Juanita Moore, Oscar-Nommed for ‘Imitation of Life,’ Dies at 99

Juanita Moore Dead at 99; starred

Actress was trailblazer for African-American thesps

Juanita Moore, who broke barriers for African-American actors and was Oscar-nommed for 1959’s “Imitation of Life,” died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. Her step-grandson, actor Kirk Kahn, said she was 99.

Moore received a supporting actress nomination for Douglas Sirk’s “Imitation of Life,” playing the housekeeper whose daughter passes for white, in the racially themed film that was based on the Fannie Hurst novel. She was the fifth African-American to be Oscar-nommed.

Kahn said she was still running lines with him recently, and had planned to participate in a reading at the Saban Theater in a few weeks. “She didn’t candy-coat it for you,” he said. “She said, ‘If you’re no good, the play’s no good.'”

“She gave back to the community in so many ways,” he said. “Wherever we went she stopped and told black boys and girls they could do anything with their lives.”

Moore, who was a founding member of the Cambridge Players along with thesps such as Esther Rolle, was honored at the Black Theater Festival in North Carolina, her grandson said.

Born in Los Angeles, Moore was a chorus girl at the Cotton Club who started out as a film extra, then worked in theater at the Ebony Showcase Theater. She made her film debut in 1949’s “Pinky,” and often played a maid in 1950s films such as “The Girl Can’t Help It.” In the 1960s and ’70s, she played a nun in “The Singing Nun” and appeared in films including “Uptight,” “The Mack” and “Abby.” Though she didn’t work often through the 1980s, she began appearing onscreen again in later years on TV shows such as “E.R.” and “Judging Amy” and in films such as Disney’s “The Kid.”

In addition to her grandson, she is survived by two nephews.

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  1. Darryl Evans says:

    This film is one of my top 3 films of all times. I love true to life drama with good actors . She was one of the best and will always been seen as one of the best in my point of view. Not only as a black woman but as an actress period. I’m a man . I watched this film over 20 times in my life and cry everytime. A few years back my mother died and I played the final song of the movie song at the funeral in the film at my own mothers funeral. I’m am so blessed to have had to see such a wonderful film with a wonderful actress such as her. She will be missed and forever remembered in film. “She made her mark in her lifetime and has touched so many lives by this great film”.

  2. GramGram says:

    I think I was about 13 when I first saw ‘Imitation of Life’ ( what a great title!). Anyway, I was so wrapped up in it. It was the most profound movie I had seen to date. Imagine my horror when I awoke to find I had missed the majority of it! Did not have an opportunity to see it again until many years later.

    Good bye lovely lady…job well done.

  3. Diane says:

    Whenever “Imitation of Life” is shown on television, I have to ask myself if I’m up to going through it again. Maybe it’s a tear-jerker, but the relationship between Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner drives me to my knees. It’s not just about race — it’s about all the places we go wrong with people we love and all the consequent regrets; well, more than regrets, emotional wreckage that can only be put right by going to the person, or if the person is dead, going to God for forgiveness. About the feeling of wanting to remove yourself from the game because of your own inhumanity. In my opinion, Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner created one of the top ten most unforgettable screen relationships.

    • GramGram says:

      Very well said Diane. I often think I’d like my 35 year old daughter to see it. Maybe she would rethink our relationship. As of now, if she’s compassionate at all, she is going to have many regrets. As do I.

  4. I am so sad at her passing I love imitation of life and I am watching it now on netflix this movie is great been watching it since I wAs a child now I am 46 years old.i loved all the characters in it also ,and I cry everyone great movie over all time may the actresses and actors rest in peace they are truly missed !!!

  5. Imitation of Life was a major movie in my junior high years in DC. My best friend and I went to the Tivoli Theatre on Park Road and were extremely embarrassed at boo-hooing and runny noses. Not a cool thing. I will never forgot that shared moment with a life long friend or one of my 1st serious films. What a long life. Rest in peace.

