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Paul Benjamin, Actor in ‘Do the Right Thing,’ Dies at 81

Paul Benjamin, who played one of the men on the corner in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” died June 28, Lee announced on Instagram.

“I’m sad to write that the great actor Paul Benjamin, who played ML, far left, passed this past Friday, two days before the 30th anniversary of ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Rest in Paradise,” the director wrote.

Born in South Carolina, Benjamin started out doing Shakespeare on stage in New York, and made his film debut with a small role as a bartender in “Midnight Cowboy.” He had a featured role in “Across 110th Street” in 1972, and appeared in Blaxploitation films like “The Education of Sonny Carson” and “Friday Foster” with Pam Grier.

Among his other appearances were in Richard Pryor comedy “Some Kind of Hero,” Clint Eastwood starrer “Escape from Alcatraz” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

In “Do the Right Thing,” he played ML, who hangs out with Sweet Dick Willie and Coconut Sid under an umbrella on the street, commenting on the events of the neighborhood. One of his memorable lines in the film came after Radio Raheem was killed, and ML said, “It is plain as day; they didn’t have to kill the boy.”

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In the 1990s and 2000s, he appeared in “The Five Heartbeats” and John Singleton’s “Rosewood” as well as in indie favorite “The Station Agent.” Benjamin also made guest appearances on “ER,” “The Shield” and “Law and Order.”

In Los Angeles, he wrote and performed in the play “Carrier,” for which Paula Kelly won the NAACP acting award.

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