Trinidad-born Actor and Renaissance Man Geoffrey Holder Dies at 84

Geoffrey Holder in "Live and Let Die" (1973). YouTube screen capture.

Geoffrey Holder in “Live and Let Die” (1973). YouTube screen capture.

Geoffrey Holder, West Indian Renaissance man, died of pneumonia on Monday. He was 84. Holder was best known as an actor, but his creative talents knew no bounds — he was also a dancer, choreographer, designer, director, and painter.

Holder grew up in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and was part of a vibrant artistic scene that included his older brother, Boscoe Holder. Before migrating to the United States, Holder attended the prestigious Queen's Royal College, where he was a schoolmate of future Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul. Holder was married for over sixty years to the dancer and actress Carmen Delavallade, with whom he had one son, Leo.

Holder came to prominence with such high-profile appearances as the villainous Baron Samedi in the James Bond film Live and Let Die and as Punjab in the movie Annie. On the stage, Holder won a Tony award for directing The Wiz in 1975. His work remains relevant today: the film Carmen and Geoffrey, which charts the remarkable careers of Holder and his wife, won the prize for Best Documentary at the 2009 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.

On Facebook, Leo Holder shared memories of his father's last moments:

Through the oxygen mask the gurgling starts creating it’s [sic] own rhythm. Not sure of what I’m hearing, I look up to see his mouth moving. I get closer to listen: ‘2, 3, 4….2, 3, 4…’ He’s counting! It gets stronger, and at it’s [sic] loudest sounds like the deep purr of a lion, then he says ‘Arms, 2, 3, 4, Turn, 2, 3, 4, Swing, 2, 3, 4, Down, 2, 3, 4…’

Artist and activist Rubadiri Victor remembered Holder for being one of the greatest artists Trinidad has produced, as well as a prominent member of a golden generation of artists who came of age in the 1950s: 

ONE OF OUR GREATEST CITIZENS- EVER!!! GEOFFREY HOLDER- Rest in Peace Master. Winner of 2 Tony Awards for 1974's The Wiz- first black man to do so: should have won 2 again 4 the following year's ‘Timbuktu’ but they never would give such as he 2 years straight. Pioneering Caribbean/Black screen actor- Dr No, Boomerang, Annie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Little Mermaid… First book of photography on the nude black male with his book ‘Adam’. Seminal choreographer and dancer with Alvin Ailey and with his own work. Larger than life. Connected with every single facet of the entertainment and Creative Industry. Completely and absolutely under-utilised by us. His passing marks not only the passing of a giant and an Age of Afro-Saxon Genius and Creativity- but also serves as the most glaring symbol of our failure as a civilisation. That a Genius such as this would be so completely abandoned and un-used by the nation that would require his talents the most is the greatest tragedy that I know…

On hearing the news of Holder's death, other veterans of the Trinidad and Tobago's theatre also paid their respects:

Mike Bernard remembered Holder for his commercial work. Holder starred in a series of 7-Up commercials he filmed in the late 70s-early 80s:

Bernard explained:

Like most I was first introduced to Geoffrey Holder in the 7up Uncola commercials. As a Trini away from home I was proud of his Trinidadian heritage. Condolences to his family.

On Twitter, Eric Haywood acknowledged that Holder's talent far exceeded those commercials, but he still made them his own:

Desiree Edwards hoped his legacy will live on:

The region and the world has lost a phenomenal multi-talented man. His voice, his presence, his dance moves, his art!!! May his legacy and his spirit soar to touch a new generation.


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