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Bill Nunn, Radio Raheem of Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing,’ dies at 63

Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do the Right Thing."
(Universal Pictures)

Bill Nunn, a character actor best known for his portrayal of Radio Raheem in director Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” has died. He was 63.

Nunn’s wife, Donna, confirmed his death to the Associated Press and said he had been battling cancer.

Word of his death first arrived via Instagram and Facebook posts from Lee, who also worked with Nunn on the 1988 film “School Daze,” one of the actor’s earliest screen appearances.

Lee wrote that “his dear friend,” a classmate at Morehouse College, died Saturday morning in his hometown of Pittsburgh, adding that “Radio Raheem is now resting in power … May God watch over Bill Nunn.”

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In addition to Lee’s films, Nunn was seen in several early ‘90s films, including “New Jack City” and “Sister Act.” He also played a physical therapist for Harrison Ford’s character in “Regarding Henry.”

Nunn was a regular onscreen presence throughout his career, including his role as Joseph “Robbie” Robertson in the “Spider-Man” trilogy directed by Sam Raimi. He also had a recurring role in the recent USA Network series “Sirens.”

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But Nunn may have made his greatest impact with his portrayal of the boombox-carrying Radio Raheem. In a detail that carries a resonance with current events, his character in “Do the Right Thing” dies after being choked by police officers, which sets off a wave of violence.

Tributes rolled in on social media Saturday, with many including a shot of Nunn as Raheem showing rings reading “Love” and “Hate” on either hand. Others featured the boom box, which in the film is heard playing Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

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chris.barton@latimes.com

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