O'Neal in Superfly.
September 1, 1937|
Utica, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 14, 2004
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
|Education||Glenville High School
Ohio State University
|Occupation||Actor, Director, Writer|
|Spouse(s)||Carol T. Banks (m. 1973–80)
Audrey Pool (m. 1993–2004)
Ron O'Neal (September 1, 1937 – January 14, 2004) was an American actor, director and screenwriter, who rose to fame in his role as Youngblood Priest, a New York cocaine dealer in the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly and its 1973 sequel Super Fly T.N.T.. O'Neal was also a director and writer for the sequel, and for the film Up Against the Wall.
Ron O'Neal grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, the son of a former jazz musician who now earned his living as a factory worker; his father died when he was 16 years old. Only six months later his brother, who worked as a truck driver, was killed in an accident. Following these tragedies his mother found a job in a hospital in order to sustain the family. He graduated from Glenville High School, then attended Ohio State University, and there became interested in acting after seeing the play Finian's Rainbow. He joined the Karamu House company in Cleveland, Ohio, working with the oldest African-American theatre company in the US from 1957 until 1964, during which period he appeared in plays such as Kiss Me, Kate, A Streetcar Named Desire, and A Raisin in the Sun, working all the time as a housepainter for a living. In 1964, he went to New York, teaching acting classes at the Harlem Youth Arts Program and appearing in Off-Broadway plays.
In 1969, his theatrical breakthrough came in the Broadway play Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. In 1970, appearing in Charles Gordone's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, No Place to Be Somebody he garnered even more attention, winning an Obie Award and several other prizes. From there he moved on to cinema with two minor roles in Move (1970) and The Organization (1971), after which he was contacted by a friend from Cleveland, screenwriter Phillip Fenty, who suggested he star in an all-black film about a drug dealer. Although shot on a meager budget this film, Super Fly, went on to become a major hit at the box office.
This success was followed by the sequel, Super Fly T.N.T. (1973), which he directed himself. Though he reprised his role as Youngblood Priest the movie was a failure. Afterward he was frequently typecast as pimp or drug dealer. In 1975 he returned to Broadway, starring in All Over Town under the direction of Dustin Hoffman and he also appeared in Shakespeare plays during the 1970s, including Othello, Macbeth, and The Taming of the Shrew.
During those years film roles that went beyond stock characters were few and far between, notable exceptions being his role in Brothers (1977), in the TV movie Brave New World, and in the TV miniseries The Sophisticated Gents (1981). He had a number of TV guest appearances, frequently playing a detective. In 1988, O'Neal had a reoccurring role as Mercer Gilbert on the popular NBC television sitcom A Different World, where he played the wealthy father of the spoiled southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy). His appearances lasted through 1992. In 1996 he appeared in the Blaxploitation reunion film Original Gangstas.
O'Neal was first married to actress Carol Tillery Banks, from November 1973 until 1980 (divorced), and then to Audrey Pool, from 1993 until his death in 2004. He died in Los Angeles on January 14, 2004, after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, on the same day Super Fly was released on DVD in the US.
- Original Gangstas (1996)
- "A Different World" (1988-1992) …as Mercer Gilbert
- Mercenary Fighters (1988)
- Hero and the Terror (1988) ... as Mayor
- The Equalizer (1986–1987) ... as Lt. Isadore Smalls
- Red Dawn (1984) ... as Col. Ernesto Bella
- St. Helens (1981) ... Otis Kaylor
- The Sophisticated Gents (1981) ... Clarence 'Claire' Henderson
- The Final Countdown (1980) ... Commander Dan Thurman
- Brave New World (1980) ... Mustapha Mond
- When a Stranger Calls Lt. Charlie Garber
- A Force of One (1979)
- The Hitter (1979) ... Otis
- The Master Gunfighter (1975)
- Super Fly T.N.T. (1973) ... Youngblood Priest
- The Mack (1973) ... Hispanic
- Super Fly (1972) ... Youngblood Priest
- The Organization (1971) ... Joe Peralez
- biography at answers.com
- biography at IMBD.com
- McLellan, Dennis (January 16, 2004). "Ron O'Neal, 66; Star of Blaxploitation Hit 'Superfly'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29.
- Breihan, Tom (7 August 2014). "Wu-Tang Clan – “Ron O’Neal”". Stereogum. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Minsker, Evan (7 August 2014). "Wu-Tang Clan Release New Single "Ron O'Neal"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Ron O'Neal, 66, Actor Who Starred In 'Superfly' Films". The New York Times. January 17, 2004. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
- Ron O'Neal at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Ron O'Neal about Superfly from the WGBH series, Say Brother