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Vereen at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival
|Born||Benjamin Augustus Middleton
October 10, 1946
Laurinburg, North Carolina
or Miami, Florida
|Occupation||Actor, Dancer, Singer|
|Spouse(s)||Andrea Townsley (m. 1966)
Nancy Bruner (m. 1976)
Vereen was born Benjamin Augustus Middleton on October 10, 1946, in Miami, Florida. While still an infant, Vereen and his family relocated to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He was adopted by James Vereen, a paint-factory worker, and his wife, Pauline, who worked as a maid and theatre wardrobe mistress. He discovered he was adopted when he applied for a passport to join Sammy Davis, Jr. on a tour of "Golden Boy" to London when he was 25. He was raised Pentecostal.
During his pre-teen years, he exhibited an innate talent for drama and dance and often performed in local variety shows. At the age of 14, Vereen enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, where he studied under world-renowned choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Upon his graduation, he struggled to find suitable stage work and was often forced to take odd jobs to supplement his income. He was 18 years old when he made his New York stage bow off-off Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the Greenwich Mews Theater. By the following year, he was in Las Vegas, performing in Bob Fosse's production of Sweet Charity, a show with which he toured in 1967–68. He returned to New York City to play Claude in Hair in the Broadway production, before joining the national touring company.
The following year, he was cast opposite Davis in the film adaptation of Sweet Charity. After developing a rapport with Davis, Vereen was cast as his understudy in the upcoming production of Golden Boy, which toured England and ended the run at the Palladium Theatre in London's West End.
He was nominated for a Tony Award for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 and won a Tony for his appearance in Pippin in 1973. Vereen appeared in the Broadway musical Wicked as the Wizard of Oz in 2005. Vereen has also performed in one-man shows and actively lectures on black history and inspirational topics.
|1965||The Prodigal Son||Dancer||Greenwich Mews Theater||Off-Broadway||Choreography by Martha Graham|
|1967-68||Sweet Charity||Dancer||US & Canada Tour||Touring||Cast by Bob Fosse for the US Touring Company|
|1968-72||Hair||Hud||Biltmore Theatre||Broadway||Alternated roles: Hud & Claude
Tony Award for Best Musical
|1968||Hair||Claude||National Tour||Broadway||Tony Award for Best Musical|
|1968||Golden Boy||Understudy to
Sammy Davis Jr.
|London Palladium||Touring||International Tour|
|1970||Gurton's Apocalyptic Needle||Alternate roles||The New Troupe||Touring||Touring company repertory included:
The Holy Ghostly & Melodrama Play
|1970-71||No Place to be Somebody||Alternate roles||Touring Company||Touring|
|1971-73||Jesus Christ Superstar||Judas Iscariot||Mark Hellinger Theatre||Broadway||1972 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Musical [nom]|
|1972-74||Pippin||Leading Player||Imperial Theater||Broadway,
|1973 Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical [winner]|
|1985||Grind||LeRoy||Mark Hellinger Theatre||Broadway||Replacement|
|1992-93||Jelly's Last Jam||Chimney Man||Shubert Theater||Broadway||Replacement|
|1995-96||A Christmas Carol||Actor||Madison Square Garden||Broadway|
|1999||Chicago||Billy Flynn||U.S. & Canada Tour||Touring|
|2002||I'm not Rappaport||Midge||Shubert Theater||Broadway,
|Revival, Play, Comedy|
|2003||The Exonerated||Actor||Off-Broadway||Off Broadway|
|2005-6||Wicked||The Wonderful Wizard of Oz||Gershwin Theatre||Broadway||Replacement|
Vereen has also starred in numerous television programs, and is well known for the role of 'Chicken' George Moore in Alex Haley's landmark TV miniseries Roots, for which he received an Emmy nomination in 1977.
In 1978, on a Boston Pops TV special, Vereen performed a tribute to Bert Williams, complete with period makeup and attire, and reprising Williams' high-kick dance steps, to vaudeville standards such as "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee".
In 1981, Vereen preformed at Ronald Reagan's first inauguration. The performance generated controversy as Vereen performed the first part of the show in blackface. Before the finale, ABC cut the live performance, generating confusion and anger from viewers at home.
He was cast opposite Jeff Goldblum in the short-lived detective series Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Vereen worked steadily on television with projects ranging from the sitcom Webster to the drama Silk Stalkings.
