Oscar-nominated actress Juanita Moore, who is best remembered for her role as Annie Johnson in the 1959 classic remake of Imitation of Life, died last night at the age of 99. She was found in her Los Angeles home by her grandson Kirk Kelley-Kahn, who is also an actor.
At the time a revolutionary film for both its pro-woman plot and for being one of the first films to try to address modern race relations in America, Imitation of Life tells the story of two single mothers who live in the same house and raise their young daughters together. Annie Johnson’s daughter (played by Susan Kohner), who is light-skinned like her father, becomes intent on passing as white, rejecting her mother so she can hide her secret.
Moore’s complex role as the grief-stricken mother earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, at the time making her the fifth African-American actor to ever receive any Academy Award nomination (though she later lost to Shelley Winters who won for The Diary of Anne Frank).
Moore was born in L.A. and worked as a film extra and chorus girl at The Cotton Club until her first credited film role as Dominique in Affair in Trinidad (1952). She continued to act in over 70 films, as well as in plays such as A Raisin in the Sun and The Amen Corner. She was married to Charles Burris for 50 years until he died in 2001. She started a theater troupe called “Cambridge Players - Next Generation” with her grandson and several other actors.