Williamson, Mykelti 1957–
Mykelti Williamson 1957–
A busy character actor with an impressive list of film and television credits, Mykelti Williamson is best known for his portrayal of Benjamin Bufford “Bubba” Blue, Tom Hanks’s shrimp obsessed army buddy in the 1994 box office smash Forrest Gump. Williamson has also appeared in such varied films as Con Air, a 1997 action thriller, and the glossy 1995 “chick flick” Waiting to Exhale. “He doesn’t like to lounge around and watch the grass grow between his toes. He’s always juggling things; he’s almost hyperactive,” Con Air’s director Simon West said of Williamson to Steve Dougherty of People.
Mykelti Williamson was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1957. His unusual first name (pronounced Michael T.) means “spirit” in the language of the Blackfeet, a Native American tribe from which Williamson is partially descended. When Williamson was an infant, his father abandoned the family. Growing up without a father, Williamson looked to the media for father figures. One of his father substitutes was boxing champ Muhammad Ali. “He was my hero from the time I was a little bitty potato,” Williamson told Dougherty. His mother’s remarriage and subsequent divorce brought Williamson and his family, which includes an older brother, Jerry, and a younger sister, Jacqueline, to Los Angeles. At age ten, Williamson began appearing in local stage productions. As a teenager, Williamson danced on Soul Train and with a disco dance troupe, the Lockers. In 1973, he made is first movie appearance in Enter the Dragon, martial arts expert Bruce Lee’s last completed film.
After graduating from Crenshaw High School in 1975, Williamson supported himself an as auto mechanic while searching for acting jobs. Using the name Mykel T. Williamson, he appeared on episodes of the television shows Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, Baretta, Hill Street Blues, and Miami Vice, and in such films as Penitentiary (1979), with Leon Issac Kennedy, and Wildcats (1986), with Goldie Hawn. Beginning with The Righteous Apples in 1980, Williamson was a regular cast member in a string of failed television series, including The Bay City Blues, about a minor league baseball team; Cover-Up, a foreign intrigue drama starring Jennifer O’Neill; The Bronx Zoo, in which he played a teacher at a tough urban high school; and Midnight Caller, a drama about a radio talk show host who gets involved in the lives of his listeners. From 1991 to 1993, Williamson played program director Donovan Aderhold on the New WKRP in Cincinnati, a syndicated continuation of the late 1970s CBS comedy hit.
Williamson’s luck improved when he was cast in the popular film Forrest Gump. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump followed the adventures of a simple-minded and pure- hearted Alabama country boy through post-World War II America. While serving in Vietnam, Gump fights alongside Williamson’s character, Bubba Blue, a Louisiana shrimper. Bubba and Forrest later go into the shrimp business and become millionaires. “It is a smart, affecting, easygoing fable with plenty of talent on both sides of the camera…The movie is not only a greatest-hits rendering of twenty-five
Born in 1957 St. Louis, MO, the son of Elaine (an accountant); married to Ollvia Brown, c1983 (divorced 1985); Cheryl Chisholm, 1989 (divorced 1991}; Sondra Spriggs, 1997; children: Phoenix. Education: Crenshaw High School, Los Angeles, CA, 1975.
