Billy Dee Williams
Williams, Billy Dee 1937–
Billy Dee Williams 1937–
“I don’t want to know about white and black,” Billy Dee Williams protested to Gwen Jones of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in a 1984 interview. “I want people to see my heart, what I feel—not as one of America’s best black actors but as one of the best actors.” In fact, the actor would make great progress toward that goal over the course of his long and varied career. After logging some time on the stage, Williams got his first big breaks in acting in the early 1970s, landing the dashing male lead in Lady Sings the Blues —thus establishing himself as a sex symbol—and portraying football star Gale Sayers in Brian’s Song. He later played civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., onstage and musical pioneer Scott Joplin on the small screen, tackled a crucial role in the latter two films of the enormously popular Star Wars series, in which he benefitted from some rare colorblind casting, and took on a variety of smaller film and television roles.
Williams’s energy and enthusiasm have dimmed little over the years; he has devoted his nighttime hours since the late 1980s to painting and avid study of Eastern philosophy. As his longtime friend Paul Carter Harrison told Ebony, “Billy is a very serious actor in a frivolous industry.”
Born William December Williams—his middle name came from his father—in New York City in 1937, he and his twin sister Loretta were fiercely protected by their mother, also named Loretta, who worked various jobs, including elevator operator in the Lyceum theater. One day Billy, who kept his mother company while she worked, was invited by producer Max Gordon to audition for a walk-on part in the theater’s production of German-born composer Kurt Weill’s Firebrand of Florence; he was seven years old. “They had me walk across the stage twice,” he recalled to Louise Bernikow of Mademoiselle. “They said, Tine, Billy,’ but I had caught the bug, right? I wanted to do it a third time. They wouldn’t let me, so I started crying, and they had to let me have the part.”
As Williams informed Jones, “I can remember when I was a chubby little kid of 12, and all the other guys were getting the girls, I said someday I was going to be like [silent movie idol] Rudolph Valentino.” Even so, he has often insisted that he did not choose acting as a profession but rather was chosen by it. Williams attended the High School of Music and Art and later the National Academy School of Fine Arts with the intention of becoming a painter; he took acting jobs to pay for his art supplies.
Born William December Williams, April 6, 1937, in New York, NY; son of December and Loretta Williams; third wife’s name, Teruko (divorced); children: Corey, Miyako, Hanako. Education: Attended High School of Music and Art and National Academy School of Fine Arts, New York, NY.
Stage appearances include Firebrand of Florence, c. 1944, A Taste of Honey, Halleluiah Baby, I Have a Dream, and Fences. Film appearances include The Last Angry Man, 1959; The Out-of-Towners, 1970; Lady Sings the Blues, 1972; Mahogany, 1976; The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, 1976; The Empire Strikes Back, 1980; Nighthawks, 1981; Return of the ledi, 1983; Marvin & Tige, 1984; and Batman, 1989. Television appearances include Dynasty, 1980s; and films Brian’s Song, 1971; The Scott loplin Story, 1976; The jacksons: An American Dream, 1992; Marked for Murder, 1993; and Percy and Thunder, 1993. Presented exhibition of paintings, The Art of Billy Dee Williams, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 1993.
By his early twenties Williams was working regularly in the theater, first making a splash in A Taste of Honey. He studied acting with, among others, Sidney Poitier. “When I met him he gave me a sense of hope by just watching him moving in a certain kind of way,” the younger actor told Ebony. “That certainly gave me the feeling that I’ve got something to offer, that there is a place for me.” He took some film work, including roles in The Last Angry Man and The Out-of-Towners, but soon realized that stardom wasn’t around the corner.
After an abortive attempt at a singing career, Williams traveled to Europe, returning to the United States in 1970. The following year he earned the role of football star Gale Sayers in Brian’s Song, an Emmy Award-winning television film costarring James Caan. That tale of friendship and tragedy established Williams’s credentials as a dramatic actor; a year later he would emerge as a leading man.
Music business legend Berry Gordy, who had branched into film with his Motown pictures company, was sufficiently impressed by Williams’s performance to offer him a critical role in Lady Sings the Blues, with singing superstar Diana Ross in the lead. The actor initially was disinclined to take the part since he regarded it as insufficiently serious and doubted Ross’s ability as an actress.
