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Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014

The versatile dancer/actor/director Geoffrey Holder died on Sunday at the age of 84.

He made his Broadway debut as a dancer in the musical House of Flowers, but the Barbadian theatrical polymath Geoffrey Holder will forever be known as one of the brains behind the 1975 musical The Wiz, which he directed and for which he designed the iconic costumes (and took home Tonys for both).

the-wiz-costume-designWith his death earlier this week, remembrances of the tall, deep-voiced performer have been pouring out, and from various phases of his career, which can roughly be divided into three:

  • Dance. After moving to London from his native Trinidad and Tobago, he took over the Holder Dancing Company, which had been founded by his talented brother Arthur Aldwyn Holder, and brought it to New York in the mid ’50s. He went on to become a principal dancer in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and later created dances for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey Company.
"Timbuktu" from 1978, featuring Eartha Kitt
“Timbuktu” from 1978, featuring Eartha Kitt
Geoffrey Holder as Lucky in “Waiting for Godot”
  • Theatre. Holder rose through the Broadway chorus (and met his future wife, the dancer Carmen de Lavallade) to perform in sui generis roles like Lucky in a 1957 revival of Waiting for Godot, and later to become a multi-tasking auteur with both The Wiz and its follow-up, Timbuktu!
  • Movies and popular culture. He may be most famous worldwide for his roles in Live and Let Die and Boomerang—not to mention his role as a chuckling, white-clad spokesmen for 7-Up.

He was also known by colleagues for many quotable credos, but one choice sample, offered by Charles Busch via Facebook: “There are no limitations, only challenges.”

Broadway theatres will dim the marquees at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10 in Holder’s honor.

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