Al Freeman Jr. Dies at 78
Al Freeman Jr., who led the way for many African American actors, has passed away at age 78.
Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are among the famous names rattled out if one was asked to name influential black actors. Those are all great answers, and are all great men who have done their part in making a stamp in acting history, but one major name is missing from that list, Al Freeman Jr.
He’s probably more well known as “Elijah Muhammad” in Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X. The film’s director once told NPR that Freeman Jr. “is wonderful – he’s a great actor. Again, it was the soul of the performance, not just the resemblance.”
Before that cinematic classic, Freeman did way more to make him forever relevant in acting history.
He first hit Broadway in 1962, when he appeared in “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright.” A couple years later, he gained acclamation in James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” where he played a lynching victim loosely based on Emmitt Till. Talk about controversy.
A decade after his first brush with Broadway, he turned his attention to soap operas, becoming one of the first African Americans to join the cast of One Life to Live as police captain Ed Hall. In 1979 he was the first African American and first person from the OLTL to win the Daytime Emmy for “Best Actor.” He also was the first African American to direct a soap as well.
In his later years Freeman went on to teach at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He retired from the university last May and spent his last year living on a sailboat in a DC-area marina.