Mary Alice, A Different World and Sparkle Actress, Dead at 85: ‘A Shoulder We All Stood On’

American actress Mary Alice attends the 1993 Primetime Emmy Awards, held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, 19th September 1993.
American actress Mary Alice attends the 1993 Primetime Emmy Awards, held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, 19th September 1993.

Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Mary Alice, the actress best known for her roles in A Different World and Sparkle, has died. She was 85.

Alice died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan, a spokesperson for the NYPD confirms to PEOPLE. A cause of death was not provided.

The actress’s death was also confirmed by “one of her close friends,” according to Philip Lewis of HuffPost, who announced the news on his Twitter Thursday.

“Mary Alice, known for her roles as ‘Lettie’ on A Different World and Effie Williams in Sparkle, has died, one of her close friends tells me,” Lewis wrote.

“‘We are all very sad at the loss,'” he shared from the source’s statement.

Lewis also posted two photos of Alice — the first of her at the 45th Emmy Award Governor’s Ball in 1993 with her award in hand, and the second of her in character.

Jasmine Guy as Whitley Marion Gilbert, Mary Alice as Leticia 'Lettie' Bostic in A Different World
Jasmine Guy as Whitley Marion Gilbert, Mary Alice as Leticia ‘Lettie’ Bostic in A Different World

NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Alice is best known for portraying Leticia “Lettie” Bostic on NBC’s A Different World and Effie Williams in the 1976 original version of Sparkle, which told the story of how The Supremes achieved fame.

She also played The Oracle in The Matrix Revolutions and Marguerite Peck in I’ll Fly Away, for which she received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. In 1987, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in August Wilson’s Fences.

Her other film credits include Spike Lee’s Malcolm XAwakenings opposite Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World and Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta.

Along with television appearances in shows like Oz and Law & Order, she also starred in a production of The Tragedy of Richard III beside Denzel Washington at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.

SPARKLE, Mary Alice, Beatrice Winde, 1976
SPARKLE, Mary Alice, Beatrice Winde, 1976

Alice began acting as a child in her hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She picked up the trade again after working as a Social Security secretary and teaching at an elementary school in Chicago, where she was raised.

She returned to the stage in community theater productions until she made her way into Manhattan’s East Village theater scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Variety reported.

The actress’s first paying job came in 1966 performing with the New York Negro Ensemble Company when the were in Chicago touring, per THR.

“Equity required the group to use one local actor, and I was hired to do a couple of roles and the laundry,” she said in 1979, according to The New York Times. “I loved it. I really loved it, and I didn’t mind doing the washing and ironing twice a week.”

In 2000, Alice was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. She eventually retired from acting in 2005, per her IMDb page. Her final onscreen credit was recorded that year for an episode of the rebooted drama series Kojak.

Following news of her death, several members of the Hollywood community took to social media to pay their respects. Among them were actors Viola Davis and Colman Domingo.

“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,” Davis, 56, tweeted beside a photo of Alice.

“A shoulder we all stood on. A round of applause for Mary Alice. Thank you legend. Rest Easy,” added Domingo, 52, in a separate tweet.

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