In 1985, Vereen starred in the Faerie Tale Theatre series as Puss in Boots alongside Gregory Hines. He appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse", in which he played Will Smith's biological father, Lou Smith. He made several appearances on the 1980s sitcom Webster as the title character's biological uncle.
He also appeared as Mayor Ben (a leopard) on the children's program Zoobilee Zoo and as Itsy Bitsy Spider in Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme. In 1993 he appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Interface", as the father of Roots co-star LeVar Burton's Geordi LaForge - fellow Roots star Madge Sinclair portrayed his wife (Geordi's mother) as well. In Roots, Vereen had played "Chicken George", the grandson of another Burton character, Kunta Kinte. He also appeared on the television series The Nanny episode "Pishke Business". In 2010, he appeared on the television series How I Met Your Mother episodes "Cleaning House" and "False Positive" as Sam Gibbs, the long lost father of James Gibbs, Barney Stinson's brother. He returned in 2013 and 2014 for another two episodes.
- Sweet Charity (1969)
- Gas-s-s-s (1971)
- Funny Lady (1975)
- All That Jazz (1979)
- Cycling Through China (1982) (documentary)
- Sabine (1982)
- The Zoo Gang (1985)
- Buy & Cell (1987)
- Once Upon a Forest (1993) (voice)
- Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998)
- I'll Take You There (1999)
- The Painting (2001)
- Idlewild (2006)
- And Then Came Love (2007)
- Tapioca (2007)
- Accidental Friendship (2008)
- Mama, I Want to Sing! (2011)
- Broadway: The Next Generation (2011) (documentary)
- Khumba (2013) (voice) Mkhulu the Elder Zebra
- Time Out Of Mind (2014) Dixon
- Top Five (2014)
- Ben Vereen... Comin' at Ya (1975) (summer replacement series - only 4 episodes produced)
- Louis Armstrong - Chicago Style (1976)
- The Muppet Show (1976)
- Roots (1977) (miniseries)
- The Carol Burnett Show (1977)
- The Sentry Collection Presents Ben Vereen: His Roots (1978)
- Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980) (canceled after 12 episodes)
- Pippin: His Life and Times (1981)
- The Love Boat (1982)
- SCTV 1984
- The Charmkins (1983) (voice)
- The Jesse Owens Story (1984)
- Ellis Island (1984)
- Webster (cast member from 1984–1985)
- A.D. (1985)
- The Magic of David Copperfield VIII: Walking Through the Great Wall of China (1986) (TV special)
- Lost in London (1985) roots
- Faerie Tale Theatre Puss in Boots (1985)
- Zoobilee Zoo (1986–1987)
- You Write the Songs (1986–1987)
- Jenny's Song (1988)
- J.J. Starbuck (cast member in 1988)
- Rockin' Through the Decades (1990)
- The Kid Who Loved Christmas (1990)
- Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme (1990)
- Silk Stalkings (cast member from 1991–1993)
- Intruders (1992)
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Interface" (Dr. Edward LaForge, 1993)
- Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse" (Lou Smith, 1994)
- The Nanny: "Pishke Business" (1994)
- Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: "Illusions of Grandeur" (Dr. Andre Novak) 1994
- Portraits of Courage (1996–1997)
- Promised Land (3 episodes in 1999)
- The Jamie Foxx Show: "Taps for Royal" (Royal Johnson, 1999)
- The Feast of All Saints (2001)
- Grey's Anatomy (2007)
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent: "Senseless" (Rev. Jeremiah Morris, 2007)
- Your Mama Don't Dance (Judge, 2008)
- How I Met Your Mother: "Cleaning House", "False Positive", "Mom and Dad" and "The End of the Aisle" (Sam Gibbs, 2010-2014)
- NCIS as Lamar Addison (2013)
- Hot in Cleveland as Mayor of Cleveland (2 episodes) (2015)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again as Dr. Everett von Scott (TV movie, 2016)
- Sneaky Pete as Porter (3 episodes) (2017)
- 1973 Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical: Pippin [winner]
- 1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance: Pippin [winner]
- 1972 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Jesus Christ Superstar [nominee]
- 1972 Theatre World Award: Jesus Christ Superstar [winner]
- 1985 Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television - Nominee
- 1976 Golden Globe: New Star of the Year - Actor - Nominee
- 1977 Emmy: Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in Variety or Music - Nominee
- 1977 Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series - Nominee
- 1992 Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special - Nominee
The Community Mental Health Council awarded Vereen with their 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award. For his humanitarian contributions, he has received a number of awards including Israel’s Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Arizona, Emerson College, St. Francis College, and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2001, Medgar Evers College created the Ben Vereen Scholarship for the Performing Arts, and in 2004, he received an Achievement in Excellence Award from his alma mater, the High School of the Performing Arts.
