Beah Richards

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Beah Richards
Beah Richards.jpg
Born Beulah Elizabeth Richardson
(1920-07-12)July 12, 1920
Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S.
Died September 14, 2000(2000-09-14) (aged 80)
Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S.
Cause of death Emphysema
Occupation Actress
Years active 1955–2000
Notable work Roots: The Next Generations
Spouse(s) Hugh Harrell Jr. (divorced)

Beah Richards (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000) was an American actress of stage, screen and television. She was a poet, playwright and author. During her career, Richards was nominated for a Tony and Academy Awards, and received two Primetime Emmy Awards for her performances on television.

Life and career[edit]

She was born Beulah Elizabeth Richardson in Vicksburg, Mississippi; her mother was a seamstress and PTA advocate and her father was a Baptist minister. In 1948, she graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and two years later moved to New York City.[1] Her career started to take off in 1955 when she portrayed an eighty-four-year-old-grandmother in the off-Broadway show Take a Giant Step. She often played the role of a mother or grandmother, and continued acting her entire life. She appeared in the original Broadway productions of Purlie Victorious, The Miracle Worker, and A Raisin in the Sun.

"There are a lot of movies out there that I would hate to be paid to do, some real demeaning, real woman-denigrating stuff. It is up to women to change their roles. They are going to have to write the stuff and do it. And they will."

– Beah Richards

Richards was nominated for a Tony Award for her 1965 performance in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner.[2] She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Sidney Poitier's mother in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.[1] Other notable movie performances include Hurry Sundown, The Great White Hope, Beloved and In the Heat of the Night.

She made numerous guest television appearances including recurrent roles on Beauty and the Beast, The Bill Cosby Show, Sanford and Son, Benson, Designing Women, The Practice, The Big Valley and ER (as Dr. Peter Benton's mother.) She was the winner of two Emmy Awards, one in 1988 for her appearance on the series Frank's Place, and another in 2000 for her appearance on The Practice.[1]


Richards was diagnosed with emphysema in 2000. Richards died from emphysema in her hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi at the age of 80.[3][4]


In the last year of her life, Richards was the subject of a documentary created by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton. The documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks was created from over 70 hours of their conversations. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Film Festival.


Feature films
Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Mugger Grecco Maid
1959 Take a Giant Step May Scott
1962 The Miracle Worker Viney the Maid Uncredited
1963 Gone Are the Days! Idella Landy
1967 Hurry Sundown Rose Scott
1967 In the Heat of the Night Mama Caleba
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Mrs. Prentice Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1970 The Great White Hope Mama Tiny NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
1972 The Biscuit Eater Charity Tomlin
1975 Mahogany Florence
1986 Inside Out Verna
1987 Big Shots Miss Hanks
1989 Homer and Eddie Linda Cervi
1989 Drugstore Cowboy Drug Counselor
1998 Beloved Baby Suggs Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture


  1. ^ a b c Brian Baxter. "Obituary: Beah Richards". the Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  2. ^ The Broadway League. "Beah Richards - IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Beah Richards, 80, Actress in Stalwart Roles". 16 September 2000. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Beah Richards; Oscar Nominee for 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 

External links[edit]