Bill Duke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bill Duke
Duke in New York City in February 2019
William Henry Duke Jr.

(1943-02-26) February 26, 1943 (age 81)
Occupation(s)Actor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active1961–present
Height1.94 m (6 ft 4 in)
SpouseShelia P. Moses
AwardsAmerican Black Film Festival Career Achievement Award, Lifetime achievement Directors Guild of America

William Henry Duke Jr. (born February 26, 1943) is an American actor and film director. Known for his physically imposing frame, Duke works primarily in the action and crime drama genres often as a character related to law enforcement.[1] Frequently a character actor, he has starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and Predator, and has appeared in films like Car Wash, American Gigolo, No Man's Land, Bird on a Wire, Menace II Society, Exit Wounds, Payback, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Mandy. In television, he is best known as Agent Percy Odell in Black Lightning.

He has directed episodes of numerous television series including Cagney & Lacey, Dallas, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, The Twilight Zone, and American Playhouse. He has also directed the crime films Deep Cover and A Rage in Harlem, for which he was nominated for a Palme d'Or, as well as the comedy Sister Act 2.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Duke was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of Ethel Louise (née Douglas) and William Henry Duke Sr.[3][4] He attended Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park[5] and later received his first instruction in the performing arts and in creative writing at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie.[5] Duke worked menial jobs seven days a week to cover his living expenses and intended to halt his education until Dr. James Hall, the first president of DCC, gave Duke a personal check to cover room, board and books for his next three years at Boston University, where (Duke) had secured an academic-based scholarship, intending to pursue medical school after graduation, to please his parents. He later switched to English Education and then instruction in dance and drama for the completion of his B.A.[5]

After graduating, Duke went on to study at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[5] Unable to secure enough acting work, he pan-handled, as well as shop-lifted groceries.[citation needed] He did, however, appear on Broadway in the 1971 Melvin Van Peebles musical Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death.[6] With acting roles dried up, Duke next attended AFI Conservatory to study filmmaking.[citation needed]


Film roles[edit]

Standing at an imposing 6 feet 4+12 inches (1.94 m) and with a closely shaved head, Duke first became a familiar face to moviegoers in Car Wash (1976), where he portrayed fierce young Black Muslim revolutionary Abdullah Mohammed Akbar (formerly known as Duane).[5] He expanded his repertoire with American Gigolo (1980), where he played a gay pimp, who co-orchestrates a murder, pinned on star Richard Gere.[7]

As the action-film-oriented genre became more popular, Duke portrayed a string of tough guys. He worked opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger with a small role in Commando. Then he acted alongside Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura in the scifi action thriller Predator, followed by a role as a police chief in the 1988 Carl Weathers vehicle Action Jackson.[5] Duke appeared uncredited as a DEA officer in The Limey (1999), as well as a police chief opposite Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds. In Menace II Society (1993), he played a police investigator who tricks the main character into contradicting himself during an interrogation, then tries to rattle him by repeating the line, "You done fucked up, you know that, don't you?"[8] The line became often-quoted.[citation needed] He played a corrupt law enforcement agent in two films opposite Mel GibsonBird on a Wire (as an FBI agent) and Payback (as a police detective). Duke appeared as Trask in X-Men: The Last Stand, Washington in National Security, Levar in Get Rich or Die Tryin', Nokes in Bad Country and Caruthers in Mandy.[citation needed]

Directing career[edit]

In the early 1980s, Duke accidentally secured a directing job on Knots Landing, due to a secretarial or clerical error at AFI Conservatory.[citation needed] However, the producers were pleased with his work, and he was kept on, eventually directing 10 episodes of the show.[citation needed] This made him one of the first four black television directors.[citation needed] Duke then directed episodes of Knots Landing's mother show Dallas and its sister show Falcon Crest (6 episodes). Next came action and cop shows Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice and Starman. He credits the benevolence and humanity of people like Larry Hagman and Jane Wyman for his early TV directing success, while he occasionally heard derogatory remarks, and even racial slurs, from crew members, including the Teamsters.[citation needed]

Duke directed the TV movie The Killing Floor in 1984. He began directing theatrical films in the 1990s with crime dramas A Rage in Harlem (1991), Deep Cover (1992) and Hoodlum (1997).[9] He also directed The Cemetery Club (1993) and the Whoopi Goldberg comedy sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).

For television, Duke directed the A&E Network original film, The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2000). In 2007 he directed the historical reenactments in the award-winning PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves.[10]

Duke teamed with screenwriter Bayard Johnson to co-produce Cover, a 2007 film which explores the HIV epidemic.[11]

He is set to direct The Power of One: The Diane Latiker Story, a film based on Chicago activist Diane Latiker.[12]

Television appearances[edit]

Duke made an appearance on Kojak in 1976, as Sylk in the episode "Bad Dude", in the third season of the series. He guest-starred in the fourth episode of Lost in its third season as Warden Harris, in the episode "Every Man for Himself".

