RIP Al Freeman Jr.

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 10, 2012 4:37 PM
19 Comments
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The son of African American stage actor Al Freeman (1884-1956), and star of stage, TV and film, Al Freeman Jr. (born Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr., on March 21, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas), has died at the age of 78 years old.

His career, as an actor primarily, as well as a writer and director, spans several decades, dating back to the 1950s.

He made his big screen debut in 1960's melodrama The Rebel Breed.

Most notably, in 1967, Freeman Jr. co-starred with Shirley Knight in the film version of Leroi Jones' (Amiri Baraka'soff-Broadway play Dutchman, in a performance that earned him excellent reviews, and further attention for his portrayal of a black subway passenger victimized by a frantic white woman.

Dutchman would later be adapted for the screen, with Freeman Jr. and Knight reprising their roles - a film we've featured on this site on more than one occasion, and will likely feature again shortly, in light of today's news.

Three years later, Freeman Jr. co-starred with Patty Duke in the landmark TV movie My Sweet Charlie (1970), playing a volatile New York City lawyer stranded in a small Texas town with a white unwed mother.

Freeman Jr. is likely best best known to daytime-drama fans for his lengthy stint as Lt. Ed Hall on One Life to Live - a role that won him a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series in 1979, and setting his place in history as the first African American actor to win that specific award.

And more recently, he'll also be remembered for his portrayal of Elijah Muhammed in Spike Lee's 1992 opus Malcolm X; he actually played Malcolm X in the 1979 miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations.

Freeman was also a screenwriter, penning screenplays for Ossie Davis' Countdown at Kusini (1976), and was a director himself, helming (and starring in) the 1971 feature A Fable, from a script written by Amiri Baraka, based on his own play (The Slave: A Fable), about a black radical who violently and fatally torments his white ex-wife and children, after they start a new family with a white man.

On TV, Freeman Jr appeared in serials like The Cosby Show, and Homicide: Life on the Street.

His Broadway theatre credits include Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), Look to the Lilies (1970) and Medea (1974).

Up until his death, Freeman Jr. was a professor at Howard University, in the Department of Theatre Arts, teaching acting. He served as Chairman/Artistic Director of the Department for six years.

I was informed this afternoon that he died last night, August 9th; although the cause of his death hasn't yet been made public.

"It is with tremendous sadness that the passing of our beloved Professor Al Freeman, Jr. is confirmed," Kim James Bey, chair of Howard university's Theatre Department said in a statement.

RIP.

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19 Comments

  • Kelea | August 15, 2012 11:00 PMReply

    My heart dropped when I heard. Rest in Peace Al Freeman Jr. My favorite roles were Down in the Delta and Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored. He was amazing, always delivered.

  • starry118 | August 14, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    He did an excellent job as Elijah Muhammad in Malcolm X. A fantastic actor...RIP Al Freeman.

  • Barbara2 | August 14, 2012 5:43 AMReply

    So sad to hear this news. He was one Black man who made us feel proud to be Black. RIP dear sir.

  • Curtis Caesar John | August 12, 2012 9:22 AMReply

    I'm really saddened to hear this as Freeman was indeed a lion in the acting community and one of my all time favorites of the classic actors. I actually first remember watching him on PBS when I was a lil' kid in what I would later learn was a play called "To Be Young Gifted And Black" about the life of Lorraine Hansberry, to next seeing him pop up in various reruns. I guess my Mom didn't watch One Life To Live :)

    I first finally learned his name from that great episode of "The Cosby Show" when Cliff was cajoled into taking on his old track & field relay race enemy and Freeman was his old coach. From then on seeing him in "Roots: The Next Generation" as Malcolm X just endeared me more to the man as well as his appearance on what would become one of my all-time fave tv shows, "Homicide: Life on the Street". I enjoyed asking Howard U. acting students about Freeman and they always had heartwarming things to say about how much of a workhorse he was and how cool he was and how he made them better actors. I'll miss this brother a lot.

