Who was Alvin Ailey and what was his cause of death?

ALVIN Ailey Jr. was the choreographer and director of a renowned American dance company that turned Black American music and storytelling into ballet that wowed audiences all over the world. 

A new Jamila Wignot-directed documentary highlights the artist behind the art of dance and the struggles he endured to achieve what he did.

Who was Alvin Ailey?

Born in Rogers, Texas on January 5, 19931, Alvin Ailey Jr. was an American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who created the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT).

He founded AAADT and the Ailey School to nurture Black artists and communicate the universality of the African-American experience through dance. 

His choreography blended theater, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with Black vernacular, resulting in hopeful choreography that continues to raise global awareness of African-American existence. 

Revelations, Alvin Ailey's choreographic masterwork, is one of the world's most beloved and performed ballets.

Ailey didn’t like the "Black choreographer" moniker and wished to be simply referred to as a choreographer. 

He was well-known for his secrecy when it came to his personal life.

What was the cause of Alvin Ailey’s death?

Ailey died on December 1, 1989, and was 58 years old at the time of his death.

His doctor, Dr. Albert Knapp, attributed his death to terminal blood dyscrasia, a rare condition affecting the bone marrow and red blood cells.

In 1980, Ailey had a mental collapse as a result of the loss of his friend Joyce Trisler, a failed romance, and spells of severe drinking and cocaine usage. 

He was diagnosed with a manic depressive condition, which is now recognized as bipolar disorder. Judith Jamison was the co-director of AAADT during his recuperation.

What is the documentary about?

In a documentary simply titled Ailey to broadcast on PBS on January 11, Wignot deeply dives into the life of Ailey.

It includes interviews with AAADT performers and choreographers, who provide insight into Ailey's work and legacy, including his foundation of the organization. 

Current AAADT Artistic Director Robert Battle, Rennie Harris, Darrin Ross, Don Martin, Mary Barnett, Linda Kent, George Faison, Judith Jamison, Bill Hammond, Sylvia Waters, Hope Clark, Sarita Allen, Masazumi Chaya, and Bill T. Jones are among others who were featured.

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