dick anthony williams*(Via NY Times) – Dick Anthony Williams, a prolific actor who created enduring roles in blaxploitation films during the 1970s while simultaneously securing his reputation on the New York stage with Tony-nominated performances and a Drama Desk Award, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 77.

His death was confirmed by a family friend, Samantha Wheeler. No cause was given.

Mr. Williams was in the top rank of the first generation of black actors to find steady work in American film, television and theater. Though he was most often cast in supporting roles, his performances were invariably singled out by critics for their intelligence and subtlety.

In 1974 he was widely praised for his performance in Ron Milner’s “What the Wine-Sellers Buy,” the first play by an African-American produced by Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival.

His multilayered portrayal of a Detroit pimp, which won Mr. Williams the Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination, was a cautionary version of the more flamboyant character he portrayed in the blaxploitation movie “The Mack,” starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor, released in 1973. Mr. Williams’s character, Pretty Tony, was a philosopher-pimp armed with a sword-cane, a figure said to have left its stamp on the pimp-centric worldview of hip-hop artists like Tupac Shakur and Ludacris.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Williams and the director Woodie King Jr. were co-founders of the New Federal Theater, an actors’ workshop open to professionals and amateurs, at minimal cost, at the Henry Street Settlement. The theater became a showcase for playwrights and actors including David Henry Hwang, Ntozake Shange, Amiri Baraka, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. The New Federal Theater is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Read/learn more at NY Times.

In the video below, Mr. Williams discusses the New Federal Theater: