Geoffrey Holder, Trinidadian Actor, Choreographer, Director, Dancer, Painter, Costume Designer, Singer and Voice-Over Artist Dies at 84

Geoffrey Holder
Geoffrey Holder
Legendary Entertainers Geoffrey Holder and wife Carmen de Lavallade

Geoffrey Lamont Holder was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad on August 01, 1930 one of four children in an urban middle-class family.

Holder attended "The Tranquillity School" and secondary school at "Queens Royal College" in Port-of-Spain, while receiving lessons in painting and dancing from his older brother Boscoe. Geoffrey joined the Holder Dance Company under his brother’s direction at age seven, and when Boscoe moved to Europe ten years later to embark on what was to be a very successful career in entertainment, Geoffrey Holder took over the company’s leadership.

The Holder Dance Company toured the West Indies and Puerto Rico, and in 1952, the eminent choreographer Agnes de Mille saw the group perform on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. She invited Holder to come to New York City to audition for impresario Sol Hurok

During Holder’s early teenage years his talent as a painter had been established when he sold two of his paintings at the age of fifteen, and to pay the company’s passage to New York in 1954, Holder sold several of his paintings, Hurok did not sponsor Holder's dance company and to support himself Holder taught classes at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance. 

Holder became a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York from 1955-56. He made his Broadway debut in House of Flowers, a musical by Harold Arlen music and lyrics) and Truman Capote (lyrics and book). He also starred in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot in 1957.

Holder began his movie career in the 1962 British film All Night Long, a modern remake of Shakespeare's Othello. He followed that with Doctor Dolittle (1967) as Willie Shakespeare, leader of the natives of Sea-Star Island.

In the 1972, he was cast as the Sorcerer in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. The following year he was a henchman – "Baron Samedi" – in the Bond movie Live and Let Die; He contributed to the film's choreography. In addition to his movie appearances, Holder became a spokesman for the 7 Up soft drink "uncola" advertising campaign during the 1970s.

In 1975 Holder won two Tony Awards for direction and costume design of "The Wiz", the all-black musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Holder was the first black man to be nominated in either category. He won the "Drama Desk Award" for "Outstanding Costume Design". The show ran for 1672 performances over a four-year period; it was revived in 1984.

As a choreographer, Holder has created dance pieces for many companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he provided choreography, music and costumes for Prodigal Prince 1967), and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, for which he provided choreography, music and costumes for Dougla (1974) and designed costumes for Firebird (1982). In 1978, Holder directed and choreographed the Broadway musical Timbuktu! Holder's 1957 piece Bele is also part of the Dance Theater of Harlem repertory.

In the 1982 film version of the musical Annie, Holder played the role of Punjab. He was in the 1992 film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy. He was also the voice of Ray in Bear in the Big Blue House and provided narration for Tim Burton's version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He reprised his role as the 7 Up Spokesman in the 2011 season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he appeared as himself in a commercial for "7 Up Retro" for Marlee Matlin's team.

Holder was a prolific painter (patrons of his art included Lena Horne and William F. Buckley, Jr.), ardent art collector, book author and music composer. As a painter, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in fine arts in 1956. A book of his photography, Adam, was published by Viking in 1986.

In 1955, Holder married dancer Carmen de Lavallade, whom he met when both were in the cast of the musical House of Flowers. They lived in New York City and had one son, Leo Anthony Lamont. They were the subject of a 2004 film, Carmen & Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Holder died in Manhattan from complications from pneumonia on 5 October 2014. He was survived by his wife, Carmen de Lavallade, and their son, Léo.

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