Duke had a starring role in the short-lived TV series Palmerstown, U.S.A., produced by Norman Lear and Roots author, Alex Haley. Although the series was critically acclaimed and won an Emmy, it ran for only 17 episodes in the 1980–81 television season.[13][14]

He guest-starred in Battlestar Galactica remake in 2004, the season two episode "Black Market".[9]

Duke was cast as recurring character Capt. Parish in the action television series/crime drama Fastlane. He made a guest appearance on Baisden After Dark in the episode broadcast on July 18, 2008 and guest-starred on Cold Case as Grover Boone, a corrupt politician, in the 2008 episode "Street Money". Duke voiced a detective in the episode "Thank You for Not Snitching" of the animated television series The Boondocks. The character and his entire scene were references to Menace II Society.[citation needed] Duke appears in Busta Rhymes' music video "Dangerous".[15] Duke also appears in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a lawyer.[16] In May 2017, Duke appeared on episode 6 of the first season of the Outdoor Channel show Hollywood Weapons: Fact or Fiction?. Duke discussed with host Terry Schappert his time filming Predator, his character Sgt. Mac Elliot, and what it was like to fire an M134 Minigun.[17]

In 2018, Duke joined the second season of The CW superhero drama series Black Lightning as recurring character Agent Percy Odell, a dedicated A.S.A. government official.[18]

Other work[edit]

He has served on the board of trustees of the American Film Institute,[19][20] as a member of the California Film Commission board, appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger,[21][22] in the Time Warner Endowed Chair in the Department of Radio Television and Film at Howard University in Washington, D.C.,[20][23] and as a member of the National Endowment for the Humanities, appointed by President Bill Clinton.[20][24][25]

In 2011 he directed the documentary Dark Girls, which was nominated for an NAACP Award, followed by 2015's Light Girls.

Duke is also the founder & owner of the Duke Media Foundation that helps prepare young people for a career in all aspects of film, video and TV production.[5] Duke became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation in Ethiopia in 1973 under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Duke has been married to Shelia P. Moses.

As of 2018, Duke resides in Los Angeles.[5]

Duke is an honorary member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.[26]



Year Title Role Notes
1976 Car Wash Duane / Abdullah
1980 American Gigolo Leon James
1985 Commando Cooke
1987 Predator Sgt. Mac Eliot
No Man's Land Malcolm
1988 Action Jackson Capt. Earl Armbruster
1989 Street of No Return Lt. Borel
1990 Bird on a Wire FBI Agent Albert "Diggs" Diggins
1993 Menace II Society Detective
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Mr. Johnson
1998 Susan's Plan Dect. Scott
1999 Payback Det. Hicks
Foolish Studio Producer
The Limey Head DEA Agent
Fever Det. Glass
2001 Never Again Earl
Exit Wounds Chief Hinges
2002 Love and a Bullet Mysterious Voice on Phone
Red Dragon Police Chief
2003 National Security Lieutenant Washington
2005 Get Rich or Die Tryin Levar Cahill
2006 X-Men: The Last Stand Secretary Bolivar Trask
Yellow Miles Emory
2007 The Go-Getter Liquor
2009 Level 26: Dark Origins Jack Mitchell Short
2010 Henry's Crime Frank
The Big Bang Drummer
2012 Freaky Deaky Wendell Robinson
2014 Bad Country John Nokes
2016 Restored Me Officer Brantley
Beyond the Silence District Attorney Adam Stevenson
2017 American Satan Gabriel
2018 Mandy Caruthers
Clipped Wings, They Do Fly District Attorney Adam Stevenson
2019 High Flying Bird Spence
Hollow Point Senior Guard James
2021 No Sudden Move Aldrick Watkins
The Vandal Harold Short
2022 In Search of Tomorrow Himself Documentary


