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Adolph Caesar

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Adolph Caesar
Caesar in 1979
Born(1933-12-05)December 5, 1933
Harlem, New York City, U.S.
DiedMarch 6, 1986(1986-03-06) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materNew York University
Years active1969–1986
Known forPlaying Sgt. Waters in A Soldier's Play and its film adaptation A Soldier's Story
(m. 1986)

Adolph Caesar (December 5, 1933 – March 6, 1986) was an American film and theater actor. Known for his signature deep voice,[1] Caesar was a staple of off-Broadway as a member of the Negro Ensemble Company, and as a voiceover artist for numerous film trailers. He earned widespread acclaim for his performance as Sgt. Vernon Waters in Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier's Play, a role he reprised in the 1984 film adaptation A Soldier's Story, for which he received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations, and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Early life and education[edit]

Caesar was born in Harlem, New York City in 1933 as the youngest of three sons born to a Dominican mother and a black indigenous father.[2] At age 12, he contracted laryngitis which led to his notably deep voice.

After graduating from George Washington High School in 1952, Caesar enlisted in the United States Navy during the Korean War era,[3] serving as a hospital corpsman for five years,[4] achieving the rank of chief petty officer.[5] Upon his discharge from the service, he decided to break into the theater and went on to study drama at New York University, graduating in 1962.[3]


Early career[edit]

Caesar made his film debut in 1969 in Che!, playing Cuban revolutionary Juan Almeida Bosque. A year later, Caesar became an announcer for and then joined the Negro Ensemble Company in 1970 for productions such as The River Niger, Square Root of the Soul, and The Brownsville Raid. Caesar also later worked with the Minnesota Theater Company, Inner City Repertory Company, and the American Shakespeare Theatre. He had a stint on the soap operas Guiding Light and General Hospital in 1964 and 1969, respectively.

Thanks to his voice, Caesar found frequent work as a voice-over artist for television and radio commercials, including theatrical previews and radio commercials for many blaxploitation films such as Cleopatra Jones, Superfly, Truck Turner and The Spook Who Sat by the Door. For many years, he was the voice of the United Negro College Fund's publicity campaign, reciting the iconic slogan "...because a mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Later in his career, Caesar also lent his voice to the animated series Silverhawks, in which he voiced Hotwing, a magician and skilled illusionist.[citation needed]

In 1980, Caesar appeared in the infamous Bruceploitation mockumentary Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, playing himself as a fictional television news reporter investigating the death of Bruce Lee.

A Soldier's Play[edit]

Caesar’s most iconic work started with his role as Army Sergeant. Vernon C. Waters in Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning stage drama, A Soldier's Play, for which Caesar won Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play and an Obie Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Achievement. A Soldier’s Play is set in Louisiana during World War II, just before the U.S. military was desegregated. Sgt. Waters is an ambitious Black drill sergeant who strives for recognition for African-American soldiers while detesting "Geechees", as he terms uneducated, subservient, and unintelligent southern Blacks, as an obstacle to racial equality and the success of the future African American upper class, and who need to be removed at all costs. The play and film are a murder mystery that unfolds in flashbacks, as a Black JAG Captain investigates Sgt. Waters' murder at the beginning of the play and which the Captain eventually reveals to have been a fragging by one of Waters' own men.

In a 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Caesar stated, while crafting the character of Waters, he drew on his experiences with racism in Classical theatre, "I’d studied Shakespeare to death. I knew more about Shakespeare than Shakespeare knew about himself. After I did one season at a Shakespearean repertory company, a director said to me, ‘You have a marvelous voice. You know the king’s English well. You speak iambic pentameter. My suggestion is that you go to New York and get a good colored role.' Waters has tried his best, but no matter what you do, they still hate you." Caesar subsequently coined the character's signature phrase, "They still hate you".[1]

Caesar subsequently reprised his role as Waters in Norman Jewison's 1984 film adaptation of Fuller's play, retitled A Soldier's Story. His performance was acclaimed and earned him numerous accolades, including Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor, and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. He also won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Later career[edit]

On the basis of his Soldier's Story success, Caesar was cast in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple as Old Mister Johnson, the father of Danny Glover's character. He also appeared on an episode of The Twilight Zone and an ABC Afterschool Special. Caesar's last completed film was Club Paradise, released posthumously.