Ultimately accepting the part, Williams played Louis McKay, who becomes involved with ill-fated jazz singer Billie Holiday. Ross earned an Academy Award for her portrayal of Holiday, while Williams’s role in the film was a milestone in that it glamorized black men in a new way. “His hair and neatly trimmed moustache glisten,” wrote Hollie I. West of the Los Angeles Times. “His smile is easy and warm. He is immaculately dressed in a business suit and he has a coat draped over his shoulders.” As the actor’s manager, Shelly Berger, explained to Mademoiselle’s Bernikow, “In that shot, he went from Billy Dee Williams, character actor, to Billy Dee Williams, matinee idol. All of a sudden he became ‘the black Cląrk Gable.’”
Williams’s suave, sexual manner—emblematized by what the Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s Jones called his “devastating smile”—was a novel model of African American male sexuality on the big screen in the era of blaxploitation film tough guys. Thus he was given the “black Clark Gable” label, which likened him to the star of Gone With the Wind but reproached him with the strictures of race-conscious casting. In particular, the actor expressed frustration with the Hollywood taboo against love scenes between black men and white women. “It makes me very sad,” he told Bernikow. “Very frustrated. It makes me very angry.” In 1976 he appeared opposite Ross again in Mahogany, portraying a grass-roots political activist whose lover is swept up by the fashion world.
Williams returned to the stage to play Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1976 Broadway production / Have a Dream. The actor revealed to Judy Klemesrud of the New York Times that he had rejected the lead in a film biography of King two years earlier but ultimately accepted the stage role because he felt otherworldly forces demanded it. “I went to an Armenian lady in California who reads tarot cards and coffee grounds. She said, “I keep seeing this thing you’re going to do, a religious leader leading thousands of people.’ She told me the same thing when I went back six months later.” Berger then brought him the playscript “and said I had to do it, and he’s really all big bucks and very cynical. That, to me, was some sort of sign.”
Williams’s faith in all manner of divination has been a constant; “Actually, I believe in everything,” he told Soul, “including astrology and tarot cards. All of it is just another way for people to try and tighten the link to the spirits in our universe. I believe it exists for all people.” The spirit of King, he felt, inhabited him onstage. Rather than study the minister-activist’s mannerisms, he claimed to Klemesrud, “I would just allow it to happen. I mean, I would immerse myself enough in him so that I just fell into him. I just let it happen naturally.” Los Angeles Times reviewer William Glover reported that the actor did “excellently well” in the role.
Williams went on to portray Scott Joplin—the composer-pianist whose work brought ragtime music prominence and who achieved posthumous fame with the hit movie The Sting for his 1902 composition “The Entertainer”—in a biopic for NBC television. “He was really extraordinary, had a lot of depth,” the actor said of Joplin in Soul. “He took ragtime out of a rural setting and made it classical.”
Williams’s popularity by this point had reached a new high; as he told West of the Los Angeles Times, “I see this image-making as an opportunity to communicate with blacks and whites, especially children. The way I looked at Alan Ladd, Humphrey Bogart, or those other great heroes on the screen when I was a kid, I feel that if I’m to be a catalyst, I have to draw the attention of all people.” His next high-profile film role came with the 1976 release The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, a comedy-drama about veterans of baseball’s negro leagues. He described his character, Bingo Long—based on pitching marvel Satchel Paige—to Soul’s Jeanne Allyson Fox as a “ridiculous optimist.”
Williams worked steadily in films, taking supporting parts in mainstream fare like the 1981 Sylvester Stallone action movie Nighthawks, but his major role during this period came when he was cast as intergalactic entrepreneur and rogue Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, the second—and many argue the finest—of the phenomenally successful Star Wars films. Calrissian plays a crucial role in the development of the action, and though he betrays the heroes early in the film to protect his own interests, he is later instrumental in their triumph.
Williams was particularly pleased with the role because the character had no “race” in the script except human; at last, some purely colorblind casting had come his way. Williams described the character in Ebony: “He’s a person of the universe.” In a similar vein, he remarked to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s Jones, “I was very happy with my character. The only thing that said Lando Calrissian was ethnic was his looks.” In 1983 he reprised the role in the final film of the series, Return of the Jedi.
In 1984 Williams joined the cast of the prime-time television soap opera Dynasty, depicting record industry magnate Brady Lloyd. At the same time, he expressed a desire to take on more ambitious characterizations; he told Jones that he would like to play former U.S. President Richard Nixon. He returned to the stage in the 1988 Broadway production of award-winning playwright August Wilson’s Fences, though the role in the film version went to James Earl Jones.
