Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Geoffrey Holder Passes On

Actor, dancer, choreographer, painter, costume designer, and composer  Geoffrey Holder died on 5 October 2014 at the age of 84. The cause were complications from pneumonia

Geoffrey Holder was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 1 August 1930. His parents Louise de Frense and Arthur Holder had migrated from Barbados. His older brother, Arthur Aldwyn Holder (known to everyone as "Boscoe"), taught him both painting and dancing. Boscoe Holder also brought his younger brother Geoffrey into a dance troupe he had formed, the Holder Dancing Company, when Geoffrey was only 7 years old. Boscoe Hunter went on to become a  a Tony Award-winning stage director and costume designer. Geoffrey Holder attended Tranquillity School and Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain.

Boscoe Holder left Trinidad in the late Forties, leaving Geoffrey Holder in charge of their dance troupe. In 1954 he was invited by choreographer Agnes de Mille, who had seen the troupe perform in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to take the troupe to New York City. Mr. Holder made his debut on Broadway in 1954 in the production House of Flowers. Geoffrey Holder taught classes at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre for a time. From 1956 to 1958 he was the principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. He continued to run the Holder Dancing Company until it disbanded in 1960.

In 1957 Geoffrey Holder made his film debut in a small role in Carib Gold (1957). He also appeared in an uncredited role in Porgy and Bess (1959). He appeared as a calypso singer in an episode of The United States Steel Hour in 1957. In 1957 he also appeared in an all black production of Waiting for Godot on Broadway. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956 for his painting.

In the Sixties Mr. Holder appeared in the films as All Night Long (1962), Doctor Dolittle (1967), and Krakatoa: East of Java (1969). He appeared on television in a 1967 adaptation of Androcles and the Lion, as well as episodes of Tarzan and It Takes a Thief. He appeared on Broadway in the production of  Josephine Baker.

In the Seventies he appeared in several films, including one of his most famous roles, that of Baron Samedi in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973). He also appeared in the films Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), The Noah (1975), and Swashbuckler (1976).  On television he provided the voice of Jupiter in The ABC Weekend Special "The Gold Bug" in 1980. He also became spokesman for the soft drink 7 Up in its commercials, a position he would occupy well in the Eighties. On Broadway he designed costumes for The Wiz, which debuted in 1975. On Broadway he directed and choreographed Timbuktu!. He also designed costumes for s John Taras’s 1982 production of The Firebird for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. He also continued to work in dance. He staged the ballet Prodigal Prince, also composing the score, in 1971. He also staged the ballet Dougla in 1974.

In the Eighties Geoffrey Holder appeared in the film Annie (1982) as Punjab. He was the narrator of the film Where Confucius Meets the New Wave (1987). On television he choreographed the opening of The Cosby Show for its fifth season. He appeared as the Cheshire Cat in an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland on Great Performances in 1983. He appeared in the TV movies John Grin's Christmas and Ghost of a Chance.

In the Nineties Mr Holder appeared in the films Boomerang (1992) and Goosed (1999).  He provided the voice of Jean St. Mouchoir for the video game Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller (1995) and the voice of Ray the Sun in the TV show Bear in the Big Blue House. In the Naughts Geoffrey Hunter appeared in the film Butterfield (2008), as well as the documentary Geoffrey Holder: The Unknown Side (2002). He narrated the movies Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and The Little Wizard: Guardian of the Magic Crystals (2008).

Geoffrey Holder continued to paint all his life. He had works shown at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.  and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. He was also a photographer. A collection of his photography, Adam, was published by Viking Press in 1986. He was a sculptor as well.

One could not help but notice Geoffrey Holder. He stood six foot six and possessed an incredible, booming voice with a Caribbean lilt. It was for this reason that he was often cast in exotic roles, that of Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die and Punjab in Annie. In many respects this is regrettable, as Mr. Holder was a multi-talented performer capable of playing a large number of roles. Indeed, Geoffrey Holder was a true renaissance man. While most people might think of him only as Baron Samedi, Punjab, or "the 7 Up Man", Mr. Holder was an actor, dancer, choreographer, painter, costume designer, sculptor, photographer, and vocalist. Many performers are described as triple threats (that is, they can act, sing, and dance), Geoffrey Holder was so much more.

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