Dancer, choreographer, actor and singer Geoffrey Holder has passed away.
The man with “a voice as deep as Othello and as smooth as Caribbean rum” died from complications of pneumonia this weekend, reports The New York Times. He was 84.
Holder was born in 1930 Port of Spain, Trinidad and migrated to the United States in 1953. He was a dancer at the time, traveling to America with his folk dance troupe. He would go on to become a principal dancer with New York’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet from 1955 to 1956. In 1975, Holder made his directorial debut with the stage adaptation of The Wiz. For this, he won two Tony Awards—one for Best Director and Best Costume Design—the first for a Black man in either category. Holder would go on to star in several Hollywood films, including Boomerang in 1992, and become a household name thanks to his work as a spokesman for 7 Up during the 1970s and ’80s.
Holder also worked closely with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, choreographing the lavish ballet The Prodigal Prince (first staged in 1968) and Adagio for a Dead Soldier (1964). “He made us think of ourselves in an extended way,“ Ailey Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison told ESSENCE.com. “He made us think, ‘of course there’s more that I can do.’ He was a renaissance man, period. He was the real thing.”
While starring in the 1955 musical House of Flowers, Holder met and fell in love with fellow dancer Carmen de Lavallade. He proposed to her four days later. They remained married until his death. The charismatic couple was the subject of the 2009 documentary Carmen & Geoffrey (currently on Netflix). They have a son, Leo.
Our condolences to his family.