Legendary actor, choreographer and overall entertainer Geoffrey Holder has died.
The 84-year-old star passed away due to complications from pneumonia Sunday.
Holder’s imposing 6’6″ frame could barely contain his many talents, and a 1975 PEOPLE profile that ran at the time he won two Tonys for his directing and costuming Broadway’s groundbreaking The Wizdescribed him as having “a voice as deep as Othello and as smooth as Caribbean rum.”
TV watchers will remember him as the pitchman for the soft drink 7-Up, which he called “the un-cola,” while movie buffs will remember him as tribal chief Willie Shakespeare in the original Doctor Dolittle, the ominous Baron Samedi in the 007 caper Live and Let Die and the mystical Punjab in the 1982 musical Annie.
Holder got his first whiff of creativity while growing up the son of a salesman “with brains” in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Holder’s parents encouraged him and his older equally multifaceted brother Boscoe (who became a London-based artist) to develop all their talents – as painters, singers, musicians.
Holder first came to New York in 1953 with his own folk dance company and the following year danced on Broadway in the Harold Arlen-Truman Capote musical House of Flowers. There he met dancer Carmen de Lavallade and proposed four days later – though she did not accept until she visited his apartment and, as Holder told PEOPLE with his hearty laugh, “discovered that all the paintings on the walls looked like her.”
In addition to his on-screen/on-stage talents, Holder was a painter. His work hung in the Barbados Museum and Washington’s Corcoran Gallery, as well as in the homes of such legends like Lena Horne and William F. Buckley.
Holder danced for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet for two years, and remained active on the dance scene having choreographed works for the Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey. Holder even wrote a cook book, Geoffrey Holder’s Caribbean Cookbook.
A man of many talents who will truly be missed is the best way to describe Mr. Holder. Rest in peace.
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