Actress Tamara Dobson, one of the blaxploitation era’s biggest stars and best known for her turn as crime-fighting Cleopatra Jones in two 70s films, died Monday of complications from pneumonia and multiple sclerosis at the Keswick Multi-Care Center in Baltimore, where she had lived for the past two years, her publicist said. She was 59.
The 6-foot-2 star appeared in several projects in the 1970s and 80s, including the films "Come Back, Charleston Blue," "Murder at the World Series" and "Chained Heat"; as well as television shows "Jason of Star Command" and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."
But it was her role as a kung-fu fighting government agent in 1973’s "Cleopatra Jones" and 1975’s sequel "Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold" that made her an icon and one of several indelible characters to come out of the blaxploitation period, along with
"Superfly’s" Priest (Ron O’Neal) and "Shaft’s" John Shaft (Richard Roundtree).
"She was not afraid to start a trend," her brother, Peter Dobson, said in a statement. "She designed a lot of the clothing that so many women emulated."
Dobson’s Cleopatra Jones inspired the creation of other tough, black female leads such as Pam Grier in the films "Coffey" and "Foxy Brown," and Teresa Graves in "Get Christie Love." "Cleopatra Jones" was also parodied in "Austin Powers in Goldmember" (2002), which starred Mike Myers and Beyonce Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra.
Dobson lived most of her adult life in New York, where she and tennis legend Arthur Ashe became the first two African-Americans to reside at the exclusive Carnegie House Condominiums at 57th and 6th Streets. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago.
"It was tough going through that debilitating disease, especially with her athleticism and involvement in karate," Peter Dobson says. "That was something she had to fight, and that fight was horrendous … and being a proud individual, the fight was even harder for her."
Dobson is survived by her brother, Peter, and sister, Darilyn, a model who became known as the Palmer’s Cocoa Butter girl. She was also a devoted aunt to her brother’s three children: Kaleb, 10; Valyn, 12; and Aaron, 17. Services are pending.