.

Her long career brought her an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film "American Gangster." She also won an Emmy and was nominated for several others. Age didn't slow her down.

"I think you mustn't tell your body, you mustn't tell your soul, 'I'm going to retire,'" Dee told The Associated Press in 2001. "You may be changing your life emphasis, but there's still things that you have in mind to do that now seems the right time to do. I really don't believe in retiring as long as you can breathe."

Since meeting on Broadway in 1946, she and her late husband were frequent collaborators. Their partnership rivaled the achievements of other celebrated performing couples, such as Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.

But they were more than a performing couple. They were also activists who fought for civil rights, particularly for blacks.

"We used the arts as part of our struggle," she said at an appearance in Jackson, Miss., in 2006. "Ossie said he knew he had to conduct himself differently with skill and thought."

In 1998, the pair celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and an even longer association in show business with the publication of a dual autobiography, "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together."

Davis died in February 2005. At his funeral, his widow sat near his coffin as former President Clinton led an array of famous mourners, including Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee.

Davis and Dee met in 1945 when she auditioned for the Broadway play "Jeb," starring Davis (both were cast in it). In December 1948, on a day off from rehearsals from another play, "The Smile of the World," Davis and Dee took a bus to New Jersey to get married. They already were so close that "it felt almost like an appointment we finally got around to keeping," Dee wrote in "In This Life Together."

They shared billing in 11 stage productions and five movies during long parallel careers. Dee's fifth film, "No Way Out" with Sidney Poitier in 1950, was her husband's first. Along with film, stage and television, their richly honored careers extended to a radio show, "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour," that featutred a mix of black themes. Davis directed one of their joint film appearances, "Countdown at Kusini" (1976).

Like her husband, Dee was active in civil rights issues and efforts to promote the cause of blacks in the entertainment industry. As young performers, they found themselves caught up the growing debate over social and racial justice in the United States. The couple's push for social justice was lifelong: In 1999, the couple was arrested while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York City police.

They were friends with baseball star Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel — Dee played her, opposite Robinson himself, in the 1950 movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story" — and with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. Dee and Davis served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington and she spoke at both the funerals for King and Malcom X.