Thursday, 30 July 2015


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Howard Rollins

Howard Rollins
Howard Rollins in Ragtime
BornHoward Ellsworth Rollins, Jr.
October 17, 1950
BaltimoreMaryland, U.S.
DiedDecember 8, 1996 (aged 46)
New York CityNew York, U.S.
Cause of deathComplications from lymphoma
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery, Baltimore
Other namesHoward Rollins, Jr.
Howard E. Rollins
Howard E. Rollings, Jr.
Alma materTowson University
Years active1970–1996
Howard Ellsworth Rollins, Jr. (October 17, 1950 – December 8, 1996) was an American stage, film and television actor. He was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in the 1981 film Ragtime, for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination. Rollins also had a successful career on television as Virgil Tibbs on the NBC/CBS television seriesIn the Heat of the Night.

Early life

Rollins was the youngest of four children born to Ruth and Howard Ellsworth Rollins, Sr. in BaltimoreMaryland. His mother was a domestic worker while his father was a steelworker. Rollins, Sr. died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1980. Upon his high school graduation, Rollins studied theater at Towson University.[1][2]


In 1970, Rollins left college early to play the role of "Slick" in the PBS soap opera Our Street. In 1974, he moved to New York where he went on to appear in the Broadway productions of We Interrupt This Program..., in 1975, The Mighty Gents in 1978, and G. R. Point in 1979. He also appeared in the miniseries King and Roots: The Next Generations.[1]
In 1981, Rollins made his film debut in the Dino De Laurentiis/MiloŇ° Forman motion picture, Ragtime. His performance in the film earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination. He also earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture. The following year, he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his role on Another World. In 1984, Rollins starred in director Norman Jewison's film, A Soldier's Story which led to his role as Virgil Tibbs on In the Heat of the Night, the television series based on Jewison's acclaimed film 1967 film of the same name.
In the Heat of the Night began airing on NBC in 1988. During the show's run, Rollins struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was arrested four times for drug and alcohol-related crimes and spent one month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Due to his ongoing personal and legal issues, Rollins was let go from the series in 1994 and replaced by Carl Weathers.[2]
After being let go from In the Heat of the Night, Rollins got sober and worked on rebuilding his career and reputation.[2] In 1995, he appeared in a guest role on New York Undercover, followed by a role in the theatrical film, Drunks. In 1996, he appeared in guest spot on Remember WENN. His final role was in the 1996 PBS television movieHarambee!.

Personal life

Legal issues

In 1988, Rollins was arrested and pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in Louisiana. In 1992 and 1993, he was arrested on three separate occasions for driving under the influence. In 1994, he served a month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Because of continued legal problems, Rollins was ultimately dropped from In the Heat of the Night.[3] After attending drug rehab, he returned to In the Heat of the Night as a guest star.[4]


On December 8, 1996, Rollins died at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City of complications of lymphoma. He had been diagnosed with the disease approximately six weeks earlier. His funeral was held on December 13 in Baltimore.[5][6] He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore County, Maryland.


On October 25, 2006, a wax statue of Rollins was unveiled at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore. The statue is now at Baltimore's Great Blacks in Wax Museum.[7]


1981RagtimeCoalhouse Walker Jr.Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor
1984The House of GodChuck Johnston
1984A Soldier's StoryCaptain Davenport
1990On the BlockClay Beasley
1978The Trial of the MokeTelevision movie
1978KingAndrew YoungMiniseries
Credited as Howard Rollins
1979Roots: The Next GenerationsGeorge HaleyMiniseries
1979My Old ManDoctorTelevision movie
1981ThornwellCarsonTelevision movie
1982The NeighborhoodAllen CampbellTelevision movie
1982The Member of the WeddingHoney BrownTelevision movie
1982Another WorldEd HardingUnknown episodes
Nominated - Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
1983For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers StoryMedgar EversTelevision movie
1983Moving Right AlongUnknown episodes
1984House of Dies DrearWalter SmallTelevision movie
1984A Doctor's StoryDr. Zack WilliamsTelevision movie
1984He's Fired, She's HiredRaoulTelevision movie
1985WildsideBannister Sparks6 episodes
1986The Boy KingMartin Luther King, Sr.Television movie
1986The Children of Times SquareOtis TravisTelevision movie
1986Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBIT.C. RussellTelevision movie
1988-1995In the Heat of the NightChief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs121 episodes
1992With Murder in MindSamuel CarverTelevision movie
1994In the Heat of the Night: Who Was Geli Bendl?Virgil TibbsTelevision movie
1995New York UndercoverReverend HundleyEpisode: "The Smoking Section"
1996Remember WENNGeorge SmithEpisode: "The Emperor Smith"
1996Harambee!ChimbukoTelevision movie