Mary Alice, 'A Different World' and 'The Matrix' Actress, Dead at 85

Legendary actress and stage performer Mary Alice has died. Alice, who won an Emmy for I'll Fly Away, as well as a Tony for her performance in 1987's Broadway production of August Wilson's Fences, died in New York City on July 27. Her age of death is not clear, with different reports listing her as 80, 84, and 86. The cause of death is not currently known. 

Alice's work is extensive, known for her work on the NBC Cosby Show spinoff A Different World. She starred as dorm director Leticia "Lettie" Bostic. She also played in 2003's The Matrix Revolutions as The Oracle, who imparts words of wisdom to Keanu Reeves' character Neo. Outside of her work in film and television, she was beloved for her theater work.

She made her debut as a standby in 1969's No Place To Be Somebody before taking a starring role in a 1971 production. She starred as Rose in the critically acclaimed Fences, the same character Viola Davis played in the 2016 film. Alice won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for the performance. The How to Get Away With Murder star Tweeted of Alice: "You were one of the greatest actresses of all time!! Thank you for the work, inspiration and thank you for Rose. Godspeed Queen."

Born Mary Alice Smith in Indianola, Mississippi, she worked as a teacher in Chicago during the mid-1960s before her acting career took off with stage productions. Her first screen film role came in 1974 in The Education of Sonny Carson. Alice's breakout role was as Effie Williams in the 1976 musical drama Sparkle. She played the mother of three daughters who performed in a singing group.


Per Deadline, other TV credits include All My Children, The Women of Brewster Place, L.A. Law, Cosby, Touched By An Angel, Providence, Soul Food, Oz, Line of Duty, The Jury, and Kojak. Her film roles include The Bonfire of the Vanities, Awakenings, Malcolm X, Down in the Delta, and Sunshine State