He was the first simultaneous winner of the “Entertainer of the Year,” “Rising Star,” and “Song and Dance Star” awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame.
Vereen was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his performance in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship. In 2004, Vereen was nominated for a “Career Achievement Award” by the Le Prix International Film Star Awards Organization.
Vereen has appeared as a public speaker and humanitarian speaking on such topics as black history, overcoming adversity, and the importance of continuing education.
In 2007 he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and has a website in which he shares his personal story along with advice from medical experts.
According to the 'Fayetteville Observer' of April 29, 2006, Vereen learned while applying for a passport in the late 1960s that he was adopted. His birth certificate revealed that his birth name was Benjamin Augustus Middleton, that he was the son of Essie Middleton, and that he was born in Laurinburg, NC. In April 2006, Vereen visited Scotland County with a genealogist on a search for family members and learned that his mother's name was Essie May Pearson. The Laurinburg Exchange reported: "Vereen, an adoptee who learned that he was born in Laurinburg and made a celebrated trip to Scotland County in 2006 to reconnect with family. While on the trip he learned his mother had died 24 years before, but that several relatives still lived in the area." According to her acquaintances, Essie had gone on a trip when Vereen was a child, and had left her baby in someone's care. When she returned, the child was gone. In the April 28, 2006 interview with the 'Laurinburg Exchange', Vereen said that his visit "has just all been so overwhelming ... I've finally found my family". In May 2006, he met his mother's daughter, (his sister), Gloria Walker, of Derby, Connecticut. He also has a brother, James Middleton, who lives in Tucson, Arizona.
In 1992, Vereen was the victim of a life-threatening automobile accident when he was struck by a car driven by record producer David Foster while walking along a Malibu highway. His critical injuries (including a broken leg) required him to undergo arduous physical rehabilitation in the ensuing months.
Vereen is the godfather of R&B superstar Usher and is also the first cousin once removed of New York Giants running back Shane Vereen. Vereen was the keynote speaker for the Boys & Girls Clubs in St. Petersburg, Florida annual alumni tribute gala held in October 2007.
In August 2011, Vereen was named Co-Artistic Director of Tampa's Broadway Theatre Project.
- "Ben Vereen". Retrieved 6 November 2011.
- "Ben Vereen Writes About 'Blood Family' in New Book". EURweb. 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- "Ben Vereen Biography (Actor/Dancer) —". Infoplease.com. 1946-10-10. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- Playbill.com Archived September 28, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Lentz, John. "Farr cancels, Vereen in at Putting on the Ritz Nov. 7" Archived August 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. The Laurinburg Exchange, accessed June 11, 2011
- WTNH news
- via Associated Press. "Vereen moving to Saddle River", Daytona Beach Morning Journal, July 15, 1982. Accessed December 17, 2013. "Actor and Singer Ben Vereen is putting down new roots in Saddle River because, he joked Wednesday, the residents 'asked me to move out there to improve the neighborhood.'"
- Gliatto, Tom (1992-12-07). "The Road Back". People.com. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- "Ben Vereen interview by Chet Cooper". Abilitymagazine.com. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- "Ben Vereen: Awake, Aware, and Alive". Cabaret.broadwayworld.com. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- Theatremania Press Release for Ben Vereen CoArtistic Director for Tampa's Broadway Project
- "Ben Veeren files for divorce from wife of 36 years". AP. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ben Vereen.|
- Ben Vereen at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ben Vereen at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Ben Vereen at the Internet Movie Database
- http://www.lycos.com/info/ben-vereen--sweet-charity.html[permanent dead link]
- Ben Vereen Interviewed on XNDTV.com
- Angels of Love Spiritual Center (Rev. Ben Vereen, Spiritual Director)
- Official website