'Cleopatra Jones' Star Tamara Dobson Died at 59 after Multiple Health Problems
Actress Tamara Dobson was better known for her tall, slender frame, her impeccable fashion style, and her disarming charm on screen as the kung-Fu fighting agent Cleopatra Jones. She was athletic and enjoyed life to her fullest until a disease changed everything.
A model turned actress, Tamara Dobson is remembered as one of the tallest and most beautiful actresses from the Blaxploitation era in the film industry.
Tamara Dobson, CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) — Dobson leapt off the pages of Vogue and right into the role of ass-kicking, crime-stopping, lewks-serving Cleopatra Jones. With poise and personality to spare, Dobson made this heroine into a real-deal Wonder Woman for the 1970s and beyond. pic.twitter.com/nONSOvV8gf— Tribeca (@Tribeca) February 9, 2018
She was born in Baltimore as one of the four children of a beauty shop operator and a railroad clerk. Tamara graduated from Western High School and studied fashion illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
There, she began her modeling career on the Institute’s annual fashion show, and caught the eye of a Hutzler's department store executive, who saw her potential and booked her on several local shows and later encouraged her to move to New York.
In the big apple, Tamara soon took the modeling industry by storm with her 6 feet 2 inches and hourglass figure. She was featured in many magazines, including Vogue and Essence, and also posed for a fashion spread in Ebony magazine with her hair in an Afro.
Over four decades before @TherealTaraji's turn as a hitwoman in #ProudMary, Tamara Dobson starred in a 1973 crime film that helped popularize the blaxploitation genre https://t.co/mgD1LzfPzL pic.twitter.com/6lRZ1I9LZ4— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) January 12, 2018
She made TV commercials for brands as Fabergé, Chanel, and Revlon, and eventually landed her first role acting role in “Fuzz” as the girlfriend of the "deaf man" villain played by Yul Brynner.
Her big break in Hollywood came in 1973 when she was cast as the fierce, fashion striking and fearless spy Cleopatra Jones in the film of the same name. She reprised the role in 1975 in “Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold.”
Dobson learned karate for five weeks for the role and performed her stunts herself. She took up more characters after that, starring in movies like "Murder At The World Series," "Chained Heat," and "Come Back, Charleston Blue."
However, 2000 marked the year Tamara’s life took a turn for the worst when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of possible symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
"It was tough going through that debilitating disease, especially with her athleticism and involvement in karate," her brother, Peter Dobson of Houston, told the press. "That was something she had to fight, and that fight was horrendous -- and being a proud individual, the fight was even harder for her."
Dobson eventually lost the fight against the disease in 2006, when she died from complications of pneumonia and multiple sclerosis.
She spent the last two years of her life living at the Keswick Multi-Care Center, a health rehabilitation facility in Baltimore.
The Guinness Book of World Records once recognized Tamara as the “tallest leading lady in film,” and she was also known for her costumes and her huge Afro hairstyle.
“She was not afraid to start a trend,” her brother said. “She designed a lot of the clothing that so many women emulated. With the knowledge from her degree and her natural creativity, she helped develop elegant fashions, especially for tall women.”
An ode to Tamara Dobson’s style in CLEOPATRA JONES (’73) pic.twitter.com/9W6N4MsgSo— FilmStruck (@FilmStruck) July 12, 2018
The year she died, "Muscle and Fitness Magazine" named her as one of the "Five Baddest Bodies from ‘70s Blaxploitation Films."
Dobson lived most of her adult life in New York but got buried in her native city, Baltimore. She was not married at the time of her death; she left behind her sister, Darilyn Dobson, and brother Peter.