Career: Actor in films and television since the early 1970$. Performed with The Lockers, a dance troupe, c. 1970s Film appearances include Enter the Dragon, 1973; Scinnysde, 1979; Penitentiary, 1980; Desperate lives, TV, 1982; Wildcats, 1986; You Taffeln’to me 1987; Number One with a Buffet, 1987; Monster Manor, 1988; Miracle Mile, 1989; The First Power, 1990; A Killer Among Us, TV, 1990; Free Willy, 1993; Other Women’s Children, TV, 1993; Forrest Gump, 1994; How to Make an American Quilt, 1995; Waiting to Exhale, 1995; Free Willy 2, 1995; Soul of the Came, TV, 1996; Heat, 1996; Con Air, 1997; Troth or Come-quences, N.M., 1997; Double Jap, TV, 1997; Twelve Angry Men, TV, 1997; Buffalo Soldiers, TV, 1997; Species 2, 1997; Primary Colors, 1998; Having Our Say, TV, 1999 Television appearances include regular roles on the series The Righteous Apples, PBS, 1980; The Bay City Blues, NSC, 1983; Cover i/p, CBS, 1984-85; The Bronx Zoo, NBC, 1987-88; MidnightCalter, NBC, 1989-91; New WKRF in Cincinnati, syndication, 1991-93. Stage appearances include Distant Fires and Vigil, Pasadena Community Arts Theatre
Addresses: Home —Ladera Heights, CA, Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camlno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
years of Americana, it’s a distillation of humanist culture in commercial movies,” said Time of Forrest Gump, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1994 and was a box office smash. “Everywhere I go, I get free shrimp,” joked Williamson to Kim Cunningham of People about his association with Bubba Blue. Director Zemeckis told Robert Levine of the Los Angeles Times that Williamson “brought the right tone to the character. He can do comedy, he can do drama, he can convey emotion. He’s got a real leading man quality.” To play Bubba, Williamson, who normally carries about 210 pounds on his 6 foot, 3 inch frame, gained considerable weight and wore a prosthetic device to deform his lips. Because of his character’s on-screen appearance, Williamson did not find Forrest Gump as helpful to his career as it might have been. “People thought I really looked like Bubba,” he told Dougherty.
Though Forrest Gump did not bring Williamson stardom, he has encountered no shortage of work in supporting roles. In 1995’s How to Make an American Quilt, starring Wynona Rider as a troubled young woman who seeks comfort at her grandmother’s rural home, Williamson romanced Alfre Woodard. Also in 1995, Williamson was part of a large cast of rogue males in Waiting to Exhale, a screen version of Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel about a group of African American women friends who turn to each other when their relationships with men falter. “I’d seen so many guys like that type of guy. I wanted to put a twist on it. I thought the guy should be funny and very real — but nobody would ever want to go out with this guy,” Williamson said of his Waiting to Exhale character to Tom Green of USA Today.
In 1996, Williamson teamed with Al Pacino as cop partners in the thriller Heat, directed by Miami Vice creator Michael Mann. While auditioning for the role, Williamson discovered that Pacino was a fan of his work. “Michael Mann called saying,” Al wants to meet you.’ I didn’t believe it, but I went, and in walks Pacino! I kept telling myself, ’Be cool, brother, be cool, ’…Al had a Bubba Gump hat, but it was a second run, not an original. So I gave him one that I signed and he wears it every day,” he told Cunningham. Heat also featured Robert DeNiro, Jon Voight, and Val Kilmer. In Con Aira a 1997 action blockbuster about a hijacked prison transport plane brought to safety by a paroled prisoner, Williamson played a criminal saved from a diabetic coma by star Nicolas Cage. He worked for famed director Mike Nichols in 1998’s Primary Colors, a thinly-disguised parody of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. In the film, which starred John Travolta and Emma Thompson, Williamson was a graduate of an adult literacy program who tells a moving tale of getting shuffled through the educationalsystem.
Many of Williamson’s most interesting roles have come in television films. Soul of the Game, a 1996 HBO production, examined the politics behind the selection of the first African American player to break the color line in professional baseball. Williamson portrayed Josh Gibson, the Negro leagues superstar slugger whose earthy personality resulted in his being overshadowed by the suave, college-educated Jackie Robinson, played in the film by Blair Underwood. The film also featured Delroy Lindo as famed pitcher Satchel Paige, and Edward Hermann as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Williamson’s portrayal of Gibson was especially challenging because no film footage of Gibson exists, which might have helped Williamson study Gibson’s style and mannerisms. To compensate for the lack of film, Williamson consulted with former Negro leagues players “Prince” Joe Henry of the Indianapolis Clowns and Gene Smith of the Chicago American Giants. “This will be the first time an audience will see an authentic portrayal of Josh,” he told Jet.
