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What Happened To The Cast Of The Color Purple?

Steven Spielberg has directed films of many different genres over his extensive career. His projects have included adventure movies like "Jurassic Park" and the "Indiana Jones" series, science fiction classics like "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Minority Report," war films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "War Horse," historical dramas such as "Munich" and "Lincoln," and, most recently, the remake of the musical "West Side Story."

One of the most important films of Spielberg's '80s filmography was "The Color Purple," an adaptation of Alice Walker's novel about the life of Celie Harris and the hardships she faces growing up in the rural South. This critically acclaimed drama is significant for being the breakout roles for both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, as well as being nominated for 11 Academy Awards but not winning any of them. The book was also adapted into a musical, with its film adaptation coming in 2023.

Before the musical comes to theaters, let's take a look at what happened to the original film's cast.

Whoopi Goldberg – Celie Harris

Before her breakout role in "The Color Purple," Whoopi Goldberg was just a comedian who became known for her one-woman show on Broadway. When Goldberg received critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Celie, she became sought after for several other big roles.

Some of her most memorable roles back in the day included Deloris in "Sister Act," the voice of Shenzi the hyena in "The Lion King," and her Academy Award-winning turn as Oda Mae Brown in "Ghost." On television, she had her own late-night talk show, "The Whoopi Goldberg Show," played Guinan in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and hosted the Academy Awards several times. Nowadays, Goldberg is most known for being one of the co-hosts of ABC's "The View." Most recently, she caused controversy over comments she made about the Holocaust, which caused her to receive a temporary suspension.

Oprah Winfrey – Sofia

One of the most important figures in Celie's life is her sister-in-law Sophia, the debut film role of philanthropist and talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey was already an established media personality before "The Color Purple," and her presence only grew when "The Oprah Winfrey Show" started airing a year later.

Since then, Winfrey has become one of the most recognizable and influential people in the world. Her talk show ran for 25 seasons and included such memorable moments such as the Oprah's Book Club segments (which was rebooted into an Apple TV+ series) and the "You Get A Car!" meme. She has also been known for her celebrity interviews. Some of her most recent talks include her interview with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and the "Adele One Night Only" special.

Winfrey also continues to act in film and television. Her filmography includes live-action roles in "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Selma," and voice roles in the likes of "Charlotte's Web" and "The Princess and the Frog."

Margaret Avery – Shug Avery

The second most important woman in Celie's life is Shug, a former singer who Celie falls for and inspires her finally stand up to her abuser. Margaret Avery was nominated for the Academy Award for her performance as Shug, but she was known prior for her roles in the Dirty Harry flick "Magnum Force" and for playing Belle Joplin in the 1977 "Scott Joplin" biopic. After "The Color Purple" came out, Avery starred in a number of other films in the '80s and '90s, but none of them reached the massive heights of her role as Shug. Her most recent film role was in the direct-to-video comedy "Grand-Daddy Day Care."

Avery has also been featured in several television shows, appearing on "Sanford and Son," "Grey's Anatomy," "Miami Vice" and "Bones." Her biggest television role in recent memory was Helen Patterson on the BET drama series "Being Mary Jane."

Danny Glover – "Mister" Albert Johnson

At a very early age, Celie is married off to the abusive Albert Johnson, a man who Celie refers to as "Mister." Albert is played by Danny Glover, the actor many people know as Robert Murtaugh from the "Lethal Weapon" film series, with the first film coming out two years after "The Color Purple." There are four films and a television series in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise. A fifth film is in the works with both Glover and Mel Gibson, who starred alongside Glover as Martin Riggs, returning and Gibson directing.

Outside of "Lethal Weapon," you can catch Glover in films like "Saw," "2012," "Angels in the Outfield," "Proud Mary" (which also featured Margaret Avery), "Sorry to Bother You" and "Jumanji: The Next Level." He has also had recurring roles in television shows like "ER" and "Brothers and Sisters."

He will be the most recent recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy.

Adolph Caesar – Old Mister Johnson

One very memorable scene from "The Color Purple" is when Albert is talking to his father, "Old Mister" Johnson, and Celie spits in his water behind his back. The man who played Old Mister, Adolph Caesar, died of a heart attack in 1986 while working on the set of the film "Tough Guys," with his part being recast with Eli Wallach. Caesar died shortly after "The Color Purple" was released, and his last theatrical film was the Harold Ramis comedy "Club Paradise."

Prior to his death, Caesar was most known for playing Sgt. Vernon C. Waters in the play "A Soldier's Play," which was adapted into a 1984 movie titled "A Soldier's Story." Caesar reprised his role as Waters for the film and received an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Caesar also had minor roles in television shows like "General Hospital" and "The Twilight Zone." His last television role was a voice role in the cartoon "SilverHawks."

Akosua Busia – Nettie Harris

Celie grew up with her younger sister Nettie, but the two are separated once Celie is married off. Nettie tries to find shelter with Celie in her new home, but is chased away after Albert tries to assault her. Nettie was played by Akosua Busia, both the young and the old version of the character. Busia didn't receive any major awards for playing Nettie, but her performance was still one of the highlights of the film.

