“There was a limit to the professional vehicles available to me, as there was a limit to my acceptance in the white world and to white men …” Dorothy Dandridge wrote in her autobiography. Despite her tremendous achievements, popularity, and critical acclaim, Dandridge found herself limited by how Hollywood could conceive of a Black woman.
Dandridge was frustrated by the lack of complex roles and felt trapped by the role she was being forced into. She described herself as becoming self-destructive, turning down offers, spending her money, and starting relationships with men who didn’t respect her. As described in a documentary by Biography, one of these men was Jack Denison, a white nightclub owner. Denison was cruel and abusive, and insisted that she perform at his failing club to save him from bankruptcy. Although they divorced, the financial and emotional damage was done. Dandridge was no longer able to afford the full-time care that she had been paying for all of her daughter’s life, and the state assumed responsibility for Harolyn. Dandridge was devastated, and she heavily used alcohol and medication to deal with the tragedy she was facing.
At 42, it seemed as though Dorothy Dandridge was about to make a comeback. She wrote her autobiography, hired a new manager, signed onto two new films, and gave an impeccable performance at a solo concert. Yet, the day she was supposed to leave for a performance in New York City, she fatally overdosed on her medication.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).