Gloria Foster

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Gloria Foster
Gloria Foster 1970.JPG
Foster in 1970.
Born(1933-11-15)November 15, 1933
DiedSeptember 29, 2001(2001-09-29) (aged 67)
Resting placeKensico Cemetery
Valhalla, New York
Years active1964–2001
(m. 1967; div. 1984)

Gloria Foster (November 15, 1933 – September 29, 2001)[1] was an American actress. She had acclaimed roles in plays In White America and Having Our Say,[2] winning three Obie Awards during her career. Foster played the Oracle in The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003) films, the latter film being her last. Foster played the role of the mother of Yusef Bell in the mini series The Atlanta Child Murders which aired in 1985.[3]


Early life and education[edit]

Foster was born on November 15, 1933, in Chicago, Illinois. As a young child, Foster was put into the custody of her maternal grandparents. Foster never knew who her father was and she moved to Janesville, Wisconsin after her mother was hospitalized for a mental illness.[4]

Foster attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she participated in plays, but did not focus on acting.[5] Foster decided to be a professional actor when her godmother introduced her to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.[5] Foster became one of the few African Americans at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University). During her studying at the Goodman School she also, "learned professional acting skills in the Court Theater at the University of Chicago".[6] One of her most influential instructors was Bella Itkin, who cast Gloria in many classical roles.[4]


Foster began acting on Broadway in 1963.[6] Her first role was Ruth in the show of A Raisin in the Sun. Her first professional performance was In White America.[4] Foster, "play[s] a 13-year-old Arkansas girl who tries to enter her Little Rock school".[2] She won an Obie Award or Off-Broadway Theater Award.[7] Instead having to audition for roles, people started to make parts for her to be in.[4] Foster was known for her work with Joe Papp, and appeared in his productions of Long Day's Journey into Night, Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, Brecht's Mother Courage (adapted by Ntozake Shange), and Shakespeare's Coriolanus.[8] Foster searched for roles in which she could perform to the best of her ability. She once said, "Young people today, I think, are thinking in terms of stepping stones.…I don't know that I ever thought that way. It sounds ridiculous, but I was always thinking in terms of a more difficult role".[4]


Moving from the New York stage, Gloria Foster started to do roles on the big screen. She was in many theatrical performances and also performed some roles on television. The Cool World (1964) – This was Gloria Foster's first appearance on a full-length feature film. She played Mrs. Custis. It was on the set of this film that she starred next to her future husband, Clarence Williams III. Nothing But a Man (1964) – Gloria Foster plays a woman named Lee, who lives with the main character's (Duff Anderson) father.[9] She was also active in television, appearing in such programs as I Spy, two episodes of Law & Order and The Cosby Show (1987).

Her character in both Law and Order episodes, named Satima Tate, was based on the widow of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz. The first episode, titled Conspiracy (1992), was based on Malcolm X's assassination. Malcolm X was played by Hal Miller. The second episode, titled Entrapment (1997), focused on her character's children's acts of revenge against the people they believed were really responsible. She returned to theatre again in 1995, acting alongside Mary Alice (who was later to replace her in The Matrix films following her death), appearing as 103-year-old Sadie Delany, in Having Our Say, on Broadway at the Booth Theatre, for which she received rave reviews.[10][11] The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – She played the Oracle,[2] however, she died during filming and was thus unable to portray her role in the third film. As a result, Mary Alice replaced her in The Matrix Revolutions and Enter the Matrix.

Personal life and death[edit]

Foster and Williams in The Mod Squad episode in 1970. Foster guest starred as a blind friend of Linc Hayes.

Foster married the actor Clarence Williams III in 1967. They appeared on an episode of Williams's television show The Mod Squad that ran from 1968 to 1973; Foster made two guest appearances. The two acted together in a 1964 film, The Cool World. Williams was the one to announce her death in 2001. While Foster did not have many close relatives, she stayed in contact with her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, Cicely Tyson. Tyson stated that, although they did not see each other often, their telephone conversations would often last for hours.[4]

Gloria Foster died on September 29, 2001, at age 67. The cause of her death was diabetes. A memorial was held at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn on October 15, 2001.[2] Martin Duberman, the author of In White America, told the audience about her 1963 performance that, "she embodied it. At the end of the scene each night, there were tears streaming down her face, her body was trembling, but her dignity was intact ... Foster had to be covered with blankets in order to calm her shaking".[4] She is interred in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.[citation needed]





  1. ^ "Gloria Foster". Social Security Death Index. New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d McKinley, Jesse (October 5, 2001). "Gloria Foster, Stage Actress, Is Dead at 64". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Gloria Foster as The Oracle - Profile
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Actress Gloria Foster article after her death Archived 2011-05-28 at the Wayback Machine Playbill
  5. ^ a b Shafer, Yvonne. "Gloria Foster." Performing O'Neil: Conversations with Actors and Directors. New York: St. Martin's, 2000. 215-231. Print] "Performing O'Neil".
  6. ^ a b Gloria Foster Biography[permanent dead link] Kosmix.
  7. ^ Tribute Movies
  8. ^ "Foster, Gloria". Facts On File History Database. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  9. ^[permanent dead link] Turner Classic Movies.
  10. ^ Gloria Foster bio: The Matrix Actor
  11. ^ Gloria Foster (1936–2001),, Robert Simonson, October 9, 2001.

External links[edit]