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Born in New York City, she grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. Pushed by a high school teacher, she applied for Yale and got a scholarship, ultimately spending 7 years there including 3 post-grad years studying drama. She first appeared in small roles in The Cosby Show (Mr. Quiet episode) and "Spenser: For Hire" (1985), but it was not until 1990 that a spate of TV roles brought her notice. Her breakthrough role, though, was playing Tina Turner, whom she had never seen perform before taking the role.