Year Title Role Notes
1972–75 ABC Afterschool Specials Mr. Sands Episode: "Santiago’s Ark" & "Santiago's America"
1976 Kojak Sylk Episode: "Bad Dude"
On the Rocks - Episode: "High Noon"
1978 Starsky & Hutch Officer Dryden Episode: "Hutchinson for Murder One"
Charlie’s Angels David Pearl Episode: "Angels on the Run"
Love Is Not Enough 'Happy' Jordan TV movie
Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force Sgt. Langford TV movie
1980–81 Palmerstown, U.S.A. Luther Freeman Main cast
1981 Benson Mad-Dog Episode: "The Grass Ain't Greener"
1986 Dallas: The Early Years Seth Foster TV movie
1987 Starman Steven Putnam Episode: "The System"
1989 American Playhouse FBI Agent #2 Episode: "The Meeting"
1994 New York Undercover Hitman Episode: "Pilot"
1998 Biography Narrator Episode: "Nat King Cole: Loved in Return"
Always Outnumbered Blackbird Wills TV movie
2002 Justice League Detective (voice) Episode: "The Brave and the Bold"
2002–03 Fastlane Capt. Bob Parish Recurring cast
2003–04 Karen Sisco Amos Andrews Main cast
2006 Battlestar Galactica Phelan Episode: "Black Market"
Lost Warden Harris Episode: "Every Man for Himself"
2007 The Boondocks Detective (voice) Episode: "Thank You for Not Snitching"
2008 Cold Case Grover Boone '05/'08 Episode: "Street Money"
My Own Worst Enemy Serge Khabako Episode: "Love in All the Wrong Places"
2011 Chaos General Margolis Episode: "Core Fortitude"
2013 Battledogs President Donald Sheridan TV movie
2015 Between Gord's Father Episode: "End of the Rope"
2016 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Ed Pastrino Episode: "Intersecting Lives" & "Heartfelt Passages"
2018–21 Black Lightning Agent Percy Odell Recurring cast (season 2-3), guest (season 4)
2020 Ghost Tape Byron Dixon Main cast
2021 The Oval Curtis Episode: "Like a Boss" & "Doomsday"
2022 Gaslit Charles Anderson Episode: "California"

Films directed[edit]

Year Title Notes
1984 The Killing Floor
1989 A Raisin In The Sun
1991 A Rage in Harlem
1992 Deep Cover
1993 The Cemetery Club
1993 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
1996 America's Dream
1997 Hoodlum
2000 The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery
2001 Angel: One More Road to Cross [27]
2003 Deacons for Defense
2007 Cover Also a producer
2009 Not Easily Broken
2011 Dark Girls Also a producer
2017 Created Equal


  2. ^ Duke, Bill. My 40-Year Career on Screen and behind the Camera. Rowman. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  3. ^ "Bill Duke Biography (1943–)". Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  4. ^ "Bill Duke Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Archived from the original on April 30, 2006.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, Nick (November 16, 2018). "Bill Duke recounts steps to success". The Spectrum. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  6. ^ Simonson, Robert (September 29, 2004). "Death Lives as Harlem Revival of Van Peebles Work Begins Sept. 29". Playbill. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  7. ^ "Bill Duke". Metrograph. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  8. ^ Video on YouTube
  9. ^ a b Gaydos, Steven (December 8, 2018). "Bill Duke Remembers the Theater Training That Helped Him". Variety. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  10. ^ "Slave's Royal Lineage Chronicled in New Film". NPR. February 4, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  11. ^ Barnes, Mike (February 12, 2016). "Bayard Johnson, 'Tarzan and the Lost City' Screenwriter, Dies at 63". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  12. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (July 18, 2019). "Bill Duke To Helm 'The PThe Diane Latiker Story' Feature". Deadline. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  13. ^ "Bill Duke". The History Makers. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  14. ^ "Norman Lear and Alex Haley's Palmerstown, U.S.A. returns on GeTTV". GetTV. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  15. ^ Video on YouTube
  16. ^ "Bill Duke - My 40-Year Career on Screen and Behind the Camera". Acappella Books. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  17. ^ "Terry and the Minigun (TV Episode 2017)". IMDb. Hollywood Weapons: Fact or Fiction?.
  18. ^ Mangum, Trey (October 9, 2018). "Robert Townsend And Bill Duke Join 'Black Lightning' Season 2". Shadow and Act. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  19. ^ "A Tribute to Director Bill Duke". DGA. February 23, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d Ellis, George (2015). A Symphony of Silence: An Enlightened Vision 2nd Editio. ISBN 9781508944256.
  21. ^ McNary, Dave (May 3, 2004). "California teaming with producer". Variety. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  22. ^ "Governor Schwarzenegger announces appointmets to California Film Commission". IATSE. May 15, 2006. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  23. ^ "Howard University to Get $2 Million for Communications Chair". Diverse Education. April 26, 1999. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  24. ^ "President Clinton names Bill Duke to the National Council on the Humanities". White House. October 16, 2000. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  25. ^ Duke, Bill (2018). Bill Duke : my 40-year career on screen and behind the camera. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781538105566.
  26. ^ "Bill Duke and Wayne Brady are now Honorary Members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity". Watch The Yard. June 15, 2020.
  27. ^ "Angel: One More Road to Cross" – via IMDb.

External links[edit]