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Billy Dee Williams

Billy Dee Williams

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Also Known As: William December Williams Died:
Born: April 6, 1937 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, painter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Moving freely between the gritty, street-level world of Blaxploitation and the dreamy realms of science fiction and comic book fantasy, Billy Dee Williams enjoyed a diverse five-decade career in legitimate theatre, television and cinema, often being called the "black Clark Gable." A talented artist whose work went on to hang in museums around the world, Williams was compelled by poverty to turn his back on a potential career as a painter to make a living as an actor in New York. Studying briefly with Sidney Poitier, Williams seemed poised at one point to inherit Poitier's mantle of Hollywood's go-to black leading man after prominent roles in "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) and "Mahogany" (1975) with Diana Ross and by reinterpreting Poitier's famous "Homer Smith" character in the 1979 telefilm "Christmas Lilies of the Field," Ralph Nelson's belated sequel to "Lilies of the Field" (1963). The actor's classical good looks and roguish appeal won him a prominent part in the "Star Wars" (1977) sequels "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983), which cemented his status as an American cultural icon. Maturing over the years from firebrand leading man to assured character player,...

Moving freely between the gritty, street-level world of Blaxploitation and the dreamy realms of science fiction and comic book fantasy, Billy Dee Williams enjoyed a diverse five-decade career in legitimate theatre, television and cinema, often being called the "black Clark Gable." A talented artist whose work went on to hang in museums around the world, Williams was compelled by poverty to turn his back on a potential career as a painter to make a living as an actor in New York. Studying briefly with Sidney Poitier, Williams seemed poised at one point to inherit Poitier's mantle of Hollywood's go-to black leading man after prominent roles in "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) and "Mahogany" (1975) with Diana Ross and by reinterpreting Poitier's famous "Homer Smith" character in the 1979 telefilm "Christmas Lilies of the Field," Ralph Nelson's belated sequel to "Lilies of the Field" (1963). The actor's classical good looks and roguish appeal won him a prominent part in the "Star Wars" (1977) sequels "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983), which cemented his status as an American cultural icon. Maturing over the years from firebrand leading man to assured character player, Williams' innate sense of humor about his career choices and reputation as a ladies man allowed him to remain a familiar face and a beloved presence in films and on television long after he ceased being an A-list actor.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Lego Movie, The (2014)
4.
 Barry Munday (2010)
5.
 IMurders (2009)
6.
 Fanboys (2009)
7.
 Constellation (2007)
9.
 Epoch: Evolution (2003) Ferguson
10.
 Undercover Brother (2002) General Boutwell
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Harlem section of NYC
1945:
Stage acting debut opposite Lotte Lenya in "The Firebrand of Florence"
1959:
Film acting debut in "The Last Angry Man"
1960:
First adult stage role in "The Cool World"
1966:
Had featured role as Dr. Jim Frazier on the CBS daytime drama "The Guiding Light"
1967:
Broadway musical debut, replacing Robert Hooks in "Hallelujah, Baby!"
:
Appeared on the NBC daytime "Another World" as an assisant D.A.
1970:
TV-movie debut in "Carter's Army" (ABC)
1971:
Co-starred with James Caan in "Brian's Song" (ABC); earned Emmy nomination for his performance as football player Gale Sayers
1972:
Starred opposite Diana Ross in "Lady Sings the Blues"
1975:
Reteamed with Diana Ross as her love interest in "Mahogany"
1975:
Portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the stage play "I Have a Dream"
1977:
Played title role of ragtime musician "Scott Joplin"
1979:
Starred in the TV-movie "Christmas Lillies of the Field" (NBC); played role originated by Sidney Poitier in the feature
1980:
Cast as Lando Calrissian in "The Empire Strikes Back"
1983:
Had pivotal role in the CBS miniseries "Chiefs"
1983:
Reprised his role as Lando Calrissian in "The Return of the Jedi"
1985:
Primetime series debut as regular on the short-lived CBS series "Double Dare"
:
Played recurring role of Brady Lloyd on "Dynasty" (ABC)
1988:
Succeeded James Earl Jones in the role of Troy Maxon in the Broadway production of "Fences" by August Wilson
1989:
Portrayed district attorney Harvey Dent in Tim Burton's "Batman"; was replaced by Tommy Lee Jones for the third installment, "Batman Forever" (1995)
1991:
Had first solo art exhibition
1992:
Portrayed Motown Records founder Berry Gordy in the ABC miniseries "The Jacksons: An American Dream"
:
Was commerical spokesperson for Colt .45 malt liquor
1999:
Co-starred with Lucky Vanous in The Nashville Network series "18 Wheels of Justice"
2000:
Co-starred in the indie feature "The Visit"; received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards
2000:
Had supporting role in "The Ladies Man"
2002:
Had small role in "Undercover Brother"
2002:
Lent his voice to the character Lando Calrissian for the video game "Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast"
2007:
Co-starred in the southern drama, "Constellation"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

City College of New York: New York , New York -
National Academy of Design School of Fine Arts: New York , New York -
Harlem Actors Workshop: New York , New York -
High School of Music and Art: New York , New York - 1955

Notes

Some sources give 1938 as the year of Mr. Williams' birth

Q. What's the greatest stumbling block in your career?

A. Racism. Plain prejudice from both sides, black and white. It's become such a hassle, man. Because everybody is looking at that rather than at much more important things. I see changes happening now. The success of all these black actors right now is so important.

--From Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 1997.

"I never TRIED to be the black Clark Gable. It was never a publicity stunt. It was just one of those things." --Williams quoted in Playbill, 1988.

In 1996, Williams created four paintings for Nissan that were displayed at the Olympics. The following year, he created paintings for a sports center owned by the Walt Disney Company.

Williams has exhibited a series of impressionistic portraits of the Tuskegee Airmen. His artwork has also been featured in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

"When I came on the scene, it was, 'What's this - a black matinee idol?' I presented something that they never expected or anticipated. Denzel and those guys are it now, of course. Some of those movies he's done, I tried to do those type of movies back in the '70s. I couldn't get the kind of backing that was neccesary. And I was hot property. My whole life has been, I have to wait unti everybody catches up. It pisses me off." --Williams to Entertainment Weekly, June 14, 2002

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Audrey Sellers. First wife; divorced.
wife:
Marlene Clark. Second wife; divorced.
wife:
Teruko Nakagami. Third wife; married c. 1973; filed for divorce in June 1993; reported to have reconciled c. 1997; together as of June 2002.
companion:
Patricia Von Heitman. No longer together; alleged that Williams beat her in a 1996 incident.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
William D Williams. Janitor. Originally from Texas.
sister:
Loretta Williams. Twin.
daughter:
Camera Williams.
daughter:
Hanako Williams. Art gallery employee. Born c. 1974.
child:
Miyaka Williams.
child:
Corey Williams.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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