In Showtime’s 1997 remake of the legal drama 12 Angry Men, Williamson was part of a stellar cast including Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Hume Cronyn, Ossie Davis, Dorian Harewood, Edward James Olmos, Courtney B. Vance, and Tony Danza. Originally a 1954 television play, and then a highly-regarded 1957 film starring Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men follows the deliberation of a jury in a murder case (the trial itself is not seen). In the 1997 version, directed by William Friedkin, four of the jurors were African American. Williamson came up with the idea of giving the story more complexity by making his character an anti-white, anti-Latino bigot. The character was someone whose views are very different from his own. “I hate this character. I hate everything he stands for…To some extent, I felt ashamed that I had created this ugly character. I’m concerned about what I did,” Williamson explained to James Sterngold of the New York Times. Director Friedkin told Sterngold that, during the shooting of the film, Williamson “had a headache everyday. He was deeply disturbed by the experience, but he was brilliant. This is a character you just don’t see in movies.” The film gave Williamson the opportunity to work with Ossie Davis, an actor whom he had long admired. Davis played an African American juror at odds with the racist opinions of Williamson’s character. “Here’s one of my heroes and it’s the first time I had a chance to work with him, and I’m insulting him,” Williamson told Sterngold. Matt Roush of USA Today called 12 Angry Men “as fresh, relevant and suspenseful an entertainment as ever” adding that Williamson “scores in the reconceived role of a atrident bigot.” Mike Lipton of People wrote that the racist character in 12 Angry Men was “rivetingly portrayed” by Williamson.
Williamson helped bring to life a little-known chapter of American history with Buffalo Soldiers, a 1997 Turner Network film about the U.S. Army’s African American cavalry corps of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Produced by and starring Danny Glover, the film told the fictional story of an African American cavalry sergeant obsessed with the idea of catching a renowned Native American warrior. Buffalo Soldiers gave Williamson, who organizes a monthly horseback ride for fellow actors in the Los Angeles area, the opportunity to display his equestrian skills. “Riding and fellowship with the brothers take me away from the everyday pressures of Hollywood life,” he explained to Deborah Gregory of Essence. In a 1999 CBS television version of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’First 100 Years, the best-selling memoir of African American centenarians Bessie and Sadie Delany, Williamson played the Delanys’ father, the first elected African American Episcopal bishop in the United States.
In January of 1998, Williamson’s private life took a downward turn when he was charged with attempted manslaughter. Williamson was accused of attacking his ex-wife’s boyfriend outside her home in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles. He spent one night in jail and was released on $180,000 bail. According to the Los Angeles Sentinel, Williamson told reporters “this has all been a really big misunderstanding, andl will be vindicated.” The incident surprised Williamson’s friends and colleagues who knew him as a gentle, if sometimes highly emotional, person. “He always comes across as warm and lovable,” Con Air director Simon West told Carol Day of People. Williamson’s friend, actor Stoney Jackson, told Day “It’s my assumption from what I’ve heard from him that it was in self-defense.” A September 1998 trial resulted in Williamson’s acquittal.
Williamson lives in the Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles with his wife, Sondra Spriggs, who works for the Discovery Channel. During his free time, he enjoys scuba diving, restoring classic cars, and collecting African art. He has worked with actor/director Bill Duke on developing a television anthology series based on stories told to him by his grandmother. Williamson told Dougherty — “I don’t consider myself a pretty boy. But I’m happy with the way I am.”
Boston Globe, August 16, 1997, p. Cl.
Essence, July 1997, p. 50.
Films in Review, March 1996, p. 60.
Jet, April 29, 1996, p. 32; September 15, 1997, p. 62; January 26, 1998, p. 25; September 28, 1998, p. 37.
Los Angeles Sentinel, September 9, 1998, p. Al.
Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1994, p. Fl.
National Review, August 29, 1994, p. 62.
Newsweek, June 9, 1997, p. 74.
New York, July 18, 1994, p. 50-51.
New York Beacon, December 11, 1997, p. 30.
New York Times, May 2, 1997, p. C33; August 17, 1997, sect. 2, p. 27.
People, September 19, 1994, p. 218; January 15, 1996, p. 106; June 16, 1997, p. 87-88; August 18, 1997, p. 17; January 26, 1998, p. 64.
Time, August 1, 1994, p. 52.