Personal life and death[edit]

Caesar had three children with his wife Diane, whom he was married to until his death.

Caesar was working on the Los Angeles set of the 1986 film Tough Guys (with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas) when he suffered a heart attack and died a short time later.[4] His role was recast with Eli Wallach. He was interred at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.



Year Title Role Director Notes
1969 Che! Juan Almeida Richard Fleischer
1975 Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle Brutish (voice) Picha
Boris Szulzinger
English-language version
1979 The Hitter Nathan Christopher Leitch
1980 Fist of Fear, Touch of Death Himself Matthew Mallinson
1984 A Soldier's Story Sgt. Vernon Waters Norman Jewison
1985 The Color Purple Old Mister Johnson Steven Spielberg
1986 Club Paradise Prime Minister Solomon Gundy Harold Ramis Released posthumously


Year Title Role Notes
1968 The Wild Wild West Vidoq Episode: "The Night of the Gruesome Games"
1969 General Hospital Douglas Burke
1970 The Challenge Clarence Opano Television film
1978 Watch Your Mouth Jeff Cremer 2 episodes
1984 Guiding Light Zamana
1985 Tales from the Darkside Mars Gillis Episode: "Parlour Floor Front"
1986 The Twilight Zone The Supervisor Episode: "A Matter of Minutes"
Fortune Dane Charles Dane Episode: "Pilot"
ABC Afterschool Specials Dr. Rancid Episode: "Getting Even: A Wimp's Revenge"
SilverHawks Hotwing / Seymour (voices) Main cast

Theatre (partial)[edit]

Year Title Role Director Theatre Notes
1965-67 Happy Ending / Day of Absence Jackson Philip Meister St. Mark's Playhouse
1971 Rosalee Pritchett Robert Barron Shauneille Perry
Perry's Mission Lester "Bobo" Johnson Douglas Turner Ward
Ride a Black Horse Harold
Mary Stuart Count Bellievre Jules Irving Vivian Beaumont Theater Broadway debut
1971-72 The Sty of the Blind Pig Doc Shauneille Perry St. Mark's Playhouse
1972 A Ballet Behind the Bridge Lalsingh Douglas Turner Ward Also choreographer
Frederick Douglass...Through His Own Words Frederick Douglass Also playwright
1974 Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide The Newscaster Dean Irby
1975 Waiting for Mongo Doodybug Douglas Turner Ward
1976-77 The Brownsville Raid Pvt. James Holliman Israel Hicks Lucille Lortel Theatre
1977 The Square Root of Soul Perry Schwartz As playwright
1979 Plays from Africa Dean Irby St. Mark's Playhouse
1979 A Season to Unravel Garrison Glenda Dickerson
1980 Lagrima del Diablo Aquilo Richard Gant
1981-83 A Soldier's Play Sgt. Vernon Waters Douglas Turner Ward Julia Miles Theater

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Year Category Nominated work Outcome
Academy Award 1985 Best Supporting Actor A Soldier's Story Nominated
Daytime Emmy Award 1987 Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming ABC Afterschool Specials ("Getting Even: A Wimp's Revenge") Nominated
Drama Desk Award 1982 Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play A Soldier's Play Won
Golden Globe Award 1985 Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture A Soldier's Story Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 1984 Best Supporting Actor Won
NAACP Image Award 1985 Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Won
Obie Award 1983 Outstanding Off-Broadway Achievement A Soldier's Play Won


  1. ^ a b Little, Dylan K. "Adolph Caesar: The Iconic Actor With The Iconic Voice". Amandla!. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  2. ^ "United States Census, 1940". FamilySearch.org. Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Adolph Caesar Dies; Acted in 'Soldier's Story' The New York Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Adolph Caesar: Fatal Heart Attack Fells Actor on Set Los Angeles Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  5. ^ Tue, 12.05.1933 – Adolph Caesar, Actor born African American Registry. Retrieved September 5, 2021.

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