Billy Dee Williams

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Billy Dee Williams
Billy Dee Williams 2015.jpg
Billy Dee Williams at the Florida SuperCon, June 2015
Born William December Williams, Jr.
(1937-04-06) April 6, 1937 (age 78)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, artist, singer, writer
Years active 1957-present
Spouse(s) Teruko Nakagami (m.1972- Present), Marlene Clark (m.1968-1971)

William December "Billy Dee" Williams, Jr. (born April 6, 1937) is an American actor, artist, singer, and writer best known for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars film franchise, as well as acting in the movies Brian's Song, Lady Sings the Blues, and for playing Harvey Dent in Tim Burton's Batman.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in New York City, New York, the son of Loretta Anne, a West Indian-born elevator operator from Montserrat, and William December Williams, Sr., an African-American caretaker from Texas.[1][2] He has a twin sister, Loretta, and grew up in Harlem, where he was raised by his maternal grandmother while his parents worked at several jobs. Williams graduated from the High School of Music and Art, later merged with the High School of Performing Arts to become the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, where he was a classmate of Diahann Carroll, who would later play the wife of his character Brady Lloyd on the 1980s prime-time soap opera Dynasty.

Acting career[edit]


Williams first appeared on Broadway in 1945 in The Firebrand of Florence.[3] He returned to Broadway as an adult in 1960 in the adaptation of The Cool Word. He appeared in A Taste of Honey in 1961. A 1976 Broadway production, I Have a Dream, was directed by Robert Greenwald and starred Williams as Martin Luther King, Jr.[4] His most recent Broadway appearance was in August Wilson's Fences, as a replacement for James Earl Jones in the role of Troy Maxson in 1988.[5]


Williams made his film debut in 1959 in The Last Angry Man, opposite Paul Muni, in which he portrayed a delinquent young man. He rose to stardom after starring in the critically lauded blockbuster biographical television movie, Brian's Song (1971), in which he played Chicago Bears star football player Gale Sayers, who stood by his friend Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), during Piccolo's struggle with terminal cancer. The film was so popular that it was given a theatrical release. Both Williams and Caan were nominated for Emmy Awards for best actor for their performances.[6]

Having broken through, Williams became one of America's most well-known black film actors of the 1970s, after starring in a string of critically acclaimed and popular movies, many of them in the "blaxploitation" genre. In 1972, he starred as Billie Holiday's husband Louis McKay in Motown Productions' Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. The film was a box office blockbuster, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year and received five Academy Award nominations. Diana Ross starred in Lady Sings the Blues opposite Williams; Motown paired the two of them again three years later in the successful follow-up project Mahogany.

The early 1980s brought Williams the role of Lando Calrissian, which he played in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Calrissian's charm proved to be popular with audiences. He reprised the role when he lent his voice for the character in the 2002 video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, as well as the audio dramatization of Dark Empire, the National Public Radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, and two productions for the Star Wars: Battlefront series: Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron. Between his appearances in the Star Wars films, he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone as a cop in the 1981 thriller Nighthawks.

He co-starred in 1989's Batman as district attorney Harvey Dent, a role that was planned to develop into Dent's alter-ego, the villain Two-Face, in sequels. Unfortunately for Williams, that never came to pass; he was set to reprise the role in a more villainous light in the sequel Batman Returns, but his character was deleted and replaced with villain Max Shreck. When Joel Schumacher stepped in to direct Batman Forever, where Two-Face was to be a secondary villain, Schumacher decided to hire Tommy Lee Jones for the part.[7] There was a rumor that Schumacher had to pay Williams a fee in order to hire Jones, but Williams said that it was not true: "You only get paid if you do the movie. I had a two-picture deal with Star Wars. They paid me for that, but I only had a one picture deal for Batman."[8]

After The Walt Disney Company acquired ownership of Lucasfilm in 2012, plans for a sequel trilogy to the Star Wars films were announced. On April 29, 2014, Disney announced a cast list for Star Wars Episode VII, set decades after Episode VI.[9] The confirmed cast included the actors who portrayed Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, along with Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2, but Calrissian's character was omitted. It is unknown why Williams was not included in the cast list announcement. Fans made their displeasure known on social networks immediately.[10]


Williams's television work included a recurring guest-starring role on the short-lived show Gideon's Crossing. He is also well known for his appearance in advertisements for Colt 45 (a brand of malt liquor) in the 1980s and early 1990s, for which he received much criticism. Williams responded indifferently to the criticism of his appearances in the liquor commercials. When questioned about his appearances, he allegedly replied by saying, "I drink, you drink. Hell, if marijuana was legal, I'd appear in a commercial for it."[11]

In the 1984-1985 season of Dynasty, he played Brady Lloyd opposite Diahhan Carroll.

