Johnny Sekka, an actor who helped challenge racial stereotypes in 1960s Britain, died of lung cancer in Agua Dulce, Calif. Sept. 14. He was 72.
Funeral services will be held Saturday at 12:30 p.m., at the Old North Church, Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.
Sekka was born in Dakar, Senegal, where he had a difficult childhood — his father and sister died when he was young, and as a teenager he wound up as a dockworker, charged with keeping monkeys off the mountain of peanuts there.
Stowing away on a ship, he ended up in Marseilles, France and made his way to England. In 1954, he met English black actor Earl Cameron, who encouraged him to tread the boards. He was hired as a stagehand for London’s Royal Court Theater, which led to bit parts on the stage.
Sekka was cast as the lead in productions including musical “Mr. Johnson” and “Flame in the Street,” a love story between a black man and a white woman.
In 1962, Sekka and director Tony Richardson left the Broadway production of another interracial love story, “Kwamina,” when he was told he could not touch his white co-star on stage. In 1968, he appeared onstage in London in “Bakke’s Night of Fame” a role originally written for a white man, the first time in English theater that a black actor had been given a role not specifically written for a black man. He filmed “The Last Safari” in Kenya with Stuart Granger and then moved to Hollywood, where in 1976, he landed a key role in “Mohammad, Messenger of God,” starring Anthony Quinn.
After the controversial film was released, Sekka and his family received death threats. He was traveling to promote the film when a group of black Muslims took 134 hostages in Washington, D.C., demanding the film not be released. The controversy took its toll on the film, which was never released wide in the United States.
Sekka appeared in films including “Uptown Saturday Night” and Ryan O’Neal 1985 starrer “Fever Pitch.” On TV, he appeared in shows including “Z Cars,” “Good Times,” “Roots: The Next Generations” and “Babylon 5: The Gathering.”
He is survived by wife Cecilia Secka and son Lamine Secka .