Famed Multi-Disciplinary Artistic Genius Geoffrey Holder Transitions

By Bruce Hawkins [October 6, 2014]



August 1, 1930 — October 5, 2014

[Port of Spain, Trinidad -- Manhattan, New York]

Sources close to the family confirm that Geoffrey Holder passed peacefully Sunday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York.

He was a father, husband, painter, costume designer, photographer, dancer, actor, director, choreographer and visionary, a true Master of the Renaissance arts. His works have been displayed in galleries and collections around the world.  He was a strong, 6’6” tall, imposing presence of an energetic, charismatic, Caribbean man that embodied his wide range of theatrical talent and artistic ability.

Geoffrey Richard Holder was born on August 1, 1930 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He began his dance career in 1938 as a young member of the dance company of his older brother, artist Boscoe Holder.  He always gave his brother credit for his early arts training as his favorite inspiration.

Choreographer Agnes De Mille originally saw Holder dance in Trinidad and invited him and the Holder Dance Company to New York. Mr. Holder taught at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and he became a principal dancer with New York’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

In 1955, Mr. Holder married his muse, dancer/actress Carmen De Lavallade, whom he met when he made his Broadway debut in the cast of House of Flowers, a ground breaking Broadway musical by composer Harold Arlen and writer, Truman Capote, featuring Alvin Ailey, Diahann Carroll and Pearl Bailey. In January 1957, he played the role of Lucky in the revival of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.

Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder eventually became known as a popular show business couple and their union produced their one son, Leo.  Long-time residents of New York City, their professional and married lives as artists were profiled in the documentary, Carmen and Geoffrey (2004).

Geoffrey Holder won two Tony Awards and a Drama Desk award in 1975 for direction and costume design for the popular, all Black musical, The Wiz. He again won a Tony Award nomination in 1978 for his lavish production of Timbuktu.

In the 1970’s, Mr. Holder became a popular household identity for his broad character and deep bass laughter as the Uncola Man, a highly visible commercial spokesperson for the popular soft drink, 7 Up.

In 1978, Holder directed and choreographed the Broadway musical Timbuktu, starring Eartha Kitt and Melba Moore. As a choreographer and costume designer, Holder is well known for his choreography, costumes and score of Prodigal Prince (1967) for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and his collaboration with the Dance Theater of Harlem, where he placed his original work Bele (1957), choreographed, scored and costumed the ritual ballet Dougla (1974) and costumed Firebird (1982).

His most famous film roles were those of Baron Samedi in the James Bond thriller, Live and Let Die (1973) and the protective servant Punjab in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, Annie.  His other film work includes All Night Long (1962), Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (1972). Mr. Holder was also the deep voiced narrator of Tim Burton’s adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the voice of Ray in Bear In the Big Blue House.

Mr. Holder was also a fine arts painter and has written several books on Caribbean lifestyle and customs. He became the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for painting. His broad use of color and abstraction was evident in his original costume designs.  His photographic book of male nudes, Adam, was published by Viking Press.th8GMW4SQHthIC21U32TthJQGR09QKthO22LYTQOthP445VMQL (3)thQFR9QDFOthRWDWYILAthTI5PM4UF


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