During the 1980s Williams met controversy, the result of his television commercials for Colt 45 malt liquor; numerous voices in the black community—from religious leaders to rappers—attacked the aggressive hawking of alcohol to black audiences by African Americans they felt had been co-opted by the liquor industry. Williams responded defensively, dismissing his critics and accusing them of overreacting.
In 1989 Williams appeared in another blockbuster, playing Gotham City district attorney Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman. The actor claimed to have modeled his character on controversial African-American politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. “I did Batman because it sounded like a lot of fun,” Williams told Barry Koltnow of the Orange County Register, “and they created the character just for me. It’s an American institution and was impossible to pass up.” In fact, the actor has avoided taking parts for the money alone because, he claims, such a tendency “can destroy your career.”
During the late 1980s Williams also began laboring from the early evening until dawn every night to prepare a large number of paintings for an exhibition of his work. “People talk about painting being therapy, and I guess they’re right,” he noted to Koltnow. “I need to paint. I find it mellows me out. My wife can’t even get me into an argument anymore when I’m painting.”
His marriage to the wife in question—his third, Teruko—ended a few years later, more than 20 years after it had begun. People reported that the couple “blames that standby, irreconcilable differences, for the split.” “I think I’m a good father,” Williams had insisted to the Herald Examiner nearly a decade earlier, adding, “As a parent, you have the responsibility to create a foundation for your children so that they can meet all the challenges.”
Williams continued to work steadily into the 1990s, appearing in the television films The Jacksons: An American Dream —in which he portrayed Berry Gordy—as well as Marked for Murder, Percy and Thunder, and other productions. 1993 also marked the opening of an exhibit of his paintings at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City; many of his pieces salute jazz artists and portray the conflicting currents of their lives. “I think of film when I paint,” he told Upscale. “Even the luminosity that I always keep working for is really about film. But my idea is not to paint paintings that will decorate somebody’s house. My idea is to paint paintings so that when you walk into a room I’m pulling you in, or that makes you suddenly stop and wonder: ‘What is this? There is something groovy, something else going on here.’ Also I want to give you what is obvious and what is not obvious to the eye.”
Williams, clearly intending to follow the dictates of his own sensibility, has moved from character actor to glamorous leading man and back again, expressing no interest in being pigeonholed. And ultimately, as he revealed to Soul, his endeavors have become linked to the spiritual: “I am an artist no matter what I do,” he proclaimed. “I live for creativity. I think everyone should. It is the antithesis of being destructive. I want to always be able to see—to walk into any situation and see the people and what is going on.”
Ebony, January 1981, pp. 31-39.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner, November 12, 1984, pp. C1, C6.
Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1976, Calendar, p. 31; September 24, 1976, section IV, p. 20.
Mademoiselle, June 1983, pp. 33-6.
New York Times, September 19, 1976.
Orange County Register, June 20, 1989, pp. F1, F6.
Parade, January 15, 1989, pp. 5-7.
People, July 5, 1993.
Soul, July 19, 1976, pp. 2-4.
Upscale, May 1994.
Williams, Billy Dee 1937–
WILLIAMS, Billy Dee 1937–
Original name, William December Williams, Jr.; born April 6, 1937, in New York, NY; son of William December (a janitor) and Loretta (an elevator operator) Williams; married Audrey Sellers (divorced); married Marlene Clark (an actress), 1960s (divorced); married Teruko Nakagami, c. 1973; children: Miyaka, Hanako, Corey, Camera. Education: Attended High School of the Performing Arts, New York City; attended City College of the City University of New York and National Academy of Design; studied acting with Paul Mann and Sidney Poitier at Harlem Actors Workshop.
Addresses: Agent—Jimmy Cota, Artists Agency, 10000 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 305, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Manager—Brad Kramer, Kramer Management, 5699 Kanan Rd., Suite 275, Agoura Hills, CA 91301.
Career: Actor, painter, and writer. Actors Workshop, New York City, member. Appeared in commercials. Artist, with paintings displayed at galleries and exhibitions, including the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York City, the 1996 Olympics, and Walt Disney sports center; artwork appeared on a line of coffee mugs; Psychic Readers Network, affiliate.
