ABOVE PHOTO: Geoffrey Holder
By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK —Geoffrey Holder, a Tony Award-winning director, actor, painter, dancer and choreographer who during an eclectic show business career led the groundbreaking show “The Wiz” to Broadway, pitched 7-Up on TV and played a scary villain in a James Bond film, has died. He was 84.
Holder died Sunday of complications of pneumonia at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, according to Anna Glass, a producer and family friend.
The 6-foot-6, Trinidad-born Holder won Tonys in 1975 for directing and designing the costumes for his all-black retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.” In 1978, he directed and choreographed the lavish Broadway musical “Timbuktu!” starring Eartha Kitt and earned another Tony nomination for best costumes.
On TV, Holder played roles on TV’s “Tarzan,” voiced the leader on the PBS Kids animated show “Cyberchase” and pitched 7-Up as “the un-cola” in a commercial in which he wore a white suit and hat, purring “maaarvelous” as he drank the soda.
During 1955 and 1956, Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York. He also appeared with his troupe, Geoffrey Holder and Company and worked with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pennsylvania Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.
His film roles include playing Punjab in the 1982 film version of Annie, a role in 1967’s Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison, opposite Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, narrating Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and playing the top-hatted voodoo villain Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die — the first of the 007 movies to star Roger Moore.
Holder co-authored and illustrated a collection of Caribbean folklore, “Black Gods, Green Islands” in 1959, and had a book of recipes, “Geoffrey Holder’s Caribbean Cookbook” in 1973. He painted throughout his life and received a Guggenheim fellowship in fine arts in 1956.
He is survived by his wife, the dancer Carmen de Lavallade and their son, Leo.