  • Val | August 12, 2012 1:44 AMReply

    A great loss.

  • GariAnne | August 11, 2012 9:41 PMReply

    My sincere condolences go out to his family. I enjoyed his time on One Life to Live, and the many movie and TV roles I saw him in through the years.

  • Young Hyughley | August 11, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    I always enjoyed watching Al Freeman Jr work. He had great presence and brought dignity to his roles. My condolences to his family.

  • Arlene | August 11, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    RIP Mr Albert C. Freeman. May GOD bless your family in this time of need.

  • murphysmom | August 11, 2012 9:22 AMReply

    As Lynda said in her email, I, too, remember Al Freeman, Jr. from One Life to Live. He was a terrific actor and ground-breaker. My prayers are with his family.

  • Lodi Carr | August 11, 2012 9:20 AMReply

    R.I.P.

  • Lynda | August 11, 2012 1:19 AMReply

    I watched him for many years on One Life To Live as Ed Hall. I loved this show so much, it entertained me for almost 40 years! And I appreciate Mr. Freemans contribution to that! Thank you sir, and may you RIP!

  • deb hinkle | August 10, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    I didn't see too many movies you were in but I watched you on OLTL. You were a great actor. RIP Al Freeman, I am sure you will be teaching the younger ones in heaven. Praying for your family.

  • No | August 10, 2012 9:02 PMReply

    I remember watching My Sweet Charlie as a kid. Much later, I stumbled across Al Freeman Jr working on a day time soap. I've always enjoyed his work. He was also in a TV production on MLK, Jr., "King: From Montgomery to Memphis," which featured Paul Winfield as King. Freedman played a composite character that was based on civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.

  • Theo | August 10, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    Thanks for pinning this! He was a good man and I had several interactions with him while attending HU. lol he use to always come into my job at the Apple Store and chat it up with me about new products! He had a passion for being both in front and behind the camera. He'll truly be missed!

  • Barbara | August 10, 2012 5:59 PMReply

    Remember watching you as a kid, you were one great actor who never seem to get your due...you will be missed Mr. Freeman...Rest In Paradise, condolences to your family and friends...they lost a great one.....

  • Mack | August 10, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    This is very sad news. Al Freeman, Jr. is one of the great unsung actors. He never really got his due in terms of stardom and opportunity in my honest opinion. Last February, I paid tribute to Freeman and four other actors in a feature I wrote about unsung big screen performances delivered by African American actors.

    Of Freeman, I wrote: "Classically-trained stage actor Freeman is perhaps best known for his magnificent work as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the head of the Nation of Islam, in Spike Lee’s 1992 big screen biopic of the slain civil rights leader Malcolm X. While serving time in prison, Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) is introduced to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad by a fellow inmate. Muhammad takes the newly named Malcolm X (who’s converted to the Muslim faith while incarcerated) under his wing once he’s released from prison, whereupon Malcolm quickly becomes the Nation of Islam’s chief spokesperson, brilliantly espousing the rage and despair felt among many of his fellow Muslims and black Americans. When Malcolm starts to eclipse the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in terms of celebrity, and to a certain extent within the Nation of Islam itself, jealousy rears its ugly head and the once-respectful father-son relationship they shared is permanently broken. Washington rightfully got the lion’s share of attention for his career-best performance, but he was surrounded by an ensemble of amazing actors doing equally great work, none more so than Freeman who gives voice to a controversial figure that not much was known about but much was inferred."

    RIP Mr. Freeman.

  • Mack | August 10, 2012 5:22 PM

    Actually, that trubute ran last April, not February.

  • LeonRaymond | August 10, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    Clear your settings - Landmark actor -first rate & first class and one awesome teacher -R.I.P. Al Freeman Jr. They broke the mold with you!!!

  • Neziah | August 10, 2012 5:07 PMReply

    R.I.P.

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