Geoffrey Holder was a jack of all trades if ever there was one. The dancer, choreographer, actor, artist and composer, who died Sunday at the age of 84, put his surprisingly graceful 6-foot-6 frame, booming voice and flamboyant style to use on stage, TV and the silver screen. Somehow he even found time to win a Guggenheim Fellowship for his painting.
Though he was never a prolific film actor and usually appeared in supporting roles, Holder rarely failed to make an impression. Here are five of his memorable movie roles.
"Doctor Doolittle" (1967)
Having launched his film career with a modern retelling of the Bard's "Othello," it was perhaps fitting that Holder next played a character named William Shakespeare the Tenth, the tribal leader of a floating island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. His name in the story comes from a local tradition of naming children after favorite authors, whose books have washed ashore. Holder appeared opposite Rex Harrison as the titular Victorian doctor who can communicate with animals.
"Live and Let Die" (1973)
Holder would go on to tangle with James Bond in the eighth installment of the beloved spy-film franchise. As Roger Moore took over the role of 007 from Sean Connery, Holder played the top-hatted villain Baron Samedi, based on the voodoo trickster god and lord of the cemetery. Samedi is first introduced as a calypso entertainer — "chief of the legion of the dead, the man who cannot die" — but proves to be an enigmatic and surprisingly resilient nemesis. Stay tuned to the movie's final frames to see what we mean.
Perhaps to make amends for bedeviling Bond, Holder would save the day, and Little Orphan Annie, in John Huston's cinematic adaptation of the Broadway musical "Annie" (itself based on a 1924 comic strip). As Punjab, Daddy Warbucks' right-hand man and bodyguard, Holder donned a turban (which would ultimately come in handy), spouted the occasional proverb, plucked Annie (Aileen Quinn) from a precarious perch and delivered comeuppance to the conniving bad guy Rooster (Tim Curry). Not bad for a day's work.
As the previous films attest, Holder was often called upon to play exotic characters, but he didn't do so exclusively. In the Eddie Murphy movie "Boomerang," about a womanizing advertising executive (Murphy) who gets a taste of his own medicine, Holder got a chance to show off his comedic chops. As Nelson, a TV commercial director with a taste for the risque, he applied his, ahem, unique vision to a fragrance called Strangé, with the tagline "It Stinks So Good!" Brave viewers can watch the ad on YouTube.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005)
For all his striking physicality, Holder boasted an equally impressive voice, a rich basso perhaps second only to James Earl Jones. His deep timbre and lilting Trinidadian accent had an off-kilter charm that made him an inspired choice to narrate Tim Burton's eccentric take on the twisted children's book by Roald Dahl.