Albert Freeman Jr., who played Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam leader and Malcolm X’s mentor, in Spike Lee’s epic 1992 biopic “Malcolm X,” died Thursday, Aug. 9. He was 78.
Howard U. in Washington, D.C., confirmed the death of the actor whose career spanned film, stage and television Friday night but details weren’t immediately available.
Freeman’s later feature work included 1995’s “Once Upon a Time… When We were Colored,” in which he starred with Phylicia Rashad, and the Maya Angelou-directed “Down in the Delta” (1998), in which he starred with Alfre Woodard.
The actor also did memorable work in television. He played “Malcolm X” in miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations,” drawing an Emmy nomination in 1979.He had drawn an earlier nomination, in 1970, for starring with Patty Duke in the influential telepic “My Sweet Charlie.” He played a black New York lawyer who encounters a pregnant white Southern girl in rural girl while both are on the run.
Freeman also won a best-actor Daytime Emmy for his work as Capt. Ed Hall on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” (He also directed some episodes of the ABC sudser.)
Freeman was a star of the ABC sitcom “Hot L Baltimore” in 1975 and recurred on “Homicide: Life on the Street” as Deputy Commissioner James Harris.
Onstage, he delivered an important performance in Amiri Baraka’s powerful, explosive “Dutchman” Off Broadway. He played a black subway passenger traumatized by an emotionally disturbed white woman, played by Shirley Knight. The actors appeared in a bigscreen adaptation in 1967.
Freeman taught acting for decades at Howard U. and served as chairman and artistic director of its theater arts department for the last six years.
“He was a brilliant professor, a renowned actor and a master director who made his mark in the classroom as well as on stage, screen and television. … He has mentored and taught scores of outstanding actors. He was a resounding voice of Howard and will be missed,” university spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said in a statement.
Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr. was born in San Antonio, Texas. His father was a jazz pianist and stage actor.
He made his first television appearance in 1958 in an episode of “Suspicion,” and he guested on a variety of shows during the 1960s including “The Defenders” and “The F.B.I.” He also made a number of appearances in high-profile films during the period, including “Black Like Me,” “Ensign Pulver,” “For Pete’s Sake,” Frank Sinatra starrer “The Detective” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”
In 1970 Freeman starred on Broadway in the brief-running musical version of the film “Lilies of the Field,” which had starred Sidney Poitier. He had appeared on Broadway in several plays during the 1960s, including “Blues for Mister Charlie,” written by James Baldwin. In 1973 he played the Messenger in a Rialto production of “Medea.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)