Entertainment icon Geoffrey Holder has left the stage for the final time. He passed away Sunday at age 84 due to complications from pneumonia. This imposing figure, both in terms of his 6’6″ stature and his impact on the stage, screen, and art worlds, was a memorable part of the lives of generations of fans. A Tony winning director, he was also a dancer, an actor, a painter, an author and a designer. His influence touched every corner of the entertainment industry.
To those growing up in the 70s and 80s, he was synonymous with the 7-Up brand. His deep voice pitching the “un-cola” and proclaiming it to be “Maaaaaaaarvelous” became a universally recognized catchphrase, mimicked by school children everywhere trying to sound cool. Geoffrey Holder’s entire persona was the epitome of cool.
To those in New York during the mid-50s, he was a fixture of the cultural scene as a professional dancer. He danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet as a principal. He later was director of his own troupe of dancers from his homeland, Trinidad and Tobago. His choreography was featured at the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His was a life filled with dance.
Geoffrey Holder danced onto Broadway stage. He began his career as a dancer featured in the show House of Flowers, a Caribbean themed musical based on a novella by Truman Capote. He played in a revival of Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. It was a short run, but it helped to launch his Broadway career. He directed the hit musical The Wiz, and he designed the costumes for the show. He won Tony Awards for both efforts.
He made the leap from the stage to the screen. He is etched forever in the minds of James Bond films as the villain from Roger Moore’s debut in the role in Live and Let Die. He played William Shakespeare the Tenth in the 1967 version of Dr. Doolittle, and as the bodyguard for Daddy Warbucks, Punjab, in the 1982 rendition of Annie. He played a sorcerer in the popular Woody Allen film, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, and even played a television commercial director alongside Eddie Murphy in Boomerang. Even in the smallest parts, he always stuck in the memories of the audience. Whether his grace dancing, his expressive movement, or his warm humor, he always left an impression.
Geoffrey Holder published a book of Caribbean folklore written together with Tom Harshman. He did all of the illustrations for that publication. He pursued his artwork; paintings, sculptures and photography, throughout his career. His work was featured in Washington at the Corcoran Gallery, as well as in New York at the Guggenheim. His use of traditional Caribbean themes to create a visually impactful social commentary resonated with art lovers. His talents were varied and multiple.
Few men have been able to make a significant impression with the fans of so many different disciplines. The legacy of creative spirit the Geoffrey Holder has left from the stage to the screen to the canvas is vast and not to soon fade away after this final exit.
By Jim Malone