Ron O'Neal


Actor

About

Birth Place
Utica, New York, USA
Born
September 01, 1937
Died
January 14, 2004
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

A tall, handsome and light-complected African-American player of stage and screen, Ron O'Neal first gained some measure of prominence with his portrayal of Youngblood Priest, the cool, resourceful and stylishly dressed cocaine dealer protagonist of "Superfly" (1972). Dismissed by some as just more "blaxploitation" fodder and damned by others for its supposed glorification of criminal beh...

Notes

"Tall, handsome, with flowing hair and coat, with flashing eyes, and a gold cross around his neck that he uses to sniff his own cocaine, Priest must embody a lifetime of fantasies, with his mammoth car, his apartment downtown, his rich and elegant women. Ron O'Neal lives the part with a kind of furious authority that is sometimes excessive; more often expressive of of a role that belongs as much to current myth as to reality." --From review of "Super Fly" by Roger Greenspun, THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 5, 1972.

"On the basis of "SuperFly", many predicted that O'Neal would become the biggest black star since Sidney Poitier: he has the looks, screen presence, raging vitality and acting ability to carve a niche for himself in screen history. As with many actors, however, he needs strong directorial guidance to curb his less attractive excesses. Here he permits himself to indulge in unbecomingly effete mannerisms--arms frequently akimbo, hipswinging as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other while standing, arched eyebrows and petulantly heavy-lidded gazes--while his wardrobe descends from "SuperFly's" high style to high camp." --From VARIETY review of "SuperFly T.N.T.", June 20, 1973.

Biography

A tall, handsome and light-complected African-American player of stage and screen, Ron O'Neal first gained some measure of prominence with his portrayal of Youngblood Priest, the cool, resourceful and stylishly dressed cocaine dealer protagonist of "Superfly" (1972). Dismissed by some as just more "blaxploitation" fodder and damned by others for its supposed glorification of criminal behavior, "Superfly" was embraced by audiences and became a surprise hit. The success of this story of an outlaw's last big score generated the inevitable sequel, "Super Fly T.N.T." (1973), but surprisingly, O'Neal now occupied the director's chair and provided the politically-themed story. The film was generally deemed a disaster. The promising actor's nascent film career never recovered from this early setback.

O'Neal finished out the decade with substantial roles in such unremarkable genre fare as the 1975 Western "The Master Gunfighter" (paired with Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin), a thriller "When a Stranger Calls" and the Chuck Norris actioner "A Force of One" (both 1979).

O'Neal began popping up on TV with some regularity beginning with the historical miniseries "Freedom Road" (NBC, 1979). His other miniseries assignments included "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones" (CBS, 1980), the Melvin Van Peebles-scripted "The Sophisticated Gents" (NBC, 1981) and an uncredited part in "North and South" (ABC, 1985). With his days of playing young rebellious leads behind him, the mature O'Neal was generally cast as detectives, politicians and other authority figures. He had a recurring role as Jasmine Guy's strict father on the NBC sitcom "A Different World" and a cop on the CBS crime drama "The Equalizer."

O'Neal continued to appear in films throughout the 80s; "Red Dawn" (1984) and "Hero and the Terror" (1988) were his more memorable credits. He directed and acted in the well-intentioned misfire "Up Against the Wall" (1991), a teen drama about a black youth making the transition from living in the urban projects to the suburbs, before taking a five year hiatus from the movies. O'Neal returned as part of the all-"star" blaxploitation tribute "Original Gangstas" (1996), as a comrade-in-arms of the similarly iconic Fred Williamson.

Life Events

1957

Acted with Karamu House, an interracial theater in Chicago, IL

1969

Won acclaim for off-Broadway performance in "No Place to Be Somebody"

1970

Feature acting debut, "Move"

1972

Breakthrough feature role, starred as Youngblood Priest in "Superfly"

1973

Feature directorial debut and first film story credit, "Super Fly T.N.T." (also starred)

1979

TV miniseries debut, "Freedom Road", an NBC historical drama

1982

Debut as a TV series regular, played HH, the Sultan of Johare in the CBS period actioner "Bring 'Em Back Alive"

1988

Did a guest shot as a dean on the black college sitcom "A Different World"

1991

Directed the feature "Up Against the Wall", a black teen drama (also acted)

1993

Reprised the role of Superfly for a fantasy guest spot on "The Sinbad Show", a Fox sitcom

1994

Played the title role in "Othello" at the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

1996

Returned to features after a five year absence to play a supporting role in Larry Cohen's neo-blaxploitation flick "Original Gangstas"

Bibliography

Notes

"Tall, handsome, with flowing hair and coat, with flashing eyes, and a gold cross around his neck that he uses to sniff his own cocaine, Priest must embody a lifetime of fantasies, with his mammoth car, his apartment downtown, his rich and elegant women. Ron O'Neal lives the part with a kind of furious authority that is sometimes excessive; more often expressive of of a role that belongs as much to current myth as to reality." --From review of "Super Fly" by Roger Greenspun, THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 5, 1972.

"On the basis of "SuperFly", many predicted that O'Neal would become the biggest black star since Sidney Poitier: he has the looks, screen presence, raging vitality and acting ability to carve a niche for himself in screen history. As with many actors, however, he needs strong directorial guidance to curb his less attractive excesses. Here he permits himself to indulge in unbecomingly effete mannerisms--arms frequently akimbo, hipswinging as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other while standing, arched eyebrows and petulantly heavy-lidded gazes--while his wardrobe descends from "SuperFly's" high style to high camp." --From VARIETY review of "SuperFly T.N.T.", June 20, 1973.