Gloria Foster will always be best known for her performance as The Oracle in The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), but the actress’s career spanned four decades on the stage and screen.
Born on November 15, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, Foster was put in the custody of her grandparents and raised on a farm. She returned to Chicago to attend the University of Illinois. Acting was not a focus until she was accepted at the city’s distinguished Goodman Theatre. She performed on stages around the city before heading to New York City in the early 1960s.
In New York, her first stage role was in “A Raisin in the Sun”. She won an Obie Award for her next performance in the play “In White America”, where she portrayed 27 different characters. Life Magazine dedicated a two-page article on Foster. More roles followed as her fans grew in number; quite often, roles were being written expressly for her. By the end of her career, she would win 2 more Obies, for a later performance of “A Raisin in the Sun” and the Broadway production of “Having Our Say” in 1995.
Foster’s first film role was in The Cool World (1963); during production set met actor-director Clarence Williams III, and the couple soon married. (They later divorced, and Foster never remarried.)
Her film work was limited, with roles in Nothing But a Man (1964), The Comedians (1967), The Angel Levine (1970), Man and Boy (1971), Leonard Part 6 (1987), City of Hope (1991), and the aforementioned Matrix appearances. She worked a bit more on television, with appearances throughout the years on I Spy (1965), Mod Squad (1968), The Bill Cosby Show (1969), The White Shadow (1978), The Cosby Show (1984), Law & Order (1990) (her character here was based on Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow), and Soul Food (2000). She appeared in the TV movies The House of Dies Drear (1984) and the Golden Globe-nominated Separate But Equal (1991).
She returned to the stage in 1995 in “Having Our Say”, co-starring with Mary Alice, who would take her place as The Oracle in The Matrix Revolutions (2003).
On September 29, 2001, she died of complications from diabetes. She was 67.
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