USA Today, January 16, 1996, p. D8; August 15, 1997, p D3.
Village Voice, April 30, 1996, p. 47.
Washington Post, April 17, 1999, p. Cl.
Williamson, Mykelti 1960–
Williamson, Mykelti 1960–
(Mikel T. Williamson, Mykel T. Williamson)
First name is pronounced "Michael T"; born March 4, 1960, in St. Louis, MO; father, an air force noncommissioned officer; mother's name, Elaine (a certified public accountant); married Olivia Brown (an actress), c. 1982 (divorced 1985); married Cheryl Chisholm (a real estate agent), 1989 (divorced c. 1991); married Sandra (some sources spell name as Sondra) Spriggs (an actress), April 26, 1997; children: (second marriage) Phoenix (daughter); (third marriage) Nicole Skye, Maya. Education: Los Angeles City College, A.A., theatre; studied drama at University of Southern California. Avocational Interests: Sports, restoring classic cars, horseback riding and rodeo, scuba diving, collecting African art.
Addresses: Agent—Todd Eisner, Agency for the Performing Arts, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Manager—Jenny Delaney, Forster-Delaney Management, 12533 Woodgreen, Los Angeles, CA 90066.
Career: Actor. God's Property (production company), owner. The Lockers (dance troupe), former member. Worked as an auto mechanic.
Member: Screen Actors Guild, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Awards, Honors: Los Angeles Theatre Award (with others), best ensemble, 1995, for Distant Fires; MTV Movie Award nomination, best breakthrough performance, 1995, for Forrest Gump; Image Award nomination, outstanding actor in a drama series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2003, for Boomtown.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) B. J., Streets of Fire, Universal, 1984.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Levander "Bird" Williams, Wildcats (also known as First and Goal), Warner Bros., 1986.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Casey, Number One with a Bullet, Cannon, 1987.
(As Mikel T. Williamson) Thatcher Marks, You Talkin' to Me?, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1987.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Wilson, Miracle Mile, Twentieth Century-Fox/Columbia, 1989.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Detective Oliver Franklin, The First Power (also known as Pentagram, Possessed, and Transit), Orion, 1990.
Dwight Mercer, Free Willy (also known as Sauvez Willy), Warner Bros., 1993.
Private Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, Forrest Gump, Paramount, 1994.
Dwight Mercer, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (also known as Sauvez Willy 2), Warner Bros., 1995.
Sergeant Drucker, Heat, Warner Bros., 1995.
Troy, Waiting to Exhale, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1995.
Winston, How to Make an American Quilt (also known as An American Quilt), Universal, 1995.
Marcus Weans, Truth or Consequences, NM, Triumph Releasing, 1997.
Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell, Con Air, Buena Vista, 1997.
Dennis Gamble, Species II (also known as Species 2: Offspring and Species 2: Origins), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1998.
Dewayne Smith, Primary Colors (also known as Perfect Couple and Mit aller macht), Universal, 1998.
Colonel Horn, Three Kings (also known as Spoils of War), Warner Bros., 1999.
Don King, Ali, Columbia, 2001.
Agent Stafford, After the Sunset, New Line Cinema, 2004.
Harold Mann, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, ThinkFilm, 2004.
Aaron Carmichael, Spinning into Butter, Cinemavault Releasing International, 2006.
Grady Frank, Fatwa, New Films International, 2006.
Sampson, Vice, Arcview Entertainment/Stage 18 Pictures, 2006.
Uncle George, ATL (also known as Jellybeans), Warner Bros., 2006.
Some sources cite uncredited appearances in Enter the Dragon (also known as The Deadly Three, Operation Dragon, and Long zheng hu dou), Warner Bros., 1973; Sunnyside, American International Pictures, 1979; and Penitentiary, Xenon Entertainment Group, 1979, Jerry Gross Organization, 1980.
Television Appearances; Series:
Dancer (as a member of The Lockers), Soul Train, syndicated, beginning c. 1973.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Charles "Big Neck" McMorris, The Righteous Apples, PBS, c. 1980–82.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Dee Jay Cunningham, Bay City Blues, NBC, 1983.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Rick, Cover Up, CBS, 1984–85.
