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Mary Alice, A Different World and I'll Fly Away actress, dies

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Mary Alice, best known for her Emmy- and Tony Award-winning work in the TV series I'll Fly Away and the original Broadway production of Fences, has died. According to The Hollywood Reporter, she was 85, but her birth year has been reported as both 1936 and 1941 by multiple sources.

The actress died on Wednesday in her home in New York City, the NYPD confirmed to THR. A cause of death has not revealed at this time.

Actress Mary Alice holding her Emmy Award in the press room at The 45th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards
Actress Mary Alice holding her Emmy Award in the press room at The 45th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Dan Watson/getty images Mary Alice circa 1993

Reps for Alice did not immediately returns EW's request for comment.

One of five children, she was born Mary Alice Smith in Indianola, Miss., and raised in Chicago. She worked as a teacher in Chicago during the mid-1960s before pivoting to acting. She went on to enjoy an impressive and long acting career, both onscreen and onstage. Alice is best known for her roles as Lettie Bostic on NBC's Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, Effie Williams in the 1976 musical Sparkle, the Oracle in The Matrix Revolutions and video game Enter the Matrix, and Ellie Grant Hubbard on All My Children.

Alice won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama in 1993 for her work as recurring character Marguerite Peck on I'll Fly Away after having been nominated in the same category the year prior. Her many other TV appearances include L.A. Law, Cosby, Touched by An Angel, The Women of Brewster Place, Providence, Soul Food, and Oz.

On the big screen, Alice appeared in many movies, including Malcolm X, The Bonfire of the VanitiesTo Sleep With Anger, Awakenings, Sunshine State, and Down in the Delta.

As for her stage career, Alice debuted on Broadway in 1969 as a standby in No Place to Be Somebody, and got her first starring role in 1971. After appearing in many other productions, she eventually won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1987 for her turn as Rose Maxson in the original Broadway production of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences.

Alice was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2000 and retired from acting in five years later.

Viola Davis, who portrayed Rose on stage and in the 2016 movie version of Fences, was one of the many stars paying tribute to Alice on social media, calling her "one of the greatest actresses of all time!"

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