Juanita Moore, the pioneering African-American actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Imitation of Life, died at the age of 99, the Associated Press reports.
According to her grandson, actor Kirk Kelleykahn, Moore collapsed in her home in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Kelleykahn told the AP that his grandmother was 99, although there have been varying reports of her age over the years.
Moore was only the fifth black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, receiving the nod for the 1959 Douglas Sirk film that became a big hit and later gained a cult following, the AP reports.
In Imitation of Life, Moore played a black single mother who shares a tiny apartment with Lana Turner, whose character is obsessed with becoming a famous actress. Both women are raising young daughters, but Moore’s little girl, Sarah Jane, begins passing for white.
Susan Kohner, who played Sarah Jane as a teenager in the film, told the Hollywood Reporter that Moore was “a lovely human being with a wonderful sense of humor.”
Both Kohner and Moore were nominated for best supporting actress in 1959. They would lose to Shelley Winters, who claimed the award for her performance in The Diary of Anne Frank.
Moore believed that the nomination actually hurt her career as an actress. “The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “Casting directors think an Oscar nominee is suddenly in another category. They couldn’t possibly ask you to do one or two days’ work. You wouldn’t accept it. And I’m sure I would.”
Moore started her career as a dancer at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem and made her film debut with a small part in Pinky, which, like Imitation of Life, examined the experience of a black woman “passing for white.”
In the early 1950s, Moore was a member of Los Angeles’ Ebony Showcase Theatre, a leading black-run theater, and she would later join the Cambridge Players, which included Esther Rolle and Helen Martin, AP reports. Other notable appearances included roles in The Girl Can’t Help It, The Singing Nun, Paternity and her last feature, the Disney film The Kid, in which she played a grandmother.