Jenifer Lewis Biography
Jenifer Jeanette Lewis is an American film and television actress.
Soon after she arrived in New York City, Lewis began on Broadway in a small role in Eubie (1979), the musical based on the work of Eubie Blake. She next landed the role of Effie White in the workshop of the Michael Bennett-directed musical Dreamgirls, but when the show moved to Broadway, Bennett chose Jennifer Holliday for the role. Undaunted, Lewis accepted a position as a Harlette, a back-up singer for Bette Midler which led to Lewis' first TV appearances on Midler's HBO specials. She also landed her first screen role as a result, appearing as one of the buxom chorines in the 'Otto Titsling' production number in the Midler vehicle Beaches (1988). At the same time, Lewis was developing her nightclub act, The Diva Is Dismissed, an autobiographical comedy and music show in NYC cabarets. She performed the show off-Broadway at the Public Theatre.
In 1987, Lewis was hired as the Pre-Show announcer on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. In 1988, Lewis relocated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she was cast as one of the back-up singers to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. Goldberg sponsored several performances of The Diva Is Dismissed as a possible HBO series. In 1992 to 1993, she played Dean Davenport in the sixth and final season of A Different World. She also had a recurring role as Will Smith's Aunt Helen on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, as well as stints on a few episodes of In Living Color, reprising several of her characters from her nightclub act. Also in 1993, she played the mother of Tupac Shakur's character in Poetic Justice.
Although she auditioned for role of Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got to Do with It? she landed the role of Turner’s mother. In 1994 she followed with other supporting roles, including Mrs. Coleman the Unemployment Office lady in Renaissance Man and as Whoopi Goldberg's sister in Corrina, Corrina. In 1995, she was cast in maternal roles to Kadeem Hardison in Panther and to Larenz Tate in Dead Presidents before she accepted the role of a lesbian judge on the short-lived CBS series Courthouse. Lewis returned to the big screen as Theresa Randle's telephone sex line boss in Spike Lee's Girl 6 . She then played Whitney Houston's character's mother in Penny Marshall's The Preacher's Wife.
In 1999, she starred in a Robert Townsend made-for-TV film Jackie's Back, a mockumentary about the struggling comeback of a diva in turmoil. She recently appeared in The Cookout, Nora's Hair Salon, Shark Tale and Cars. She was in a few episodes of Friends as Monica Gellar's co-worker. Since 2000, she has played Lana Hawkins on the Lifetime television medical drama Strong Medicine, the show ended February 2006. In 2006, she had a featured role as the wedding planner in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion.
In one episode of That's So Raven she played the titular character's maternal grandmother, who has psychic powers. She recently starred as a judge in Boston Legal and appeared in the 2008 film Meet The Browns. On April 22, 2008, Lewis replaced Darlene Love as Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway's Hairspray, a role that was originally written for her.
Lewis was born in Kinloch, Missouri. In May 2005, Lewis discussed losing her beloved cousin, stylist Ronald Stewart, to AIDS. She also mentioned entering psychotherapy following her being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997. She is the mother of an adopted daughter.