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'Imitation of Life' actress Juanita Moore dies at 99

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 1:50 PM EST, Fri January 3, 2014
Juanita Moore arrives at the premiere of the restored
Juanita Moore arrives at the premiere of the restored "A Star is Born" during the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California, in 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Moore was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar in 1960 for "Imitation of Life"
  • She played a housekeeper whose daughter passed for white
  • She worked until her last days, preparing for a stage reading this month, grandson says

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Juanita Moore, the third African-American actress to ever get a supporting actress Oscar nomination, died of natural causes at her Los Angeles home Tuesday, her grandson said. She was 99.

Moore worked right to the end, preparing for a stage reading of a new play and helping her actor grandson learn lines, Kirk Kellykhan said,

"I just got cursed out that morning about learning my lines," Kellykhan said. Moore was helping him prepare for the lead in the West Coast production of the Broadway play "The Wedding Man," he said.

She was scheduled to take part in a January 17 reading of a play based on Michael St. John's book "Hollywood Through the Backdoor," her grandson said.

Moore was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar in 1960 for Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life." She played a housekeeper whose daughter passes for white.

A Los Angeles native, she began her entertainment career as a Cotton Club chorus girl and a film extra. At the same time, she worked on her acting skills on stage in the Ebony Showcase Theater.

Moore's feature film debut came in 1949 when she played a nurse in "Pinky."

Most of her roles in the 1950s were as domestics, until she was cast as Annie Johnson in "Imitation of Life." The story was about Johnson's light-skinned daughter denying her racial roots.

The lack of roles for African-American actresses in the early 1960s made it difficult for Moore to find big-screen jobs despite the accolades for her work. She acted in supporting roles in 1961 in "Tammy, Tell Me True" and in 1963 in "Papa's Delicate Condition." Moore did land a significant role as a nun in the 1966 hit "The Singing Nun."

As more black-themed movies were made near the end of the decade, her career improved. She acted in "Uptight" in 1968, "The Mack" in 1973 and "Abby" in 1974.

While she cut back on acting work in the 1980s, she never retired. She played a wise grandmother in "Disney's The Kid" in 2000, while acting in television guest roles in "ER" and "Judging Amy."

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