Ellen Albertini Dow could bust a rhyme with the best of them, but her life and Hollywood career were far richer than a single rap song.
Dubbed the rapping granny, the longtime actress delighted audiences in the 1998 Adam Sandler film “The Wedding Singer” when she broke out “Rapper’s Delight.” Her performance of the tune was also featured on the film’s soundtrack.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times that year, Dow said she'd never heard of the song before learning it for the film.
“I just sang it and put some movement to it,” she said.
Dow died Monday in her Woodland Hills home, her manager Juliet Green confirmed. She was 101.
Dow appeared in numerous big-screen hits including “Wedding Crashers,” “Road Trip,” “Patch Adams” and “Sister Act.” She also had roles on TV shows such as “Seinfeld,” “ER” and “Scrubs,” and did voice work on the animated series “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”
Dow was fiercely independent and “hated when anyone tried to treat her like an old lady,” Green said in an email.
Born Nov. 26, 1913, in Mount Carmel, Pa., Dow did not begin her Hollywood acting career until she was in her 70s, Green said.
The seventh child of Italian immigrant parents, Dow began studying dance and piano at age 5. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater from Cornell University and studied dance with legendary greats Hanya Holm and Martha Graham, and acting with Michael Shurtleff and Uta Hagen in New York City, Green said.
Dow also worked with mimes Marcel Marceau and Jacques Lecoq and performed comedy in the Borscht Belt and at the Second Avenue Theatre in New York with Menasha Skulnik and Molly Picon, Green said.
Dow and her husband, Eugene, moved to Los Angeles in 1952, and Dow became a college instructor.
In 1985, she retired after 30 years of teaching drama at L.A. City and Pierce colleges and began taking television roles. The Pierce College theater department, which was founded by her husband, called her “the matriarch of its family.”
Dow told The Times in 1998 that she did not want her age to be her calling card. “I don't want to be [considered] an actor good for her age,” she said. “I want to be known as a good actor.”
Eugene Dow, her husband of 53 years, died in 2004. The couple did not have children. Ellen Dow is survived by several nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren.