Geoffrey Holder, whose energetic laugh helped sell cans of 7Up in the '70s and '80s, has died at the age of 84.
While Holder, who passed away Sunday in Manhattan from complications from pneumonia, according to The New York Times, was most often recognized for being "the Un-Cola" pitchman — during which he rocked white suits, tropical print scarves, and kicked back among palm trees with his maaarvelous beverage — he had a long and diverse career in which he acted, danced, choreographed, painted, and even penned a Caribbean cookbook.
At 6-foot-6, the Trinidadian was an imposing figure, which made for a great villain when he played the unkillable voodoo priest Baron Samedi in the James Bond flick Live and Let Die opposite Roger Moore. Perhaps his best-remembered film role was as a good guy in 1982's musical Annie, where he played Mr. Warbucks's bodyguard, Punjab, and rescued the little red-head from Miss Hannigan and Rooster — with a little help from his turban. He also appeared in the original Rex Harrison-starring Doctor Dolittle, Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask, and Eddie Murphy's Boomerang. Holder's booming baritone also provided the narration for Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, his last notable film credit.
Off-camera, Holder was an accomplished dancer and received a Tony Award in 1975 for musical direction and costume design for The Wiz, the all-black reimagining of The Wizard of Oz. He wore his trademark white suit and danced on stage while collecting his award. In his very short speech (about 20 words), he referenced his popular 7Up campaign quipping, "Try making something like that out of a cola nut."
Holder was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1930 and struggled with a stammer than he had until his early adulthood. He sought refuge in the arts — dancing and painting — and later moved to England. As director of a dance troupe, he sold several of his paintings to fly the group to New York City in 1954. While living there, he became a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and made his Broadway debut as a featured dancer in House of Flowers at the end of that year.
His other passions included cooking. He penned Geoffrey Holder's Caribbean Cookbook, featuring dishes he enjoyed during his childhood, in 1973. His illustrations were featured in that book as well as a second one on Caribbean folklore called Black Goods, Green Islands, which was released in 1959. His paintings and photographs, and sculptures have been featured at many galleries as well as the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Holder was married to Carmen de Lavallade, a fellow dancer whom he met on the set of House of Flowers, and they had one son, Léo. In 2011, he broke his hip and moved from Manhattan to the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. However, he continued to create, crafting more pieces of art than ever with anything he could get his hands on, including, wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, and even styrofoam cups.
"I make something every five minutes," he told Chicago's Sun-Times in 2013. "All I see is art; it just comes out of me. And I've always believed that if you love what you're doing, you're not working."
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