Name at birth: Raiford Chatman Davis
Modern audiences know Ossie Davis from his many appearances in Spike Lee movies, from Do the Right Thing (1988) to She Hate Me (2004). But Davis has made hundreds of appearances in films, plays and TV shows since 1946, when he made his Broadway debut after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1961 he was celebrated for his starring performance in his play Purlie Victorious (the 1963 film version of which was titled Gone Are the Days!). Davis also has written, produced and directed both plays and films. His first feature as a director, Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), was a box-office success and a landmark moment in the history of African-American cinema for its realistic portrayal of black, urban cops. Davis has co-starred many times with his wife, actress Ruby Dee, whom he married in 1948. Davis and Dee are one of the theater world's best-known celebrity couples, thanks to their long careers, their successful marriage and their social and political activism. Davis also appeared in the films Let's Do It Again (1975, with Sidney Poitier), Grumpy Old Men (1993, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) and the 2002 cult film Bubba Ho-tep (Davis plays a character who claims to be John F. Kennedy).