Black History Month: Dorothy Dandridge

The Academy Awards have come and gone, and like they do every year, they look at the previous year’s achievements in film as well as past achievements and recent losses. Dorothy Dandridge may have died in 1965, but her accomplishments live on, including that she was the first African American to be nominated for a best actress Oscar — for Carmen Jones, in 1954. She lost that year, to Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, however. While Kelly’s life — marrying a prince and dying in a car accident — is rich fodder for a Hollywood biopic, so was Dandridge’s. In recent decades, many top black Hollywood actresses have cited her as an inspiration and as someone well worth remembering. The Ohio-born entertainer faced near-impossible hurdles and hit some real career highs — the Oscar nod and the first black woman to grace the cover of Life magazine — but she also struggled with some major lows. Her marriage to a fellow performer fell apart after he engaged in affairs with other women. She also gave birth to a daughter who was institutionalized because she’d been born with brain damage. Dandridge herself abused antidepressants and alcohol, perhaps to deal with the stress of her personal and professional problems. The racism of the era severely limited her options — black women generally were not considered capable of portraying dignified and fully-developed characters — despite her being a triple threat as a singer, dancer, and actress. After the success of Carmen Jones, Dandridge never managed to secure any roles that were quite at that same level. Her second husband mishandled her money, leaving her broke. Dandridge turned to more heavy drinking and antidepressant use, eventually dying from an overdose. It’s not known whether it was accidental or suicide. She was only 42. Depression and other mental health conditions can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. African Americans frequently face more insidious mental health problems because many communities lack resources to better inform people about problems and treat them. Taking too-large doses of antidepressants can be dangerous, especially when taken in combination with other medications, alcohol, or other drugs. Symptoms of an antidepressant overdose vary. They can be as mild as dry mouth and a headache, but in more severe cases they can escalate to seizures, cardiac arrest, and even death. Despite some of the highs in her life, Dandridge was a victim of depression, and possibly addiction. If you are struggling with either, help is out there. Sources – Dorothy Dandridge: A 1st for the Academy Awards – Dorothy Dandridge – Dorothy Dandridge – Dorothy Dandridge: Hollywood Trailblazer, but with a Price – Can You Overdose on Antidepressants?

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