Actor Howard Rollins, who was nominated for a supporting-actor Oscar for the 1981 film “Ragtime” and who was written out of the hit TV series “In the Heat of the Night” because of his drug use, died Dec. 8 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 46.
A spokesman from the William Morris Agency, which represented Rollins, said the actor died of a bacterial infection caused by complications of lymphoma. The spokesman said Rollins learned that he had cancer only six weeks ago.
A Baltimore native, Rollins became interested in acting while attending Towson State College in Maryland, and in 1974 moved to New York.
He also appeared in the 1984 pic, “A Soldier’s Story.” Other TV credits include “The Edge of Night,” “King,” “Roots, the Next Generation,” “The Neighborhood” and “The Member of the Wedding.”
In “Heat of the Night,” Rollins starred as a black detective from Philadelphia working in a racially volatile Mississippi town. The series, based on the 1967 pic, starred Carroll O’Connor and ran from 1988-94 first on NBC and then on CBS.
Rollins’ was the second death associated with a cast member of the series: O’Connor’s son, Hugh O’Connor, who played a law officer on the show, committed suicide in 1995 at age 33 – a death his father blamed on his son’s 16-year battle with drug addiction.
Rollins’ own drug use repeatedly got him into legal trouble, and he was eventually written out of the series. Carl Weathers then was added to the cast.
In 1988, Rollins pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and cocaine possession in Louisiana.
He pleaded guilty in 1992 to driving under the influence of a tranquilizer. He was sentenced to two days in jail and fined $1,000, and lost his driver’s license.
In 1993, Rollins spent about a month in jail for driving under the influence and reckless driving.