Bill Duke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bill Duke
Bill Duke (47003170452).jpg
Duke in New York City in February 2019
William Henry Duke Jr.

(1943-02-26) February 26, 1943 (age 77)
OccupationActor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active1961–present
Height1.94 m (6 ft 4 in)
AwardsAmerican Black Film Festival Career Achievement Award

William Henry Duke Jr. (born February 26, 1943) is an American actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter. Known for his physically imposing frame, Duke works primarily in the action and crime drama genres, but occasionally appears in comedy.[1] Frequently a character actor, he has starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and Predator, and has appeared in films like 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 often plays characters related to law enforcement.

As a director, he has helmed episodes of numerous television series including Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, The Twilight Zone, and American Playhouse, and the crime films Deep Cover and A Rage in Harlem, for which he was nominated for a Palme d'Or. He directed 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] After graduation from Dutchess he went on to Boston University for further instruction in drama and for his B.A.[5] After studying at New York University's Tisch School of Arts and the AFI Conservatory,[5] he appeared on Broadway in the 1971 Melvin Van Peebles musical Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death.[6]


Film roles[edit]

Standing at an imposing 6 feet 4½ inches 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.[7]

As the action-film-oriented genre became more popular, Duke's presence was perfect to portray a string of "tough guy" roles. He notably worked opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in both Commando and 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. He played a detective investigating a murder in Menace II Society, in which he delivered the often-quoted line, "You done fucked up, you know that, don't you?"[8] 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 appears in X-Men: The Last Stand as Trask, Washington in National Security, Levar in Get Rich or Die Tryin', Nokes in Bad Country and Caruthers in Mandy.[citation needed]

Directing career[edit]

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 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), starring Whoopi Goldberg. For television, Duke directed the A&E Network original film, The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2000). In 2007 he directed the reenactments in the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves, produced by Unity Productions Foundation.[10] Duke also directed episode for TV shows including Dallas, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice and Starman.

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 early appearance on Kojak 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". He also guest-starred in Battlestar Galactica in the season two episode "Black Market".[9]

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

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: SVU 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]

Duke is also the founder 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]

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

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


Acting roles[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1976 Car Wash Duane

1978 Charlie’s Angels Season 2 Episode 25, “Angels On The Run” - Cameo

1980 American Gigolo Leon James
1985 Commando Cooke
1987 Predator Sgt. Mac Eliot
1987 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
1993 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Mr. Johnson
1998 Susan's Plan Dect. Scott
1999 Payback Dect. Hicks
1999 Foolish Studio Producer
1999 The Limey Head DEA Agent Uncredited
1999 Fever Dect. Glass
2001 Never Again Earl
2001 Exit Wounds Chief Hinges
2002 Love and a Bullet Mysterious Voice on Phone
2002 Red Dragon Police Chief
2003 National Security Lt. Washington
2005 Get Rich or Die Tryin Levar Cahill
2006 X-Men: The Last Stand Secretary Bolivar Trask
2006 Yellow Miles Emory
2007 The Go-Getter Liquor
2010 Henry's Crime Frank
2010 The Big Bang Drummer
2012 Freaky Deaky Wendell Robinson
2014 Bad Country John Nokes
2014 Clipped Wings, They Do Fly District Attorney Adam Stevenson
2016 Restored Me Officer Brantley
2017 American Satan Gabriel
2018 Mandy Caruthers
2018–present Black Lightning Agent Percy Odell Recurring role (season 2–present)
2019 High Flying Bird Spence
TBA No Sudden Move Post-production

Films directed[edit]

Year Title Notes
1984 The Killing Floor
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
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 April 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  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)". 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.

External links[edit]