TV, film and stage thesp Tommy Hollis, who originated the role of Booker T. Washington in Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning “Ragtime” and portrayed the father of the title character in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” died Sept. 9 of a heart attack in New York City. He was 47.
Recipient of the 1991 Theater World Award for outstanding Broadway debut, as Reverend Avery in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” Hollis performed in the original Broadway casts of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Ragtime” and “Seven Guitars.”
He also originated the title role of Jesse in “I Just Stopped by to See the Man” at London’s Royal Court Theater and performed in George C. Wolfe’s “Colored Museum” in New York, London and Los Angeles.
In addition to reprising his roles in “The Piano Lesson” and “The Colored Museum,” Hollis’ television work included Alex Haley’s miniseries “Queen,” telepics “Separate but Equal” and “The Vernon Johns Story.” He also had appearances on such series as “Law & Order” and “New York Undercover,” plus a recurring role on “I’ll Fly Away.”
His film credits included Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors,” Spike Lee’s “Malcom X,” “The Professional” and “Ghostbusters.”
Invited by artistic director Lloyd Richards, Hollis helped develop new works by playwrights at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference for several seasons. Recipient of last year’s Fox Foundation Fellowship, Hollis also was a concert performer and traditional gospel singer who most recently sang in a tribute to the late producer, Lyn Austin.
He is survived by his mother, four sisters, two brothers, a stepmother, six nieces and 15 nephews.