Sheryl Lee Ralph Recalls Getting Mistaken for Whitney Houston Twice on the Same Plane Ride

Having been in the business for almost 50 years, gracing our television and cinema screens in shows like “Moesha” and “Abbott Elementary” and films “The Mighty Quinn” and “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” as well as the theatrical stage in the original production of “Dreamgirls,” Sheryl Lee Ralph should be considered a recognizable figure in the entertainment lexicon. And yet, in a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, the Emmy-winning actress claims she’s repeatedly been mistaken for others.

“There was a point after ‘Dreamgirls’ [on Broadway] when I was getting on a plane, and someone was like, ‘Hi, Whitney.’ ‘I’m not Whitney Houston,’” she said she told the fellow passenger. “Time goes by, then the next person says, ‘Oh, Ms. Houston.’ ‘I am not Whitney Houston.’ Plane ride goes by, and the [flight attendant] comes with a bottle of wine and says, ‘I just want to say how much I adore you, Ms.—’  and I say, ‘I am not Whitney Houston!’ The person backed up and said, ‘I’m sorry. Aren’t you Ms. Sheryl Lee Ralph?’ I was so embarrassed.”

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Ironically enough, Ralph admits in the piece that she herself isn’t that good at putting a name to a face, having often confused “Lord of the Rings” actor Orlando Bloom and others for famous people she thought were Black.

“For whatever reason, I see people differently than their names,” Ralph said. “I knew for sure that Orlando Bloom was a Black man. I knew he was a young, Black football player. I knew it. When I saw him, I was just, ‘That’s not Orlando Bloom.’ And Darren Star. I knew Darren Star was a young Black influencer. I was proud of Darren Star! Then I was at one of those balls, Elton John or Elizabeth Taylor … and someone said, ‘You must go and meet Darren Star.’ I said, ‘Where is he?’ They say, ‘He’s right there.’ ‘Where? That’s an older white man.’”

Clearly amused by Ralph’s mix-ups, the writers on “Abbott Elementary” allowed this trait to trickle down to her character, veteran elementary school teacher Barbara Howard. She said to the L.A. Times, “The whole cold opening — I think it might have been the third episode — was me as Barbara Howard mixing up everybody. Everybody’s wrong and she just was so right. So that’s my quirk — Orlando Bloom is a football player and a Black man.”

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