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Jenifer Lewis

Jenifer Lewis

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Also Known As: Jenifer Jeanette Lewis, Jennifer Lewis Died:
Born: January 25, 1957 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Kinloch, Missouri, USA Profession: singer, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Nicknamed the Black Mother of Hollywood, Jenifer Lewis played dozens of maternal figures during a prolific screen career, most notably Zelma Bullock in Tina Turner biopic "What's Love Got to Do With It" (1993) and Ruby Johnson in socially-conscious sitcom "Black-ish" (ABC, 2014-). Born in St. Louis, MO in 1957, Lewis studied theatre at Webster University before moving to New York to pursue a performing career. After making her Broadway debut in "Eabie," she was invited to join Bette Midler's backing band, The Staggering Harlettes, who performed with the star on various HBO specials and in "Beaches" (1988). Switching her focus to acting, Lewis played a judge in "Red Heat" (1988), back-up singer in "Sister Act" (1992) and college dean in "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993), and in 1991 joined "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" cast (NBC, 1990-96) as Aunt Helen. Her breakthrough came when she portrayed Tina Turner's real-life mother in "What's Love Got to Do With It" (1993). Lewis subsequently played maternal figures in "Poetic Justice" (1993), "The Meteor Man" (1993), "Panther" (1995), "Dead Presidents" (1995) and "The Preacher's Wife" (1996), but proved there was more to her talents when she became the...

Nicknamed the Black Mother of Hollywood, Jenifer Lewis played dozens of maternal figures during a prolific screen career, most notably Zelma Bullock in Tina Turner biopic "What's Love Got to Do With It" (1993) and Ruby Johnson in socially-conscious sitcom "Black-ish" (ABC, 2014-). Born in St. Louis, MO in 1957, Lewis studied theatre at Webster University before moving to New York to pursue a performing career. After making her Broadway debut in "Eabie," she was invited to join Bette Midler's backing band, The Staggering Harlettes, who performed with the star on various HBO specials and in "Beaches" (1988). Switching her focus to acting, Lewis played a judge in "Red Heat" (1988), back-up singer in "Sister Act" (1992) and college dean in "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993), and in 1991 joined "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" cast (NBC, 1990-96) as Aunt Helen. Her breakthrough came when she portrayed Tina Turner's real-life mother in "What's Love Got to Do With It" (1993). Lewis subsequently played maternal figures in "Poetic Justice" (1993), "The Meteor Man" (1993), "Panther" (1995), "Dead Presidents" (1995) and "The Preacher's Wife" (1996), but proved there was more to her talents when she became the first actress to play an African-American lesbian character in legal drama "Courthouse" (CBS, 1995). There were also memorable supporting roles as Whoopi Goldberg's sister in "Corrina, Corrina" (1994), sex line boss Lil in "Girl 6" (1996) and school principal Mrs. Addison in "The Mighty" (1998). After adding "An Unexpected Life" (1998), "Blast from the Past" (1999) and "Mystery Men" (1999) to her credits, she enjoyed a rare leading role in "Jackie's Back" (1999), a mockumentary about an aging soul diva's comeback attempt, played Tom Hanks' boss in "Cast Away" (2000) and voiced Bebe Ho in "The PJs" (Fox, 1999-2002). She landed her longest-recurring role when she was cast as receptionist Lana Hawkins in "Strong Medicine" (Lifetime, 2000-06). During her six-year stint on the medical drama she also performed the theme tune to, Lewis returned to motherly roles in "Little Richard" (2000), "The Brothers" (2001) and "Girlfriends" (UPN, 2002-08), and played aunts in "Juwanna Mann" (2002), "Antwone Fisher" (2002) and "Dirty Laundry" (2006). She also assumed the titular role in "Nora's Hair Salon" (2004) and voiced the Motown Turtle in "Shark Tale" and Flo in "Cars" (2006). Lewis then showed up in Tyler Perry's "Madea's Family Reunion" (2006) and "Meet the Browns" (2008), played mom in "Who's Your Caddy?" (2007), "Not Easily Broken" (2009), "Hereafter" (2010), "Think Like A Man" (2012) and "Baggage Claim" (2013), and voiced Mama Odie in "The Princess and the Frog" (2009) and Gogo in "Zambezia" (2012). There was also a recurring role as seamstress Pearl in "The Playboy Club" (NBC, 2011) and supporting parts in "Five" (2011), "Playin' for Love" (2013), "Secrets of the Magic City" (2014), "The Wedding Ringer" (2015) and "It Had To Be You" (2015). Lewis also became a regular prime-time face again when she was cast as Anthony Anderson's overbearing mother Ruby Johnson on "Black-ish" (ABC, 2014-).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Cars 3 (2017)
2.
 Playin' for Love (2016)
3.
4.
 It Had to Be You (2015)
6.
8.
 Zambezia (2013)
9.
 Think Like a Man (2012)
10.
 Cars 2 (2011)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

2008:
Co-starred in "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns"
1991:
Played recurring role as Aunt Helen on the NBC sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"
2009:
Voiced Mama Odie, a 197-year-old voodoo priestess in Disney's animated feature "The Princess and the Frog"
2004:
Appeared in the comedy "The Cookout," co-written by Queen Latifah
1984:
Appeared in the music documentary "Bette Midler: Art or Bust"
1994:
First screen collaboration with director Penny Marshall, "Renaissance Man"
1995:
Played lesbian judge on the short-lived CBS drama "Courthouse"
1992:
Cast as Dean Davenport on the NBC sitcom "A Different World"
1996:
Cast as Whitney Houston's mother in Penny Marshall's "The Preacher's Wife"
1992:
Played Whoopi Goldberg's back-up singer in "Sister Act"
2006:
Voiced character of Flo in Pixar animated feature "Cars"
1999:
Starred in the Lifetime movie "Jackie's Back"
2011:
Reprised voice role in animated sequel "Cars 2"
2012:
Cast in the ensemble comedy "Think Like a Man"
:
Began performing her evolving cabaret act "The Diva Is Dismissed"
2000:
Cast as Lana Hawkins in "Strong Medicine" (Lifetime, 2000-06)
2002:
Headlined and co-wrote the nightclub act "Now What?"
1994:
TV-movie debut, "Deconstructing Sarah" (USA Network)
1993:
Played Zelma Bullock in "What's Love Got to Do With It"
:
Became a Harlette, a back-up singer to Bette Midler
1979:
Made Broadway debut in "Eubie"
1988:
Film debut, "Beaches" starring Midler
2014:
Landed role of Ruby Johnson in "Black-ish" (ABC, 2014-)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Webster University: -

Notes

"My mother was a maid. For my mother to be able to see me on television as a judge is a beautiful thing." --Jenifer Lewis in Out, December 1995-January 1996.

"I have a hundred names on a list of people who have died of AIDS. And when you experienced that silent war, there's only room for action. I'm not comfortable with people around me who try. Because 100 people who I've known are dead, you should do." --Lewis in the Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1993.

"I am sexual. Sexulity exudes from me. Even when I'm not putting it out. So who's behind Door Number 3 doesn't really matter. It could be a man or a woman, a goat or a chicken, five women or six men." --Jenifer Lewis in The Advocate, September 19, 1995.

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