Suzzanne Douglas, an actress who appeared on Broadway but was probably best known for her roles as wife, mother and law student on the sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood”, died Tuesday at her home in Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts. She was 64 years old.
Her husband, Jonathan Cobb, said the cause was complications from cancer. He did not specify what type of cancer Ms Douglas had, but said she had been ill for over two years.
Ms. Douglas has played a wide range of roles in her career. Eight years after her first screen appearance, in the 1981 television adaptation of the Broadway musical “Purlie”, she starred alongside Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr. and Savion Glover in the theatrical film “Tap », Winning an NAACP Image Award. In 1994, she was seen in the films “The Inkwell” (1994) and “Jason’s Lyric”.
She became known nationally as Matriarch Jerri Peterson opposite Robert Townsend (one of the show’s creators) on the WB sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood,” which explored the challenges of raising a family in New York and lasted for five seasons before ending in 1999.
Ms. Douglas’ other acting credits include the films “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1998) and “School of Rock” (2003), the sitcom “The Parkers” and “Whitney” (2015), the movie made for the television Biopic of Whitney Houston directed by Angela Bassett, in which she plays the singer Cissy Houston, the mother of Whitney.
She was also in “When They See Us,” the award-winning 2019 miniseries directed by Ava DuVernay about teenagers known as the Central Park Five who were convicted of rape. She played the mother of one of them. Mrs DuVernay remembered Mrs Douglas Wednesday as “a confident and caring actor who breathed life into words and made them sparkle”.
On Broadway, Ms. Douglas was seen in the 1989 revival of “Threepenny Opera”, with Sting, and “The Tap Dance Kid” (1983). In 2000, she became the first black woman to play the lead role of Vivian Bearing, a poetry teacher battling ovarian cancer, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit”. Alvin Klein’s New York Times review of the production, at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, called Ms. Douglas’ portrayal “vibrant” and “provocative.”
“I believe artists are and can be the conscience of the nation,” Ms. Douglas said in an interview in 2015. “We have a social obligation to tell a story that creates a dialogue that allows us to grow and change . She said she chose roles with a social conscience, adding, “They really have to speak to my heart and raise awareness.”
Mrs. Douglas was born on April 12, 1957 in Chicago. She received a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and, much later, a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, according to her website.
She was also an established songwriter and singer, having performed with jazz musicians including drummer and conductor Thelonious Monk Jr., trumpeter Jon Faddis and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, according to an arts agency representing Ms Douglas.
When she died, Mr Cobb said, she was working on an album.
Besides Mr. Cobb, her husband of 32 years, Mrs. Douglas is survived by a daughter, Jordan Victoria Cobb.
Having done so much in her career, Ms. Douglas reflected that performing as a singer is far more intimidating than as an actress.
“You are more vulnerable,” she said in an interview in 2014. “It’s just you. There is no character to hide behind. There are no costumes, no lights It’s just that you share the songs and tell the stories in the songs so that they have universal appeal and reach people where they need to be touched.