Williams was paired with actress Marla Gibbs on three situation comedies: The Jeffersons (Gibbs's character, Florence, had a crush on Williams and challenged him on everything because she thought he was an imposter); 227 (her character, Mary, pretending to be royalty, met Williams at a banquet); and The Hughleys (Gibbs and Williams portrayed Darryl's parents).

In 1992, he portrayed Berry Gordy in The Jacksons: An American Dream.

In 1993, Williams had a guest appearance on the spin-off to The Cosby Show, A Different World, as Langston Paige, a grumpy landlord, in a backdoor pilot for his own series.

Williams made a special guest appearance on the hit sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1990. He portrayed Pastor Dan in an episode of That '70s Show. In this episode entitled "Baby Don't You Do It" (2004), his character is obsessed with Star Wars, and uses this to help counsel Eric Forman (himself a Star Wars fan) and Donna Pinciotti about their premarital relationship. Williams made a cameo appearance as himself on the television series Lost in the episode "Exposé". He also appears regularly on short clips on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! as a semi-parody of himself. In February 2006, he guest starred as himself in the season 5 episode "Her Story II" of Scrubs, where he plays the godfather of Julie (Mandy Moore). Turk hugs him, calling him "Lando", even though he prefers to be called Billy Dee. He was also in the Martin Lawrence situation comedy Martin.

He played Toussaint Dubois for General Hospital: Night Shift in 2007 and 2008. Williams reprised his role as Toussaint on General Hospital beginning in June 2009. Also in 2009, he took on the role of the voice of Admiral Bitchface, the head of the military on the planet Titan in the Adult Swim animated series Titan Maximum. In July 2010, Williams appeared in the animated series The Boondocks, where he voiced a fictionalized version of himself in the episode "The Story of Lando Freeman".

In February 2011, Williams appeared as a guest star on USA Network's White Collar as Ford, an old friend of Neal Caffrey's landlady June, played by Diahann Carroll. In February 2012, Williams was the surprise guest during a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show spotlighting Diana Ross. Ross and Williams were reunited after having not seen each other in 29 years. In October 2012, Williams appeared as a guest star on NCIS in Season 10 Episode 5 titled "Namesake", as Gibbs' namesake and his father's former best friend, Leroy Jethro Moore. On January 9, 2013, Williams appeared as himself in a cameo role on Modern Family, Season 4 / Episode 11 "New Year's Eve".

It was announced on March 4, 2014 that Williams would be competing on the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars. He partnered with professional dancer Emma Slater.[12] The couple had to withdraw from the competition on the third week due to an injury to Williams' back.

In spite of his absence from Episode VII, Williams returned to the role Lando Calrissian in a 2015 episode of Star Wars Rebels.[13]

Other ventures[edit]


In 1961, Williams ventured into the music industry when he recorded a jazz LP produced by Prestige Records entitled Let's Misbehave, on which he sang several swing standards. The album, which was a commercial success at the time, made Williams eligible for an appearance in the legendary Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (1983).

Video games[edit]

Williams voiced Lando Calrissian in the video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Star Wars Battlefront as well as the spin-off Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron (however, the Battlefront appearances were archive footage and his voice-appearance in Elite Squadron is left uncredited or unknown). He also played a live-action character, GDI Director Redmond Boyle, in the game Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, which was released in March 2007. This made him the second former Star Wars actor to appear in a Command & Conquer game, with the first being James Earl Jones as GDI General James Solomon in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun.


In 2008, Williams reprised his role as Lando Calrissian to appear in a video on in a mock political ad defending himself for leader of the Star Wars galaxy against vicious attack ads from Emperor Palpatine.[14] Williams is currently a cast member of Diary of a Single Mom, a web based original series directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Townsend. The series debuted on in 2009.[15]


Before he began acting, Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design in New York. In the late 1980s, he resumed painting. Some of his work can be seen at his online gallery BDW World Art. He has had solo exhibitions in various galleries around the United States, and his work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution and the Schomburg Museum. The covers of the Thelonious Monk Competition programs since 1990 are by him.

Personal life[edit]

Marriages and family[edit]

Williams has been married three times. His first marriage was to Audrey Sellers in 1959. They were divorced some years later, after which he apparently became quite depressed: "[...] there was a period when I was very despondent, broke, depressed, my first marriage was on the rocks. "They have a son, Corey Williams. [16]

In 1968, Williams married model and actress Marlene Clark in Hawaii. Their marriage lasted only two years and they officially divorced in 1971.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

He married Teruko Nakagami on December 27, 1972. She brought a daughter, Miyako (b. 1962), from her previous marriage to musician Wayne Shorter. They have a daughter Hanako (b. 1973). They filed for divorce in 1993,[24] but were reported to have reconciled in 1997.[25][26]

Legal problems[edit]