Officer Ron Garfield, a recurring role, Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1984, 1986.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Gus Butterfield, The Bronx Zoo, NBC, 1987–88.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Investigative reporter Deacon Bridges, Midnight Caller, NBC, 1989–91.
Donovan Aderhold, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, syndicated, 1991–93.
Marvin Buxton, The Hoop Life, Showtime, 1999–2000.
Philip Gerard, The Fugitive, CBS, 2000–2001.
Detective Bobby "Fearless" Smith, Boomtown, NBC, 2002–2003.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Himself, I Love the '90s, VH1, 2004.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Jack, Desperate Lives, ABC, 1982.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Greg Hopkins, A Killer among Us, NBC, 1990.
Leonard, Other Women's Children, Lifetime, 1993.
Josh Gibson, Soul of the Game (also known as Baseball in Black and White and Field of Honour), HBO, 1996.
Corporal William Christy, Buffalo Soldiers, TNT, 1997.
Hamilton, Double Tap, HBO, 1997.
Tenth juror, 12 Angry Men, Showtime, 1997.
Coleman Walker, Gideon, Starz!, 1999.
Papa Delany, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (also known as Having Our Say), CBS, 1999.
Silas, Holiday Heart, Showtime, 2000.
Graham Ellis, Our America, Showtime, 2002.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump, HBO, 1994.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Presenter, The 52nd Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1995.
The 27th Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1996.
The 34th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2003.
Himself, 2004 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2004.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Bruce, "Black and Blue," Starsky and Hutch, ABC, 1978.
Fred, "Burnout," The White Shadow, CBS, 1981.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Ray M. Hawkins Jr., "Moon over Uranus: The Final Legacy," Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1983.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) "Carrie on the Rebound," Alice, CBS, 1983.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Sylvio Romulus, "A Tale of a Goat," Miami Vice, NBC, 1984.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Waiter, "Nell's Birthday," Gimme a Break!, NBC, 1984.
Calvin, "First You've Got to Go to the Picnic," J. J. Star-buck, NBC, 1987.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Officer Don Luntner, "Monster Manor," Police Story (also known as Police Story: Monster Manor), ABC, 1988.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Rosseau, "Promised Land," China Beach, ABC, 1989.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Rosseau, "Psywars," China Beach, ABC, 1989.
Luther Bell, "Cool Hand Darien," Time Trax, syndicated, 1994.
Dr. Michael Alders, "The Second Soul," The Outer Limits (also known as The New Outer Limits), Showtime, Sci-Fi Channel, and syndicated, 1995.
Tevis Lockwood, "Ship-in-a-Bottle," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 2002.
Guest, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2002.
Walter Cage, "Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan," Monk, USA Network, 2004.
Detective Dante Rice, "The 'L' Word," Third Watch, NBC, 2005.
Detective Dante Rice, "The Other 'L' Word," Third Watch, NBC, 2005.
Appeared in episodes of other series, including Baretta, ABC; and Kojak.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Dee Jay Cunningham, Bay City Blues, NBC, 1983.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Leon Jefferson, "Brother's Keeper: Parts 1 & 2," Miami Vice, NBC, 1984.
(As Mykel T. Williamson) Rick, Cover Up, CBS, 1984.
Detective Bobby "Fearless" Smith, Boomtown, NBC, 2002.
Stafford, The Secret Service, ABC, 2004.
Virgil, Kidnapped, NBC, c. 2006.
Distant Fires, Los Angeles, 1995.
Appeared in Vigil, Pasadena Community Arts Theatre.
Before, During, and "After the Sunset," New Line Home Video, 2005.
The Making of "Heat," Warner Home Video, 2005.
(Story) Boomtown, NBC, 2002–2003.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 22, Gale, 1999.
People Weekly, January 26, 1998, p. 63; April 7, 2003, p. 183.
TV Guide, July 17, 1999, pp. 32-36.
USA Weekend, October 13, 2000, p. 12.
Xsess, Volume 3, issue 1, 1996, pp. 64-65, 138.