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With Oscar win, Viola Davis earns rare ‘triple crown’ in acting

Viola Davis, winner of best supporting actress for “Fences,” shown backstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif.Christopher Polk/Getty Images

With her Oscar win on Sunday night, Viola Davis now finds herself among the elite few to earn “triple crown” honors for acting. ’Tis a rare feat, indeed: only 22 people before her have won an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards for their acting performances (Other actors have won all three before, but only if you count their awards in non-acting categories — a triple win in the acting categories is much harder to come by.)

With her latest trophy, Davis is the 23rd to join the so-called “Triple Crown of Acting” club, and she finds herself in good company. Others who’ve earned the distinction include Ingrid Bergman, Jessica Tandy, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, and Jessica Lange.


Davis received her first Tony Award in 2001 for her performance in the play “King Hedley II,” and then earned a second Tony in 2010 for her role as Rose Maxson in the Broadway revival of the August Wilson play “Fences.” After receiving an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 2015 (for the TV series “How to Get Away With Murder”), Davis joined the club Sunday night, when she took home an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her performance in the movie “Fences.” (In yet another bit of awards trivia, Davis is only the 10th person to win a Tony and an Oscar for the same role.)

Upon accepting the Oscar, the Juilliard-trained actress from Rhode Island gave an emotional, tearful speech.

“You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, one place,” Davis said, “and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dream big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.”


“I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

“So here’s to August Wilson who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people,” she said.

Among the many people Davis thanked were her “Fences” costar and director Denzel Washington, her husband and daughter, and her parents, Dan and Mary Alice Davis, who raised her in Central Falls, R.I.

‘‘I’m so thankful that God chose you to bring me into this world,’’ she said.

The Associated Press reported that Davis became choked up backstage when she reflected on her humble beginnings and how far she’s come.

‘‘This is the first time in my life I’ve stepped back — I’m going to try not to cry right now — and I can’t believe my life,’’ she said.

‘‘I grew up in poverty. I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested and I always sort of wanted to be somebody. I just wanted to be good at something. This is the miracle of God and dreaming big and hoping it sticks and it lands, and it did. I’m overwhelmed.’’