Williams was arrested on January 30, 1996 after allegedly beating his live-in girlfriend, whom the police did not identify.[27] He was freed from custody the following day after posting a US$50,000 bail.[28] Williams stated through his attorney that he expected to be fully exonerated of the charges.[29] The Los Angeles city attorney's office filed misdemeanor charges of spousal battery and dissuading a witness against Williams.[30] The woman, identified only as "Patricia", later stated the incident was her fault and that she hoped the police would drop the case.[31] In a plea bargain agreement to dismiss the charges, Williams was ordered to undergo 52 counseling sessions.[32]



Year Title Role Notes
1959 The Last Angry Man Josh Quincy
1970 The Out-of-Towners Lost & Found - Boston
1970 Carter's Army Private Lewis TV Movie
1972 The Final Comedown Johnny Johnson
1972 Lady Sings the Blues Louis McKay
1973 Hit! Nick Allen
1974 The Take Sneed
1975 Mahogany Brian Walker
1976 The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings Bingo Long
1977 Scott Joplin Scott Joplin TV Movie
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Lando Calrissian
1981 Nighthawks Sergeant Matthew Fox
1983 Marvin & Tige Richard Davis
1983 Return of the Jedi Lando Calrissian
1984 Fear City Al Wheeler
1984 Terror in the Aisles
1987 Number One with a Bullet Detective Hazeltine
1987 Deadly Illusion Hamberger
1989 Batman Harvey Dent
1990 Secret Agent OO Soul Secret Agent Zero
1991 Driving Me Crazy Max
1991 Trabbi goes to Hollywood
1992 Giant Steps Slate Thompson
1993 Alien Intruder Commander Skyler Video
1996 Steel Sharks Admiral Jim Perry
1996 The Prince Jamie Hicks
1996 Mask of Death Agent Jeffries
1997 Moving Target Detective Don Racine
1998 The Contract
1998 Woo
1999 Fear Runs Silent Sheriff Hammond Video
2000 The Visit Henry
2000 The Ladies Man Lester
2001 Good Neighbor Sergeant Paul Davidson
2002 The Last Place on Earth Dr Davis
2002 Undercover Brother General Warren Boutwell
2004 The Maintenance Man Melven Video
2005 Constellation Helms Boxer
2006 Hood of Horror Pastor Charlie
2008 iMurders Robert Delgado
2009 Fanboys Judge Reinhold
2009 This Bitter Earth
2009 The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll Ace Millstone
2010 Barry Munday Lonnie Green
2014 The Lego Movie (2014) (voice) Lando Calrissian (voice)
Short subjects
  • Very Heavy Love (2001)
  • Oedipus (2004) (voice)


Year Title Role Notes
1966 Guiding Light
1969 Lost Flight
1970 Carter's Army
1971 Mission Impossible (guest starred in "The Miracle" episode)
1971 Brian's Song Gale Sayers TV Movie
1972 The Glass House Lennox TV Movie
1978 The Jeffersons as himself 1 episode, Me and Billy Dee
1979 Christmas Lilies of the Field Homer Smith TV Movie
1980 The Hostage Tower Clarence Whitlock TV Movie
1980 Children of Divorce Walter Williams TV Movie
1983 Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever
1983 Shooting Stars Douglas Hawk TV Movie
1983 Chiefs Tyler Watts (aka Joshua Cole) 3 episodes, TV miniseries
1984 Time Bomb Wes Tanner TV Movie
1984 The Imposter Matthew Raines TV Movie
1984-85 Dynasty (cast member from 1984–1985) Brady Lloyd 5 episodes
1985 Double Dare (1985) Billy Diamond (canceled after 3 episodes)
1986 Blood, Sweat and Tears unsold pilot
1986 The Right of the People Mike Trainor TV Movie
1986 Oceans of Fire Jim McKinley TV Movie
1986 Courage Bobby Jay TV Movie
1987 Diana Ross: Red Hot Rhythm & Blues
1988 The Return of Desperado Daniel Lancaster TV Movie
1990 Dangerous Passion Lou TV Movie
1990 Wiseguy Jesse Hains 1 episode, Changing Houses
1992 In Living Color
1992 The Jacksons: An American Dream Berry Gordy TV Movie
1993 Marked for Murder Captain Jack Reilly TV Movie
1993 A Different World Langston Paige 1 episode, College Kid
1993 Martin
1993 Percy & Thunder Ralph Tate TV Movie
1993 Message from Nam Felix TV Movie
1994 Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III Francis Cardozo 3 episodes, TV miniseries
1994 Lonesome Dove: The Series Aaron Grayson 3 episodes
1995 Triplecross Oscar TV Movie
1995 Falling for You Lieutenant Frank TV Movie
1997 The Fourth King Gasparre TV Movie
1998 Hard Time Leo Barker TV Movie
1998 18 Wheels of Justice
1999-2001 The Hughleys (1999 & 2001) Jerry Rose 2 episodes "Roots: Part 2" & Forty Acres and a Fool
2000-2001 Epoch: Evolution
2004 That 70s Show (2004) Pastor Dan 1 episode
2004 Half & Half (2004) Otis 'Omar Funk' Wright 1 episode
2006 Scrubs (2006) 1 episode
2007 General Hospital: Night Shift
2007 Lost (2007) 1 episode
2008 Mind of Mencia
2008 Private Practice (2008) Henry 1 episode
2008 Robot Chicken (2008) 2 episodes
2008 Bring Back... Star Wars
2009 General Hospital Toussiant DuBois 5 episodes
2009 Titan Maximum Admiral Bitchface 5 episodes
2010 Jimmy Kimmel Live: Game Night
2010 The Boondocks episode 10
2011 White Collar
2011 The Cleveland Show
2012 The Life & Times of Tim 1 episode
2012 Mad 1 episode
2012 NCIS
2012 Key & Peele 1 episode
2013 Modern Family as himself 1 episode
2014 Dancing with the Stars season 18
2014 Glee Andy Collins Season 5, 1 episode
2014 NCIS Leroy Jethro Moore May 2014
2015 Star Wars Rebels Lando Calrissian 2 episodes, voice