Awards, Honors: Emmy Award nomination, 1972, for The Glass House; Saturn Award nomination, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, best supporting actor, 1981, for The Empire Strikes Back; Saturn Award nomination, best supporting actor, 1984, for Return of the Jedi; Trumpet Award, 1995; Independent Spirit Award nomination, Independent Features Project/West, best supporting male, 2001, Image Award nomination, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, outstanding supporting actor in a motion picture, 2001, and Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actor, theatrical category, 2002, all for The Visit; received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Josh Quincy, The Last Angry Man, Columbia, 1959.
Clifford Robinson, The Out–of–Towners, Paramount, 1970.
Johnny Johnson, The Final Comedown (also known as Blast!), New World, 1972.
Louis McKay, Lady Sings the Blues, Paramount, 1972.
Nick Allen, Hit!, Paramount, 1973.
Sneed, The Take, Columbia, 1974.
Brian Walker, Mahogany, Paramount, 1975.
Bingo Long, The Bingo Long Traveling All–Stars & Motor Kings, Universal, 1976.
Title role, Scott Joplin, Universal, 1977.
Detective sergeant Matthew Fox, Nighthawks (also known as Hawks), Universal, 1981.
Lando Calrissian, Return of the Jedi (also known as Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi and Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi), Twentieth Century–Fox, 1983.
Richard Davis, Marvin and Tige (also known as Like Father and Son), Major, 1983.
Al Wheeler, Fear City (also known as Border and Ripper), Chevy Chase Distribution, 1984.
Detective Frank Hazeltine, Number One with a Bullet, Cannon, 1987.
Hamberger, Deadly Illusion (also known as I Love You to Death and Love You to Death), Cinetel, 1987.
District attorney Harvey Dent, Batman, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1989.
Max, Driving Me Crazy (also known as Trabbi Goes to Hollywood), Motion Picture Corporation of America, 1991.
Secret agent Zero, Secret Agent 00 Soul (also known as Secret Agent Double–0 Soul), 1991.
Slate Thompson, Giant Steps, 1992.
Commander Skyler, Alien Intruder, PM Home Video, 1993.
Admiral Perry, Steel Sharks, Royal Oaks Entertainment, 1996.
Jamie Hicks, The Prince, Curb Entertainment, 1996.
Detective Don Racine, Moving Target, A–pix Home Video, 1997.
(Uncredited) Himself, Woo, New Line Cinema, 1998.
Senator J. Harmon, The Contract, 1998.
Sheriff Hammond, Fear Runs Silent, MTI Home Video, 1999.
Henry Waters, The Visit, Shoreline Entertainment/Urbanworld Films, 2000.
Lester, The Ladies Man (also known as The Ladies' Man), Paramount, 2000.
Dante Brown, Very Heavy Love, Visage Productions, 2001.
Sergeant Paul Davidson, Good Neighbor (also known as The Killer Next Door), Creative Light Worldwide, 2001.
Dr. Davis, The Last Place on Earth, 2002.
General Boutwell, Undercover Brother, Universal, 2002.
Helms Boxer, Constellation, Shoreline Entertainment, 2004.
Voice of bartender, Oedipus (short film), Mama's Boy Productions/Gamblers Run, 2004.
Television Appearances; Series:
Dr. Jim Frazier, Guiding Light, CBS, 1966.
Assistant district attorney, Another World (also known as Another World: Bay City), NBC, c. 1967.
Brady Lloyd, Dynasty, ABC, 1984–1986.
Billy Diamond, Double Dare, CBS, 1985.
Burton Hardesty, 18 Wheels of Justice, The National Network, 2000–2001.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Tyler Watts, Chiefs, CBS, 1983.
Berry Gordy/Joshua Cole, The Jacksons: An American Dream (also known as The Jackson Five), ABC, 1992.
Felix, Message from Nam (also known as Danielle Steel's "Message from Nam"), NBC, 1993.
Francis Cardozo, Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III (also known as John Jakes' Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III and North and South III), ABC, 1994.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Merle Barnaby, Lost Flight, 1969.
Lewis, Carter's Army (also known as Black Brigade), ABC, 1970.
Gale Sayers, Brian's Song, ABC, 1971.
Lennox Beach, The Glass House (also known as Truman Capote's "The Glass House"), CBS, 1972.
Homer Smith, Christmas Lilies of the Field, NBC, 1979.
Clarence Whitlock, The Hostage Tower (also known as Alistair MacLean's The Hostage Tower), CBS, 1980.