Busia's filmography after "The Color Purple" features films like "Crossroads," "New Jack City," and "Rosewood." The latter movie was directed by John Singleton, whom she married in 1996 but divorced a year later (the two had one daughter, Hadar Busia-Singleton, who is also an actress). Her last film to date was 2007's "Ascension Day." Busia and her sister, Dr. Abena Busia, co-founded the Busia Foundation International, which focuses on promoting human rights. 

Willard Pugh – Harpo Johnson

Much like Celie and Nettie, Sofia also faces years of abuse at the hands of the Johnson family. Sofia is married to Albert's son, Harpo. Harpo is encouraged by his father to be rough with Sofia, which leads to the disintegration of their marriage and Sofia leaving with their children, as well as Harpo finding another wife later in the film.

Harpo was played by Willard Pugh, who is also known for starring in such films as "Robocop 2" and "Air Force One" after the release of the Spielberg film. He also appeared in television shows like "NYPD Blue" and "Touched By An Angel," and a voice role in "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show." Today, Pugh's appearances are few and far between. His last film appearance was "McTaggart's Fortune" in 2014, and his latest television appearance was in the TV movie "Da Bottomz" in 2021.

Bennet Guillory – Grady

Albert is infatuated with Shug, but the two are never a couple. Eventually, Shug marries another man named Grady. 

Grady was the first film role of Bennet Guillory. While Guillory is a renowned actor, he is now more known for his work outside of film and television. In 1994, Guillory co-founded the Robey Theatre Company with his co-star Danny Glover, which focuses on promoting works of art about the Black Experience. Several prominent Black actors serve on the Board of Advisors, including Blair Underwood, Harry Lennix, and Delroy Lindo. Guillory also serves as the company's artistic director.

During the 1990s, Guillory appeared in a number of television shows like "My So-Called Life," "Dynasty," "The Young and the Restless," "Charmed," "Midnight Blue," and "Beverly Hills 90210." His last acting credit was in 2014, when he appeared in one episode of the soap opera "General Hospital."

Rae Dawn Chong – Squeak

After Sofia leaves him, Harpo eventually marries another woman called Squeak, portrayed by Rae Dawn Chong. The daughter of comedian Tommy Chong from the "Cheech & Chong" comedy duo, "The Color Purple" came out the same year as another one of the actress' memorable roles: Cindy in the action flick "Commando,"  which also featured Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dan Hedaya. Her star power only grew from there.

In addition to "The Color Purple," Chong starred in films like "Jeff Who Lives at Home," "Tales From the Darkside: The Movie," and "Soul Man" (where she met her second husband, C. Thomas Howell). Her television credits are also numerous and include such shows as "Melrose Place," "9-1-1," "Better Things," "That's So Raven," and "Mysterious Ways." One of her most recent roles was her portrayal of personal secretary to President Bill Clinton, Betty Currie, in the miniseries "Impeachment: American Crime Story."

Dana Ivey – Miss Millie

When Sofia is arrested and thrown in jail for punching the town mayor in an altercation, she is forced to become a maid to Miss Millie, the mayor's wife. One particularly memorable scene with Miss Millie involves her driving Sofia to see her family and spend time with them, only to take her kindness back after she panics, thinking the men of color trying to help her with her car troubles are attacking her. The part of Miss Millie was played by Dana Ivey, with "The Color Purple" being only Ivey's second theatrical film (her first, titled "Explorers," was released the same year).

You can find Ivey in several other films like "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "The Addams Family," and her most recent feature film, "Ocean's 8." Her television appearances include "Frasier," "Law & Order," and "Sex and the City."

Laurence Fishburne – Swain

There are several other minor characters in "The Color Purple." One of those was Swain, who helps Harpo construct his own club where Shug is able to perform again. Swain was portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, who most people know nowadays as either Morpheus from "The Matrix" franchise or as Furious in "Boyz n the Hood."

Of course, you can't forget his roles as the title character in "Othello," Perry White in DC Extended Universe films like "Man of Steel," The Bowery King in the "John Wick" series (a role that he'll reprise for 2023's "John Wick: Chapter 4"), and Dr. Ellis Cheever in "Contagion." On television, he played Dr. Raymond Langston in multiple installments of the "CSI" franchise and Jack Crawford in the "Hannibal" television series. Nowadays, you can see Fishburne playing Pops in the ABC comedy "Black-ish" and General Barrett Fasoose in the Peacock series "MacGruber."

Desreta Jackson – Young Celie Harris

Celie Harris' childhood is marked by tragedy, with her losing her two children very early on and her father marrying her off to Albert. Akosua Busia may have been able to play both a young and old Nettie, but the part of a young Celie was played by Desreta Jackson. After "The Color Purple," Jackson doesn't have many big movies on her resume. The only other major film she has was a minor role in Whoopi Goldberg's "Sister Act."

In an interview with PopViewers, Jackson opened up about how she was raped shortly after playing Celie, with the experience affecting her in more ways due to what her character goes through. Though she said she has some film projects in the works, Jackson has spent most of her time focusing on her beauty brand Blacksilk, which includes hair and skincare products.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).