Known for his charisma and talent, actor Lamont Bentley stole the hearts of television and movie viewers from the time he was a teen. Debuting on a 1986 Starburst commercial, the young actor went on to play bit parts in several television series and movies. His first recurring role came in 1994 on the short-lived, but critically acclaimed show South Central. But he was best known for his role on the popular mid-1990s television series Moesha, where he played Hakeem Campbell opposite award-winning rhythm and blues singer Brandy. At the height of his acting career and at the start of a promising rapping career, Bentley was tragically killed in an automobile accident near Simi Valley, California, on January 18, 2005, at the age of 31. His mother and two young daughters were living with him at the time of his death.
Artimus Lamont Bentley was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 25, 1973, to Loyce Bentley and Donald L. Gardison. Bentley and his sister grew up on Milwaukee's north side of town and attended Webster Middle School. Bentley was bent on stardom from an early age, and his friends recalled him preparing for stardom by practicing his autograph when he was 12 years old, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. Known by most as Lamont, he was also affectionately called "Cuz" and "My Guy" by his friends. Although Bentley moved to the west coast in his early teens, Milwaukee stayed close to his heart. After Bentley became famous, he would lavish attention and kindness on anyone he met from Milwaukee. His winning personality made many consider him "a cousin, a brother, a son, a friend," as local Milwaukee radio personality Reggie Brown recalled at his funeral service, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.
Bentley's mother, Loyce, moved her family to Los Angeles to pursue her own singing career when Bentley was 13 years old. But whenever she would audition for a part, her son stole the show. His own goals to become a star and his ability to make people laugh eventually caused someone to suggest that he become a child comic—which he did. His first role was cast in a 1986 Starburst commercial. He went on to portray juveniles in a variety of circumstances: most notably, he played a teenage father who opted to stay home with his child instead of turn out for the high school football team in a public service television announcement.
Hooked on acting, Bentley dropped out of high school to pursue his career. But success came slowly, and Bentley had to take odd jobs in movie theaters, a fish market, and a grocery store, among other places as he waited for his big break. Bentley's youthful appearance enabled him to play the part of teens even into his twenties, and he landed a variety of small parts in television series and movies before landing bigger roles.
His first feature film role came in the 1995 horror movie Tales from the Hood. The movie, about the inner-city ganglands, is an anthology of four stories focused on the consequences of the gang lifestyle. Bentley's persona in the movie was cold and angry—a far cry from the young child comic of his youth. His portrayal of Crazy K was impressive, according to film critics. With chameleon-like acting qualities, Bentley proved that he could perform in horror, drama, and comedy.
In 1996 Bentley acquired a leading role on the television sitcom Moesha. For his comic portrayal of Hakeem Campbell, the always hungry friend of "Moesha," Bentley quickly gained recognition. He remained a favorite among dedicated viewers of the show until it was canceled in 2001 after six seasons. As the end of Moesha came close, Bentley related to the Indianapolis, Indiana, Recorder that his memories of the show were sweet: "The show gave me a lot of exposure and it has enabled me to realize some of my wildest dreams. Now I have stronger footing to go back into feature films and take on other TV roles, because I've proven that I can play both drama and comedy."
As Moesha played in syndication, Bentley went on to pursue both acting and musical opportunities. He landed a variety of parts in films and television movies, and formed a hip-hop duo called Uprise with partner Tyson. Before he became an actor, he had dabbled in rapping, so his musical focus was not a complete surprise. He was recording an album under rapper Coolio, and was in the process of releasing it at the time of his death.
When Oakland rapper Habitt released his new album Talk of the Town in May 2005, he dedicated it to Bentley, who was a close friend. Bentley had recorded a skit with Habitt for the new album titled Shakin" It Up. "It was such a shock to lose someone who is a friend like that," Habitt said. "I dedicated my album to Lamont. He was a true friend, and we all miss him a great deal," he said on the Spokesman Web site. Bentley's own hip-hop project Uprise had not secured a record deal at the time of his death, but his involvement in the rap and hip-hop culture was just another facet of his energy and talent as an entertainer.
Even after finding fame in California, Bentley did not forget his Wisconsin roots. He returned occasionally to host events for his own charitable organization, the Lamont Bentley Foundation, Inc., which distributed funds to local non-profit groups including Strive Media Institute and the Pentecostal Church School of Wisconsin. "He wasn't pompous" and he never flaunted a "big-star type attitude," attorney John Carlson commented in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. According to comedian D-Rock in the same article, "It wasn't about fame for Lamont. It was all about love."
Tales from the Hood, 1995.
The Breaks, 1999.
The Wash, 2001.
South Central, 1994.
Moesha, UPN, 1996-2001.
Buffalo Soldiers (television movie), 1997.
The Parkers, 2000.
Too Legit to Quit: The MC Hammer Story (television movie), 2001.
Shards (television movie), 2004.
Sucker Free City (television movie), 2004.
At a Glance …
Born Artimus Lamont Bentley on October 25, 1973, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; died in a car accident on January 18, 2005; children: Artesia and Brazil.
Career: Actor, 1986-2005; rap musician, 1990s-2005.
Michigan Chronicle, November 20, 2001, p. D3.
Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), November 16, 2001, p. C1.
Variety, January 31-February 6, 2005, p. 69.
"Hakeem Killed in Car Crash," The Spokesman, www.msuspokesman.com (June 4, 2005).
"Milwaukee's Bentley Dies in Car Crash, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, www.jsonline.com/enter/.asp (June 4, 2005).
"Sitcom Star Dreams Big," Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, www.jsonline.com/news/sunday/lifestyle/0817lunch.stm (August 30, 2005).
"Talents of Milwaukee Native Remembered," Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, www.jsonline.com/enter/tvradio/jan05/296222.asp (June 4, 2005).
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