Walter Williams, Children of Divorce, NBC, 1980.
Matthew Raines, The Imposter, ABC, 1984.
Bobby Jay, Courage, CBS, 1986.
Jim McKinley, Oceans of Fire, CBS, 1986.
Mike Trainor, The Right of the People, ABC, 1986.
Daniel Lancaster, The Return of Desperado (also known as Desperado: A Town Called Beauty), NBC, 1988.
Lou, Dangerous Passion, ABC, 1990.
Captain Jack Reilly, Marked for Murder (also known as Hard Time and The Sandman), NBC, 1993.
Ralph Tate, Percy & Thunder, TNT, 1993.
Agent Oscar Pierce, Triplecross, Showtime, 1995.
Lieutenant Frank Lazaro, Falling for You, CBS, 1995.
Agent Jeffries, Mask of Death, HBO, 1996.
Gasparre, Il quarto re (also known as The Fourth King, Die 4 heiligen Koenige, and Die heiligen vier Koenige), 1996.
Leo Barker, Hard Time, 1998.
Ferguson, Epoch: Evolution (also known as Torus), Sci–Fi Channel, 2003.
Television Appearances; Specials:
ABC's Silver Anniversary—25 and Still the One, ABC, 1978.
A Celebration at Ford's Theatre, CBS, 1978.
Lando Calrissian, SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980.
Himself, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (also known as Motown 25), 1983.
Host, Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi, CBS, 1983.
Host, Eubie Blake: A Century of Music, PBS, 1983.
Host, "Cougar!," ABC Weekend Specials, ABC, 1984.
Night of 100 Stars II (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), ABC, 1985.
Host and narrator, Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of Black Female Superstars, PBS, 1986.
Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes All–Star 50th Anniversary, CBS, 1986.
Buck, Diana Ross ... Red Hot Rhythm and Blues, ABC, 1987.
Voices That Care, Fox, 1991.
Diamonds on the Silver Screen, American Movie Classics, 1992.
Guiding Light: The Primetime Special, CBS, 1992.
The NFL at 75: An All–Star Celebration (also known as NFL 75th Anniversary Special), ABC, 1995.
Nissan Presents a Celebration of America's Music, ABC, 1996.
An All Star Party for Aaron Spelling, ABC, 1998.
Motown 40: The Music Is Forever, ABC, 1998.
Nissan Presents: The Second Annual Celebration of America's Music, ABC, 1998.
Host, A Tribute to Muddy Waters, King of the Blues, PBS, 1999.
Himself, Canned Ham: The Ladies Man, Comedy Central, 2000.
Himself, It's Black Entertainment, Showtime, 2000.
Presenter, VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin—A Benefit Concert for VH1 Save the Music Foundation, VH1, 2001.
The Fourth Annual Soul Train Christmas Starfest, syndicated, 2001.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Presenter, The 50th Annual Academy Awards, 1978.
Himself, The 30th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1978.
Presenter, The Third Annual Soul Train Music Awards, syndicated, 1989.
Presenter, The Walt Disney Company Presents the American Teacher Awards, The Disney Channel, 1994.
Presenter, The Ninth Annual Genesis Awards, The Discovery Channel, 1995.
The Third Annual Trumpet Awards Ceremony, TBS, 1995.
(Uncredited) Himself, The 2001 IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards, Independent Film Channel, 2001.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Private Austin George, "Survival," The Defenders, CBS, 1964.
Patrolman Cash, "The Witnesses," The Nurses, ABC, 1965.
Second technician, "Six Months to Mars," Coronet Blue, CBS, 1967.
Edward Tobin, "Eye of the Storm," The F.B.I., ABC, 1969.
Heath, "The Prisoner of Bomano," The New People, ABC, 1969.
Nate Phelps, "The Sanctuary," The F.B.I., ABC, 1969.
James Borden, "The Architect," The F.B.I., ABC, 1970.
Hank Benton, "The Miracle," Mission: Impossible, CBS, 1971.
"The Manufactured Man," Dan August, ABC, 1971.
Himself, "Me and Billy Dee," The Jeffersons, CBS, 1978.
Guest, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC, 1984, 1991.
Himself, "Washington Affair," 227, NBC, 1986.
Billy Dee Hasbro, "Play It Again, Stan," 227, NBC, 1989.
Himself, "Laquita Meets Billy Dee," In Living Color, Fox, 1990.
