Canada Lee, born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegate, was one of the greatest African American actors during the late '30s and '40s. Prior to beginning his distinguished acting career playing Banquo in Orson Welles' all-black Macbeth at the WPA's Federal Theater Project in Harlem in 1936, Lee had been a jockey, a violinist, an orchestra leader, and a boxer (during one bout, he lost an eye). He later made an auspicious Broadway debut with his portrayal of Bigger Thomas in Native Son in 1944. That year he also made his feature film debut in Hitchcock's Lifeboat, where he won critical acclaim for his intelligent and authoritative portrayal of the courageous ship's steward. Lee then returned to Broadway. He did not again appear in a film until 1947 in Body and Soul.
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Two years after he made that socially conscious film, everyone connected with it was blacklisted for allegedly having communist sympathies (this seemed to have been based on Lee's outspoken opinions on African American rights). Not only could Lee no longer appear in films, he was also banned from radio and television. Although he did work again in the anti-apartheid film Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), Lee died of a stroke in 1952 at the age of 45 after publicly protesting the murder of two black men by an ex-police officer in Westchester, New York. Some believe that it was the pressure of the blacklisting coupled with his high-blood pressure that caused Lee's fatal stroke. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi