Mary Alice, ‘A Different World’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’ star, dead at 85


Emmy and Tony-winning actress Mary Alice — best known for her role as Lettie Bostic in the 1980s sitcom “A Different World” — has died.

She was 85, according to the Hollywood Reporter, although other media outlets were uncertain about her exact age.

She died in her New York City home on Wednesday, the NYPD told the Reporter. A cause of death was not given.

“A shoulder we all stood on. A round of applause for Mary Alice. Thank you legend. Rest Easy,” fellow Tony winner Colman Domingo wrote on Twitter, and Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis proclaimed her “one of the greatest actresses of all time” in a tweet.

Born in Indianola, Mississippi, she got into acting in her community at a young age, but briefly took a break from the business to be an elementary school teacher in Chicago. In the 1960s, she traded the textbooks for scripts and got back into community theater. Mary Alice went on to get gigs in Manhattan’s East Village in the early 1960s and ’70s.

Mary Alice in 1988
Courtesy Everett Collection

In 1974, she made her film debut in “The Education of Sonny Carson” and made appearances in TV series such as “Police Woman” and “Sanford and Son.”

Alice is well known for her role as Effie Williams in the 1976 musical drama “Sparkle,” and she is also remembered for playing the Oracle in Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s 2003 franchise film “The Matrix Revolutions.”

Mary Alice and Beatrice Winde in 1976’s “Sparkle.”
Courtesy Everett Collection

She played Bostic, a dorm director, in the “Cosby Show” spinoff for two seasons in the 1980s. In those years, she also portrayed Ellie Grant Hubbard in “All My Children.”

Her performance as Rose in the 1987 production of August Wilson’s “Fences” earned her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. In 1992, she won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for “I’ll Fly Away.”

Mary Alice and Morgan Freeman in “Cockfight” at the American Place Theater in New York in 1977.
Courtesy Everett Collection

Her other movie credits include “Malcolm X,” “The Inkwell,” “Down in the Delta,” “Beat Street,” “To Sleep With Anger,” “Awakenings,” “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Sunshine State.”

Alice, who retired from acting in 2005, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2000.