Jesse Hains, "Changing Houses," Wiseguy, CBS, 1990.
Guest, Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1991.
Himself, "The Breakup: Part 3," Martin, Fox, 1993.
Langston Paige, "College Kid," A Different World, NBC, 1993.
Aaron Grayson, "Down Come Rain: Part 2," Lonesome Dove: The Series, syndicated, 1994.
Aaron Grayson, "O Western Wind: Part 1," Lonesome Dove: The Series, syndicated, 1994.
Jerry Rose, "Roots: Part 2," The Hughleys, ABC, 1999.
Lennie Trebant, "Darkness Visible," Promised Land, CBS, 1999.
Dr. Jim Graham, "Laura's Story," Code Name: Eternity (also known as Code: Eternity), syndicated, 2000.
Dr. Jim Graham, "Never Go Home," Code Name: Eternity (also known as Code: Eternity), syndicated, 2000.
Himself, "Brian Piccolo," SportsCentury, ESPN, 2001.
Himself, "James Caan: Making a Scene," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.
Clark Boies, "Filaments & Ligatures," Gideon's Crossing, ABC, 2001.
Clark Boies, "The Others," Gideon's Crossing, ABC, 2001.
Clark Boies, "Prodigal Dad," Gideon's Crossing, ABC, 2001.
Jerry Rose, "Forty Acres and a Fool," The Hughleys, UPN, 2001.
Guest, The Big Breakfast, Channel 4 (England), 2001.
Charles White, "Born to Kill," Street Time, Showtime, 2003.
Charles White, "Pack of Rats," Street Time, Showtime, 2003.
Otis "Omar Funk" Wright, "The Big Fetish What You Started Episode," Half & Half, UPN, 2004.
Pastor Dan, "Baby Don't You Do It," That '70s Show, Fox, 2004.
Also appeared in episodes of The Interns, CBS; The Mod Squad, ABC; and Police Woman, NBC.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Dan Gardner, Crisis, CBS, 1968.
David Arnold, Higher and Higher, Attorneys at Law, CBS, 1968.
Douglas Hawke, Shooting Stars, ABC, 1983.
Wes Tanner, Time Bomb, NBC, 1984.
Firebrand of Florence, Alvin Theatre (now Neil Simon Theatre), New York City, 1945.
Duke Custis, The Cool World, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, 1960.
The boy, A Taste of Honey, Lyceum Theatre, New York City, 1960–1961, then Booth Theatre, New York City, 1961.
Understudy, Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, Booth Theatre, 1962–1963.
Robert, Blue Boy in Black, Masque Theatre, New York City, 1963.
Junie, Happy Ending, and John, Days of Absence (double–bill), St. Mark's Playhouse, New York City, 1965.
Clem, Hallelujah, Baby! (musical), Martin Beck Theatre, New York City, 1967–1968.
Willy Lee Irons, The Firebugs, Martinique Theatre, New York City, 1968.
Theopolis Parker, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Pocket Theatre, New York City, 1969.
Randall, Slow Dance on the Killing Ground, Sheridan Square Playhouse, New York City, 1970.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC, 1975, then Ambassador Theatre, New York City, 1976.
Night of 100 Stars II (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 1985.
Troy Maxon, Fences, Forty–Sixth Street Theatre, New York City, 1988.
The Exonerated, John Drew Theatre, Guild Hall, East Hampton, Long Island, NY, 2003.
Himself, The Stars of Star Wars: Interviews from the Cast, IMC Vision, 1999.
"I Wonder Who She's Seeing Now," by the Temptations, c. 1987.
"Liberian Girl," by Michael Jackson, 1989.
"Voices That Care," 1991.
"When You Get Home," by Montell Jordan, 1998.
Voice of Lando Calrissian, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II—Jedi Outcast, LucasArts Entertainment, 2002.
Voice of Lando Calrissian, Star Wars: Dark Empire, 1997.
(Story with Marla Gibbs) "Some Enchanted Evening," The Jeffersons, CBS, 1984.
(With Rob MacGregor) PSI/Net, Tor Books, 1999.
(With MacGregor) Just/In Time, Tor Books, 2000.
(With Elizabeth Atkins Bowman) Twilight, Forge, 2002.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 8, Gale, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 1997, p. 85; June 14, 2002, pp. 60–63.
TV Guide, November 29, 2003, p. 11.