Recorded musical work[edit]

Video game work[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Billy Dee Williams." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. Ed. Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 1742–43.


  1. ^ "Billy Dee Williams - Interview". African American Literature Book Club. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ "S W A D - Williams, Billy Dee". Archived from the original on July 1, 2009. 
  3. ^ Billy Dee Williams at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. ^ "The Theater: A King in Darkness", Time, October 4, 1976, retrieved January 3, 2009 
  5. ^ Falkner, David (February 7, 1988), "The Actor as Athlete: Subtle and Complex Portrait", New York Times, retrieved January 3, 2009 
  6. ^ Awards and nominations for Brian's Song (1971) at IMDB
  7. ^ Bentley, David (July 2008). "Aaron Eckhart on creating the new face of Two Face". Coventry Telegraph. Archived from the original on May 24, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Billy Dee Williams Talks Two-Face, Did Not Get Paid For Batman Forever". November 2, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Star Wars VII cast confirmed as Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill return". Mail Online. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Star Wars 7 cast: Where is Lando Calrissian?". The Independent. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  11. ^ Kiefaber, David (July 20, 2007). "Billy Dee's charisma still works every time". AdWeek Blogs. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Dancing With the Stars Cast Revealed! Cody Simpson, Nene Leakes and James Maslow Are Among the Names—See the Full List!". E! Online. March 4, 2014. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  13. ^ Goldberg, Matt (June 25, 2014). "Writer-Producer Simon Kinberg Talks STAR WARS REBELS, His Duties on the Show, and the Thrill of Writing for Original Trilogy Characters". Collider. Retrieved May 9, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Vote for Lando Calrissian! w/ BILLY DEE WILLIAMS". Funny or Die. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  15. ^ "About the show - Robert Townsend's Diary of a Single Mom". June 9, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 26, 1975). "Interview with Billy Dee Williams". Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  17. ^ Goldweber, David Elroy (2014). Claws & Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film 1902-1982: A Complete Guide. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781312288034. 
  18. ^ Armstrong, Lois (7 July 1980). "Out of this World". People. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "At Home With Billy Dee". Jet. 18 January 1979. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  20. ^ Sanders, Charles L. (June 1983). "Billy Dee Williams: The Serious Side of a Sex Symbol". Ebony. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  21. ^ Gates, Jr., Henry Louis; Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2005). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience 5-Volume Set. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195170559. 
  22. ^ McCann, Bob (2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. ISBN 9780786458042. 
  23. ^ Pierce, Ponchitta (April 1974). "A Look Into The Private Life of Billy Dee Williams". Ebony. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  24. ^ Jet, July 5, 1993[dead link]
  25. ^ "Billy Dee Williams". Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Billy Dee Williams Biography (1937-)". Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  27. ^ Merril, Laurie C (February 1, 1996). "COPS NAB BILLY DEE WILLIAMS IN BEATING". Daily News. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Billy Dee Williams Arrested". Chicago Tribune. January 31, 1996. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Actor Billy Dee Williams Is Freed in Domestic Violence Case". Los Angeles Times. February 1, 1996. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Billy Dee Williams Charged in Spousal Battery Case". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 1996. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  31. ^ Benza, A.J., Lewittes, Michael (February 20, 1996). "GAL PAL'S BILLY DEE-FENSE". Daily News. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  32. ^ "Actor Billy Dee Williams charged with slapping girlfriend; ordered to undergo counseling.". Jet. April 15, 1996. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast". Allgame. Retrieved May 8, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Harvey Dent Actor
Succeeded by
Tommy Lee Jones