Suzzanne Douglas, Star of ‘The Parent ’Hood,’ Dies at 64
Her four-decade acting career also included roles in the films “Tap” and “Inkwell,” as well as appearances on Broadway.
Suzzanne Douglas, an actress who appeared on Broadway but was probably best known for her role as a wife, mother and law student on the sitcom “The Parent ’Hood,” died on Tuesday at her home on Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts. She was 64.
Her husband, Jonathan Cobb, said the cause was complications of cancer. He did not specify what type of cancer Ms. Douglas had, but he said she had been sick for more than two years.
Ms. Douglas played a wide array of roles in her career. Eight years after her first onscreen appearance, in the 1981 television adaptation of the Broadway musical “Purlie,” she starred alongside Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr. and Savion Glover in the theatrical movie “Tap,” earning an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award. In 1994, she was seen in the films “The Inkwell” (1994) and “Jason’s Lyric.”
She became nationally known as the matriarch Jerri Peterson opposite Robert Townsend (one of the show’s creators) on the WB sitcom “The Parent ’Hood,” which explored the challenges of raising a family in New York City and ran for five seasons before ending in 1999.
Ms. Douglas’s other acting credits include the films “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1998) and “School of Rock” (2003), the sitcom “The Parkers” and “Whitney” (2015), the made-for-TV Whitney Houston biopic directed by Angela Bassett, in which she played the singer Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother.
She was also in “When They See Us,” the award-winning 2019 mini-series directed by Ava DuVernay about the teenage boys known as the Central Park Five who were convicted of rape. She played the mother of one of them. Ms. DuVernay remembered Ms. Douglas on Wednesday as “a confident, caring actor who breathed life into the words and made them shimmer.”
On Broadway, Ms. Douglas was seen in the 1989 revival of “Threepenny Opera,” starring Sting, and “The Tap Dance Kid” (1983). In 2000, she became the first Black woman to play the lead role of Vivian Bearing, a poetry professor battling ovarian cancer, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit.” Alvin Klein’s New York Times review of the production, at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., called Ms. Douglas’s portrayal “vibrant” and “defiant.”
“I believe that artists are, and can be, the consciousness of the nation,” Ms. Douglas said in a 2015 interview. “We have a social obligation to tell a story that creates dialogue that allows us to grow and change.” She said she chose roles with social consciousness, adding, “They have to really speak to my heart and bring awareness.”
Ms. Douglas was born on April 12, 1957, in Chicago. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and, much later, a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, according to her website.
She was also a recognized composer and singer, having performed with jazz musicians including the drummer and bandleader Thelonious Monk Jr., the trumpeter Jon Faddis and the saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, according to a talent agency representing Ms. Douglas.
At her death, Mr. Cobb said, she was working on an album.
In addition to Mr. Cobb, her husband of 32 years, Ms. Douglas is survived by a daughter, Jordan Victoria Cobb.
Having done so much in her career, Ms. Douglas reflected that it was much more intimidating to perform as a singer than as an actress.
“You’re more vulnerable,” she said in a 2014 interview. “It’s just you. There’s no character to hide behind. There are no costumes, no lights. It’s just you sharing the songs and telling the stories within the songs so that they have a universal appeal and touch people where they need to be touched.”