Denise Dowse, the busy character actress who portrayed Vice Principal Yvonne Teasley on Beverly Hills, 90210, Judge Rebecca Damsen on The Guardian and therapist Rhonda Pine on Insecure, has died. She was 64.
Dowse’s passing was announced Saturday on her Instagram account by older sister Tracey Dowse, who praised her sibling as “the most amazing sister, a consummate, illustrious actress, mentor and director. She was my very best friend and final family member.”
On Aug. 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 those were among her favorite roles, as was her two-episode turn in 2011-12 as Yvonne Burns, the aunt of Shemar Moore’s Derek Morgan, on CBS’ Criminal Minds.
Dowse also did a lot of stage directing and was at the helm 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 recurred as the strict but compassionate West Beverly Hills High vice principal Teasley on 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 on the 2001-04 Simon Baker-starring CBS drama The Guardian and six as Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) therapist on the final three seasons of Issa Rae’s Insecure at HBO.
Denise Yvonne Dowse was born in Honolulu on Feb. 21, 1958. Her father had a career in the U.S. Navy, and her family moved pretty much every two years. Meanwhile, her mother taught school.
In 1976 while at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, she auditioned for a spot in the traveling performing group Up With People while also applying for the U.S. Naval Academy (that was the first year that women were accepted there).
“Right about the time I was to take the [Academy] physical training test, Up With People said, ‘We need a response, we need an answer,’ and I had to make a choice,” Dowse recalled in a 2015 interview. “Was I doing the Navy for my dad or was I going to do the theater for me? And I chose me.”
After graduating in 1980 from Norfolk State University and living in Germany with her folks for seven-plus years — she also worked in theater while overseas — she moved to L.A. when she was 30. She found gigs as an extra, which led her to getting a line of dialogue on a 1989 episode of the NBC sitcom ALF.
“It got me into the union, and I got an agent after that,” she said.
While she was building her acting career, she worked as an operator at an answering service and for five years as an office manager at a Westwood law firm.
Dowse also was a recurring character on NBC’s Built to Last in 1997, ABC’s Secrets and Lies in 2015-16 and Bravo’s Imposters in 2017-18.
She also showed up on episodes of Roc, Seinfeld, Touched by an Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NewsRadio, ER, Party of Five, Judging Amy, Charmed, Law & Order, Bones, Rizzoli & Isles, Murder in the First, 9-1-1, Grey’s Anatomy and Snowfall.
Her film résumé 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 8-18 in inner city Los Angeles.
In 2016, she helmed the musical Recorded in Hollywood at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, then guided Daughters of the Mock for The Negro Ensemble Company in New York a year later. She won several NAACP Image Awards for directing during her career.
“Of all of it, I love theater,” she said. “It doesn’t pay the bills, but it feeds the soul.”