Denise Dowse, the busy actress who played Vice Principal Yvonne Teasley in Beverly Hills, 90210judge Rebecca Damsen on The Guardian and therapist Rhonda Pine on Insecure, is dead. She was 64 years old.
Dowse’s passing was announced on her Instagram account on Saturday by her older sister Tracey Dowse, who hailed her brother as “the most amazing sister, an accomplished and illustrious actress, mentor and director. She was my best friend and the last member of my family.
On August 7, Tracey wrote on Instagram that her younger sister was hospitalized and in a coma brought on by a “virulent form of meningitis.”
On the big screen, Denise Dowse stood out as Ray Charles’ manager, Marlene André, in Ray (2004), starring Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, and she played another principal, this one based on a real-life educator at Richmond, California High School, in Coach Carter (2005), starring Samuel L. Jackson.
She said these were some of her favorite roles, as was her two-episode turn in 2011-2012 as Yvonne Burns, the aunt of Shemar Moore’s Derek Morgan, on CBS. Criminal minds.
Dowse also did a lot of directing and was the head of Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story, starring Ledisi as the legendary gospel singer. The film opened the Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles in April.
Dowse returned as the strict but compassionate vice principal of West Beverly Hills High, Teasley, in 23 episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210, spanning the entire 10-year run (1990-2000) of the Fox hit.
She then made 32 appearances as Judge Damsen in the 2001-04 CBS drama starring Simon Baker. The Guardian and six as Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) therapist over the final three seasons of Issa Rae’s Insecure at HBO.
Denise Yvonne Dowse was born in Honolulu on February 21, 1958. Her father made a career in the United States Navy and her family moved about every two years. Meanwhile, her mother was teaching at school.
In 1976, while attending WT Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, she auditioned for a spot in the traveling show group Up With People while also applying for the U.S. Naval Academy (it was freshman year where women were accepted).
“About the time I was supposed to take the [Academy] physical training test, Up With People said, ‘We need an answer, we need an answer,’ and I had to make a choice,” Dowse recalled in a 2015 interview. Was I doing the navy for my father or was I going to do theater for myself? And I chose myself.
After graduating in 1980 from Norfolk State University and living in Germany with her parents for more than seven years – she also worked in theater overseas – she moved to Los Angeles to 30 years old. She found gigs as an extra, which led to her landing a line of dialogue on a 1989 episode of the NBC sitcom ALF.
“It got me into the union and then I found an agent,” she said.
As she built her acting career, she worked as an operator at a voicemail service and for five years as an office manager at a Westwood law firm.
Dowse was also a recurring character on NBC Built to last in 1997, ABC secrets and lies in 2015-16 and Bravo Imposters in 2017-18.
She also appeared in episodes of Rock, Seinfeld, Touched by an angel, buffy the vampire slayer, NewsRadio, Emergency room, Group of Five, Judging Amy, Charm, Law and order, Bones, Rizzoli and islands, Murder in the first, 9-1-1, Grey’s Anatomy and Snowfall.
His film resume included performances in Sneakers (1992), Bio-Dome (1996), Starship Troopers (1997), Pleasantville (1998), Requiem for a dream (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001).
For 18 years, Dowse taught acting and directed plays at the Amazing Grace Conservatory, a weekend performing arts school for students ages 8 to 18 in downtown Los Angeles.
In 2016, she directed the musical Recorded in Hollywood at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, then guided Model Girls for The Negro Ensemble Company in New York a year later. She has won several NAACP Image Awards for directing during her career.
“Of all of this, I love the theater,” she said. “It doesn’t pay the bills, but it feeds the soul.”