Diana Sands Cause of Death: The Tragic Story of a Trailblazing Actress

Diana Sands was a talented and groundbreaking actress who made history on Broadway and in Hollywood. She was best known for her role as Beneatha Younger, the ambitious and outspoken sister of Sidney Poitier’s character, in the original stage and film versions of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. She also starred in many other plays, films, and TV shows, such as Blues for Mr. Charlie, The Owl and the Pussycat, Julia, and Georgia, Georgia. She was twice nominated for a Tony Award and twice nominated for an Emmy Award. However, her brilliant career was cut short by a rare and aggressive form of cancer that claimed her life at the age of 39. This article will explore the life, achievements, and death of Diana Sands, one of the most influential black actresses of her time.

Early Life and Education

Diana Patricia Sands was born on August 22, 1934, in the Bronx, New York City, to Rudolph Sands, a Bahamian carpenter, and Shirley (née Thomas), a milliner. She had two siblings, a brother named Richard and a sister named Jean. She attended elementary school in Elmsford, New York, where she developed an interest in performing arts. She enrolled in 1949 at the Music & Art High School (now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School), where she was a classmate of Diahann Carroll and Billy Dee Williams. While there, she received her first role in a school production of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. After graduating in 1953, she began her professional career as a dancer, touring with a traveling carnival.

Broadway Breakthrough

Sands made her Broadway debut in 1959 as Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, a play that depicted the struggles and dreams of a black family living in Chicago. The play was written by Lorraine Hansberry, who became a close friend and mentor to Sands. The play was a critical and commercial success, earning four Tony Award nominations, including one for Sands as Best Featured Actress in a Play. The play also made history as the first Broadway play written by a black woman and directed by a black man (Lloyd Richards). Sands reprised her role in the 1961 film adaptation, which also starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, and Ivan Dixon.

After A Raisin in the Sun, Sands received many offers for film roles, but she refused to be typecast or stereotyped as a black actress. She wanted to play roles that were not defined by race or gender, but by human complexity and diversity. She also sought to challenge the racial segregation and discrimination that pervaded the entertainment industry at the time. She decided to pursue more opportunities on stage, both in the United States and abroad. She appeared in plays such as Caesar and Cleopatra, Anthony and Cleopatra, Phaedra, Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (another play by Hansberry), and Blues for Mr. Charlie (a play by James Baldwin that was inspired by the murder of Emmett Till). She received another Tony Award nomination for her role as Juanita Brown in Blues for Mr. Charlie.

Hollywood Stardom

Sands returned to Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s with more confidence and recognition as an actress. She starred in films such as An Affair of the Skin (1963), The Landlord (1970), Willie Dynamite (1974), Honey Baby Honey Baby (1974), and Georgia Georgia (1972). Georgia Georgia was written by Maya Angelou and produced by Third World Cinema, a company that Sands co-founded with Ossie Davis, Brock Peters, and other black actors and investors to create more opportunities for black filmmakers and performers. Georgia Georgia was one of the first films to feature a black woman as the lead character and to explore her identity and sexuality.

Sands also appeared in several TV shows during this period, such as I Spy, The Fugitive, The Outer Limits, Dr. Kildare, Medical Center, East Side/West Side, N.Y.P.D., The Bill Cosby Show, and Julia. Julia was a groundbreaking sitcom that starred Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse raising her son alone. Sands played Julia’s cousin Sara Harris in 13 episodes of the show.

Personal Life, Death and Legacy

Sands married Lucien Happersberger in 1964, but they divorced two years later. She had no children of her own but was close to her niece Denise Nicholas (who later became an actress herself). She was engaged to Kurt Baker at the time of her death.

Sands was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects smooth muscle tissue, in 1970. She underwent several surgeries and treatments, but the cancer spread to her lungs and other organs. She died on September 21, 1973, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. She was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Sands left behind a legacy of excellence and innovation in her craft. She was one of the first black actresses to be cast in a major Broadway play without regard to color, and she paved the way for more diverse and complex roles for black women on stage and screen. She was also a pioneer in the independent black film movement, as a co-founder of Third World Cinema and a star of films written by black women. She was admired and respected by her peers and fans for her talent, intelligence, beauty, and courage. She received many awards and honors for her work, including two Obie Awards, two Theatre World Awards, two Emmy Award nominations, two Tony Award nominations, and a posthumous induction into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Diana Sands was a remarkable actress who made a lasting impact on the American theater and cinema. She was a trailblazer who broke barriers and challenged stereotypes with her artistry and activism. She was a star who shone brightly in her short but brilliant life.

Doms Desk

Leave a Comment