LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Award-winning actor Roscoe Lee Brown died in Los Angeles last week after a long fight with cancer. Many of you may not recognize his name, but I bet you're likely to know this voice.
(Soundbite of movie "Uptown Saturday Night")
Mr. ROSCOE LEE BROWN (Actor): (As Congressman Lincoln) Irresponsible ingrates, brothers, it would be well advised not to venture down that dark path. Well, just last week, I was saying to my beloved wife that I would not be caught dead in such a place.
WERTHEIMER: Sound familiar? That was from the movie "Uptown Saturday Night" with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Roscoe Lee Brown did everything, from Shakespeare to animation. Joining us now to talk about him is WEEKEND EDITION's entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell. Hi, Elvis.
ELVIS MITCHELL: I'm always prepared for your press conferences. Go ahead. Ask away. Ask your little question.
WERTHEIMER: Now, Roscoe Lee Brown had a very distinguished career in the theater. He received an OBE award in 1965 for his role as a rebellious slave in an off-Broadway production of "Benito Cereno." In 1972, he costarred in "The Cowboys" with John Wayne, and many critics thought his character was unbelievable because he was so articulate.
MITCHELL: Well, sure. The great thing to remember about Roscoe Lee Brown as an actor is that he had kind of a musical speaking voice, which you would think, in the abstract, wouldn't lend itself to acting because it would just stick out too much. But he found a way to meld that into character. The great thing about him was that he was such a smart guy, and he knew that literally. In 95 percent of the stuff he was doing, he was smarter than the material, but he never let on.
WERTHEIMER: Roscoe Lee Brown, although he did have a number of good roles in the theater over the years - bread and butter for him, as it is for so many actors now, was TV.
MITCHELL: The thing about him as an actor was despite that, kind of, real sophistication that he had as a human being and as an actor as well, he never condescended to anything he played. He filled in, after Robert Guillaume left "Soap," he became a butler on "Soap." And he almost seemed to be sending the character up in a way that probably never…
WERTHEIMER: Not almost. He was sending the character up. I remember that, yeah.
MITCHELL: I was trying to be diplomatic because I know that he did - he basically banked his contempt, but he let the audience know what he felt about that character and those people without ever, again, condescending or patronizing or wicking(ph) to the audience. He was truly a renaissance man. I remember him telling me at one point that he held the record for the 800-meter dash in the early '50s. That's how incredible a character he was. Just to hear him talk and have these incredible stories and the thing you got from him that he conveyed in all these characters was they all had a love of life, which he did too. You got a real sense of a joy that he took in doing everything, and that's about all we can ask from an actor because when an actor has that much joy in him, he communicates it to us, the audience.
WERTHEIMER: Roscoe Lee Brown died in Los Angeles last week from cancer. He was 81 years old. Our entertainment critic, Elvis Mitchell, joined us from New York. Elvis, thanks so much.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.
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