Chicago actor Audrey Morgan, seen on TV and stage, dead at 64
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A warm, commanding actor, Audrey Morgan sang in a choir in the opening credits of HBO’s “True Blood,” nurtured her onstage family as the matriarch in “A Raisin in the Sun,” and went toe-to-toe with Sanaa Lathan in TV’s “Boss,” slamming the door in her beautiful, surprised face.
“She was a very good actress and a very nice lady,” said her friend Mary Alice, a former Chicago schoolteacher who went on to portray “The Oracle” in “The Matrix Revolutions” and Lettie Bostic on TV’s “A Different World.”
Alice said she was delighted to spot her friend recently on Fox TV’s gilded hip-hop soap opera “Empire.”
“I watch ‘Empire’ every week, and I said, ‘That looks like Audrey,’ ” said the New York resident. “She was the nanny for the baby.”
Ms. Morgan didn’t have a problem playing a servant on “Empire” despite the old Hollywood practice of casting African-American women as maids and mammies, said her daughter Kia. As long as the role was historically accurate for the period, to her mother, a job was a job.
“Audrey epitomized the mantra of being ready for whatever the industry sent her way,” according to an online tribute by Gray Talent.
The agency once booked her for a Walmart commercial. It was to be shot at night, in the middle of Ms. Morgan’s two-day gig on “Chicago Med.”
“She didn’t care that she’d work two days straight,” said the tribute. “She jumped at the opportunity and was just SO happy to do anything and everything.”
During one audition, the agency said, Ms. Morgan aced “five pages of straight monologues.”
“Everything she did, comedy, drama, she was phenomenal,” said agency founder Dawn Gray. “Literally everyone would walk out of the room crying. She could compete with the best of them.”
Ms. Morgan, 64, died Nov. 30 after a struggle with uterine and cervical cancer, said her son Jacob Morgan.
In addition to sharing “Empire” scenes with Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard, she appeared in a 1997 Steppenwolf Theatre production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” featuring Gary Sinise, Kathryn Erbe, Amy Morton and John C. Reilly. She starred in “Lemuel” in 1996 at Victory Gardens Theater and in 1990’s “Sonny’s Blues” at Piven Theatre. In the early 1990s, she received a Jeff Awards nomination for her supporting actress work in “Good Black” at ETA.
She did commercials for McDonald’s, Adidas and the American Cancer Society.
Ms. Morgan studied acting at Kennedy-King College, where she got her start at its Black Box Theater. She earned a B.A. in drama from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“She was the first person in our family to pursue the arts,” her son said.
Her Depression-generation aunts, focused on security, kept telling her she ought to get a factory job.
Her son said she was still in high school when she gave birth to her daughter Sharana.
“To have a child at 17, [then] going to high school, completing high school, completing college and becoming an actor, it’s amazing,” he said.
At one point, Ms. Morgan rented a Section 8 apartment. She moved close to Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone, because she felt it would offer a good high school education for her children, her son said.
Her Mississippi parents, Arcie and William Morgan, came north during the Great Migration and worked around the clock to try to get a toehold in Chicago, Jacob Morgan said. They divorced, he said, and the family moved many times. Young Audrey attended 14 grade schools before graduating from Hirsch Metropolitan High School.
Acting might have offered an escape from all the transitions, according to her children. “Any trouble she had, she kind of lost it when she got into character,” her son said.
Ms. Morgan once electrified a Moody Bible Institute show with Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech — so much so that some in the audience later approached her, asking to hear a few lines.
“She’d turn from Mom into this other lady right in front of me,” her son said. “She would be silent for about three seconds, and when she would open her eyes, she was Sojourner Truth.”
She did “A Raisin in the Sun” at the Madison Repertory Theatre in Madison, Wis., the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y., and McLeod Theater in Carbondale.
When he was around 3 1/2, her grandson Jacobi, a fan of “Star Wars,” gave her a nickname that stuck.
“One day, he turned to my mother, and he said ‘Obi-Wan,’ and he pointed to her,” Jacob Morgan said. “I think he picked up on the role of mentor and someone who advises people, and he associated it with my mother.”
After that, she was Grandma Obi-Wan.
In addition to her mother and children, Ms. Morgan is survived by her sisters Deborah and Kimberly; brothers Darnell, Daryle and Charles; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services were held Friday at Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale.
The family had asked “people to wear colors” to the service, her son said, “because that’s what they do when they go and celebrate something.”