The talented Merle Dandridge was born on 31st May 1975 in Okinawa, Japan. As an actress and singer who became part of the entertainment industry in 1994, Merle is best-known for her performances in the Broadway musicals “Spamalot”, “Rent”, and “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and for her leading roles in “Greenleaf” and other series.
Family & Education
Merle has a diverse background, with a half-Japanese, half-Korean mother named Kiyoko Sang Pedersen, and an African-American father named Andrew Dandridge. According to reputable internet sources, Merle was raised alongside her older sister Jen.
Kiyoko and Andrew have always preferred to let their younger daughter enjoy the limelight by herself. Nevertheless, online journalists have discovered some information about the low-key couple over the years. Kiyoko was reportedly born in 1942 and learned English during her nursing school days. From surviving two world wars to overcoming the devastating loss of two children, Kiyoko has led a colorful life and is a true survivor.
Kiyoko and Andrew separated a few years after Merle was born, and she remarried a man named Dean T. Pedersen; these days, Kiyoko and Dean live in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
As for Andrew, the veteran lives in Cordova, Tennessee and started military his career during the civil rights movement. It’s unknown how Andrew, who was born in September 1942, met his wife, but presumably when he was posted to Okinawa. The former couple appear to have remained on good terms for the sake of their daughters.
Meanwhile, Merle once described her big sister as her “muse” and a “tender-hearted and brilliant artist”, through which we can safely assume that Jen has some sort of creative career. However, little else is known about her due to her lack of social media.
Merle and her family moved back to the US due to her father’s job. For a time, they lived on Beale Air Force Base in California, eventually on Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where Merle would spend most of her childhood. While studying at Papillion La Vista High School, Merle’s interest for acting flourished, as she participated in the theater department and play production class. After matriculating from Papillion La Vista, Merle studied at Roosevelt University’s lofty Theatre Conservatory, which is known these days as the Chicago College of Performing Arts.
Merle has had a long and fruitful career which started with her appearances in Chicago theatre productions. The actress has also done voiceover work in the award-winning action games “Half-Life 2” and “The Last of Us” to name a couple, thus helping her to cross over and expand her audience. In fact, Merle’s first notable accolade was a 2015 BAFTA Award for her voiceover performance in “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture”.
Moving on to TV roles, Merle has guest starred in “The Newsroom”, “Criminal Minds”, “NCIS”, and “Drop Dead Diva”. One of her first recurring roles was as Rita Roosevelt in “Sons of Anarchy”; Merle made her debut in the show’s fourth season and played Eli Roosevelt’s wife. However, Rita was killed off after just six episodes, having been shot in the stomach by Frankie Diamonds.
In 2015, Rita co-starred in season two of “The Night Shift”, playing Gwen Gaskin in the NBC medical drama, who worked as a paramedic at the San Antonio Memorial Hospital, was a domestic violence survivor and Dr. Jordan Alexander’s best friend. Her main storyline during her time on the show was her romance with nurse Kenny Fournette, which fizzled out in season three.
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In the same year, Merle was also cast as the leading character in “Greenleaf”, an Oprah Winfrey Network drama series. The actress was showered with critical acclaim for her stellar performance as James Greenleaf’s estranged daughter Grace, a former response pastor, who started a church group named The Sisters of Tamar which helped sexual abuse victims, having gone through the same ordeal herself.
Grace returned home after 20 years when her sister Faith mysteriously died. Although it soon became evident that Faith had committed suicide, Grace decided to investigate her death, and look into several rape incidents that had taken place in the area, and been conveniently covered up. It was later revealed to viewers that Grace’s sketchy uncle, who tried to sexually abuse her when she was young, was behind most of the rapes.
From November 2017 to January 2018, Merle played Papa Ged the God of Death in the hit Broadway musical “Once on this Island”, reprising the role in a limited run from June to August 2018. “Once on this Island” was well-received by the general public, with Merle and the rest of the cast being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
In 2021, Merle was cast as Marlene in the HBO series “The Last of Us”, reprising her role from the critically acclaimed videogame. So far, Marlene has appeared in a couple of episodes of the show. In the videogame, Marlene was a supporting character and the final antagonist, as well as a good friend of the main character’s mother. Marlene, who was also the commander of the Fireflies, died after being shot by Joel, another of the supporting characters.
Husband, Net Worth
Merle married Christopher Johnston in 2011, but divorced after eight years citing irreconcilable differences. The attractive former couple, who always refused to publicize intimate details of their relationship, were still often pictured together at premieres and other high-profile events. Of course, the decision to keep their love life private was made much easier by the fact that Christopher is almost completely anonymous – to this day, there is practically no information regarding his upbringing, education, or career.
As far as we know, Merle has yet to find love again since her divorce. The “Greenleaf” star has no children, and appears disinterested in becoming a mother for the time being.
Regarding Merle’s net worth, the actress is said to be worth $5 million after almost three decades in the entertainment industry.
Her latest notable works include a recurring role as Fire Chief Natasha Ross in “Station 19”, and her portrayal of Zarina Killebrew in “Truth Be Told”.