Margaret Avery (born January 20, 1944) is an American actress and singer. She began her career appearing on stage and later has had starring roles in films include Cool Breeze (1972), Which Way Is Up? (1977), Scott Joplin (1977), and The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979).
Avery is best known for her performance as Shug Avery in the 1985 period drama film The Color Purple for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She continued appearing in films include Blueberry Hill (1988), White Man's Burden (1995), Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (2008), and Meet the Browns (2008). In 2013, Avery began starring as Helen Patterson, lead character's mother, in the BET drama series Being Mary Jane.
Margaret Avery was born in Mangum, Oklahoma and raised in San Diego, California, where she attended Point Loma High School. She then attended San Francisco State University, where in 1985, she earned her degree in education. While working as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, Avery began making singing and acting appearances.
Avery is best known for her role as Shug Avery in the 1985 film The Color Purple. Her performance in this screen adaptation of Alice Walker's prize-winning novel The Color Purple earned Avery an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Among the plays Avery appeared in were Revolution and The Sistuhs. In 1972 for her performance in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, she received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress.
In the television movie Something Evil (1972), a horror story with Sandy Dennis and Darren McGavin, Avery was directed by Steven Spielberg. That same year she made her theatrical motion picture debut as Lark in the MGM crime/drama Cool Breeze with Thalmus Rasulala and Judy Pace. In this blaxploitation remake of The Asphalt Jungle, Avery played the Marilyn Monroe part. The following year she played a prostitute in Magnum Force, the second in the series of Dirty Harry films starring Clint Eastwood, in which her character was murdered by her pimp, played by Albert Popwell. The character was killed through the pouring drain cleaner down the victim's throat which was said to have inspired the notorious Hi-Fi Murders case in 1974.
In the 1977 film Which Way Is Up?, directed by Michael Schultz, Avery gave a comedic performance as Annie Mae, the wife of Richard Pryor's character. That same year, she played Belle Joplin, wife of the ragtime composer Scott Joplin, opposite Billy Dee Williams in the title role.
In 1992 Avery starred in The Jacksons: An American Dream as Martha Scruse, mother of Katherine Jackson, who was played by Angela Bassett. The two would later star together in Meet the Browns.
She has also made numerous TV series guest appearances, including The New Dick Van Dyke Show; Kojak; Sanford and Son; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; A.E.S. Hudson Street; Murder, She Wrote; Miami Vice; Spenser: For Hire; The Cosby Show; Walker, Texas Ranger; and JAG.
In 2008, Avery played Mama Jenkins in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, opposite Martin Lawrence and James Earl Jones, and Sarah Brown in Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns, which also stars Angela Bassett.
Currently, Avery plays recurring character Helen Patterson in BET's hit series Being Mary Jane.
In January 1974, Margaret Avery married Robert Gordon Hunt. They have one daughter, Aisha Hunt, and divorced in 1980.
Margaret Avery lives in Los Angeles, and remains active in the show business industry. While continuing to act, she also works with at-risk teenagers and battered women of Greater Los Angeles.