  6. E. Roger Mitchell says:

    An Imitation of Life: my mother and I, whom I miss dearly, would watch this movie together. It was on VHS back then some 25 years ago. And it was thoroughly enjoyable, an instant classic needless to say. Simply put, I was moved’ each and every time, by Ms. Juanita Moore.
    What a hugely significant piece of art, and what an even more significant artist. You will be missed. 🌹

  7. RIP Ms. Moore; the 1959 version of “Imitation of Life” is an excellent film, and one of my favorites.

  8. Alan says:

    She played Lena Younger in the first London production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” with Earle Hyman as Walter Lee. This is an important credit and belongs in an obituary of Ms. Moore.

  9. Linda says:

    RIP Ms Moore. I remember watching this movie as a young girl. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen. I watch it whenever I see that it is on. She did a wonderful job…. Bless her and her family.

  10. handsomerandyblackladbrad1953 says:

    I saw it once,but….YEAH,BUDDY!!!!!!

  11. Erika Ellis says:

    RIP Juanita. Imitation of Life is my favorite movie!

  12. Cynbad says:

    My condolences to her family. I just recently purchased the imitation of life on DVD for my mom. It was a double set which included an earlier version from 1934 with the great Louise Beavers who played the same role as Juanita. RIP

  13. vali6figgs says:

    Ms Moore will be greatly missed. She was a treasure.

  14. Ava says:

    Beautiful Lady and wonderful actress!

  15. Mazell says:

    Rest in Peace

  16. Ellie Hansen says:

    Rest in Peace and Thank you for your life’s work

  17. L Brooks says:

    In my opinion the best film ever I thank you for your amazing portral of a strong religious woman who played a maid in Imitation of Life No matter how many countless times I’ve watch this movie I felt it in my soul May her soul & her spirit rest with Gods grace for eternity Kisses Mrs Moore Rest Well

  18. Jan Pollard says:

    I’ve watch Imitation of Life since I was a teenager. Any time it’s showing I would be sure to be in front of the TV. It is still a tearjerker. I would love to see it again soon

    • Eumel Chen says:

      Sad …. May she R.I.P ~ Has been always my favorite Movie, since I can think back, My Grandmother showed me the Movie because she wanted me to understand the Message and I did. It is also my daughters favorite Movie and my Granddaughters, I think I seen it at least 200 times (I have the DVD 2x, VHS and even the Longplay) …………….. The message of the Movie is what I love so much

    • Eumel Chen says:

      It is on Netflix

  19. Patricia says:

    The movie and the actresses were phenomenal. It was a yearly had watch for our family. Still today if I knew when and where it was playing it would be watched. My condolences to your family. Thank for the lessons on love!

  20. dave says:

    She also appeared on Dragnet in the 60’s.

  21. I loved that movie. It was a real tear jerker. I will see if I can obtain a copy. I am sadden to know she is gone. Lestine Lakes

  22. mdgordo2 says:

    Awesome actress!! Can’t think about “Imitation of Life” without thinking of her! I still cry when I see that movie today.

  23. Bobbi says:

    What!!! No mention of “South Pacific”!~!!! The best Bloody Mary EVER!!!!!

    • Raymond Salazar says:

      The role of Bloody Mary in South Pacific was portrayed by Juanita Hall and not Juanita Moore….both always brought smiles to my face…

  24. Melita Norwood says:

    A great lady and an awesome actress. She will be greatly missed.

  25. J S Lasher says:

    A wonderful actress and a great lady to boot.

  26. Wow what an impact this wonderful lady had in the movie “imitation of Life” to this very day I can still see this film and cry my eyes out. RIP my sister the world has lost something so special, only Heaven can accept with glory.

  27. Safiya Abdul-Hafiz says:

    We will really miss Ms. Juanita Moore! She was a personal friend of my Mother, MONTROSE Hagins, who was also an actor and passed away last October 2012. I will always remember the last time she came to our house in San Pedro. We took her up high above the Palos Verdes Penninsula. I have a great photo of her smiling with her arms out streched to heaven. I will always remember her as joyus and full of live even when she was in her 80’s RIP Juanita Moore. Give MAMA a big kiss for me!

  28. joAnne Gregg says:

    A precious soul…talented, anointing gift. Inivitation to Life movie film, touched many hearts. My saint Ma Ma and I watched this movie many occassion. She went on to be with the Lord too. My heart goes out to Ms. Moore family, and love ones. _JoAnne Gregg

  29. Terry says:

    I saw her movie with a couple of other Gay buds in the 1960s at a drive in movie. We were in my Nash Rambler convertible with the top down. One of the guys had the presence of mind to bring along a couple boxes of Kleenex. By the time the movie was over the ground around the car looked like it was in a snow storm from all the tear filled tissues.

    This is right up there with Madame X, another supreme tear jerker.

    May this lovely, lovely woman enjoy her adventures in the great beyond. Thanks for an amazing performance.

  30. Ahminitu Makonnen says:

    She should have gotten an academy for her performance. Truly a wonderful actress. Soon, we will all be done with the “TROUBLES OF THIS WORLD”

  31. Angelica Goldstein says:

    I looked her up recently, after watching IOL, which I’d not seen in some time. I was thrilled to find that
    she was still alive, and getting out and about, doing interviews (one on UTube, I believe) I loved that
    movie mostly because of Ms. Moore’s sensitive performance. I was pleased to learn that she remained
    friends with her co-star (daughter) Susan Kohner all these years. Rest in Peace to a talented actress,
    who could have contributed so much more, if she’d lived in a different time. Thank you for the memorable work!

  32. God Bless this Gifted Actress.

  33. I am.so grateful to Ms. Moore for her contributions in film and the sense of pride she gave the black community. I have introduced each of my children to Ms. Moore through the Imitation Of Life movie it is something we watch to this day as a family. R.I.P. Ms. Moore you will be truly missed.

  34. barna janos says:

    Sorry, Tom Bennett: Juanita Moore was in Pinky. She appears in a cameo near the end of the film. And yes, Ethel Waters is in the film in a co-starring role.

  35. tom bennett says:

    Juanita moore was not in “pinky”…..that was ethel waters..

  36. Anna Hamilton says:

    The “Imitation of Life was one of my most favorite movies ever. My mother and I used to watch it every time we could catch it on television. She was an awesome actress.

    • truthanyhow says:

      Same here! My granny ( who passed 3 years ago ) and I watched it and it had become one of my favorite movies of all time! This woman will be greatly missed, especially by TRUE lovers of film & theater.

  37. She has transitioned to the home that our Lord and Savior prepared for us, through his sacrifice and resurrection. Earth is only our home until our Lord calls us home. May she rest in peace.

  38. Kimberly Eazell says:

    God Bless you Juanita I grew up watching Imitation of Life, my favorite movie. I hope your family finds peace and love. Thank You Juanita……

  39. charmaine allem says:

    My condolences to Ms.Moore’s family and friends. Ms. Moore’s legacy, eloquence and beauty will living on through her films… Welcome back to kingdom of god’s mansion.

  40. Smooth says:

    99, now that’s how you do it Juanita, job well done. RIP.

  41. AJ says:

    It’s “Variety-speak”. It’s the way the writers have been in Variety for decades and decades. Chill the hell out.

  42. stephanie says:

    I loved that movie.I am sad that she lived 99 years and of late was never recognized main stream. Now the father on fresh prince of Bel Air dies James Avery died. What a loss to the acting community.

  43. Kim Williams says:

    OMG, we just put on “Imitation of Life” and we looked her up, pleasantly surprised to find that she was alive. We decided to try to write her–we are such fans of her–and then we saw this. So disappointing. We always wonder what she could have accomplished if the world had been different.

  44. Dianne says:

    I was 6 year-old when isaw this in the drive in movies I never forgot this movie when asked whst my favorite movies are Imitation of life is always on the list.I cried so hard at the end my mother said I must have been too young to see thid type of movie. Never knew Ms Moore’s name Now she rests in peace after 99 years on this earth. I would love to have a copy of this movie.

  45. Renee' Provost says:

    I so love this movie….may you rest in peace in the comfort of our fathers loving arm…..

  46. oneorganizedbusiness says:

    That version of Imitation of Life is one of my favorite movies. Rest in peace, Ms. Moore!

  47. so sorry to hear this may she rest in peace

  48. voiceswriter says:

    May her soul rest in perfect peace, Amen.

  49. This is a much better way of informing the world of a thespian’s passing. Hate to hear that it’s the 2nd one of the New Year that I know of. These are historic figures.

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