Larry Riley (actor)

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Larry Riley
Born(1953-06-20)June 20, 1953
DiedJune 6, 1992(1992-06-06) (aged 38)
OccupationActor, musician
Years active1971–1992
Nina Girvetz (m. 1991–1992)

Larry Riley (June 20, 1953 – June 6, 1992) was an American actor and musician, best known for his role as C.J. Memphis in the film A Soldier's Story (1984) and as Frank Williams in the prime-time TV soap opera Knots Landing.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Riley began acting in high school before studying drama at Memphis State University.[1] He made his professional stage debut in 1971, and went on to appear in various stage productions on and off-Broadway including A Broadway Musical, Shakespeare's Cabaret, I Love My Wife, and Big River, a musical based on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In 1982, Riley won a Clarence Derwent and Obie Award for his performance in A Soldier's Play. He later reprised the role in the 1984 film based on the play.[2] From 1984 to 1985, Riley portrayed the role of Curtis Taylor, Jr. in the national touring company of Dreamgirls. He also appeared as the leading player in the U.S. touring company of Pippin.[3]

From 1980 to 1982, Riley portrayed Calvin Barnes in the NBC daytime soap opera The Doctors. He later had guest roles on Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice, and appeared in Louis Malle's 1984 film Crackers. In 1985, Riley starred in the short-lived sitcom Stir Crazy, based on the 1980 film of the same name.[3] In 1988, he won the role of Frank Williams on the long-running nighttime soap Knots Landing, becoming the series' first regular African American cast member.[1] The role garnered Riley a Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Actor in a Primetime Supporting Role in 1991. Riley also created a musical tribute to Louis Jordan entitled "Let The Good Times Roll", which enjoyed success at the Cinegrill of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1988.[4] He has also voiced the arch villain Dumping Jack Trash in the children's animated series Fantastic Max.

In addition to acting, Riley was also a musician and singer. He sang in several episodes of Knots Landing and also composed the score for several episodes.[5]

Illness and death[edit]

In May 1989, Riley entered rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. The following year, he discovered he was HIV positive. According to his wife Nina, Riley "was not gay. He was not bisexual. He did not use needles at all. He speculated it was from a woman. Because he was quite the womanizer."[1] Fearful that news of his diagnosis would ruin his career, Riley did not disclose his illness to anyone except his wife and continued working on Knots Landing. To explain his dramatic weight loss, Riley claimed that he was suffering from kidney failure due to high blood pressure. Riley's true illness was revealed by his wife and doctor after his death.[1]

On June 6, 1992, Riley died of AIDS-related renal failure in Burbank, California, only fourteen days short of his 39th birthday. He was survived by his second wife Nina and a son, Larry, Jr.[6][7]

The Memphis Theatre Awards (now called "The Ostrander Awards") have, since his death, been annually presenting the "Larry Riley Award" to the best local young thespian in the college or community theatre scene who is about to embark on a professional theatre career. It is the only award of the approximately 50 annual awards that is accompanied with a check.


Year Title Role Notes
1980–1982 The Doctors Calvin Barnes Unknown episodes
1982 Muggable Mary, Street Cop Steve Kelsey Television movie
1982 Hill Street Blues Vernon Tucker Episode: "Little Boil Blue"
1984 A Soldier's Story C.J. Memphis
1984 Crackers Boardwalk
1984 Miami Vice Bobby Price Episode: "Cool Runnin'"
1985 Stir Crazy Harry Fletcher 9 episodes
1985 Badge of the Assassin Herman Bell Television movie
1986 The Twilight Zone Joshua Episode: "Quarantine"
1986 The Fall Guy Cleveland Tudor Episode: "Two on a Skip"
1986 One Police Plaza Detective Starling Television movie
1987 Spenser: For Hire Bo Braxton Episode: "One for My Daughter"
1987 Long Gone Joe Louis Brown Television movie
1988–1992 Knots Landing Frank Williams 111 episodes
1988 Dead Solid Perfect Spec Television movie
1988 Fantastic Max Dumping Jack Trash (voice) 3 episodes
1989 Unconquered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Television movie
1989 Polly Reverend Gillis Television movie
1990 Polly: Comin' Home! Reverend Gillis Television movie

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards and nominations
Year Award Category Title of work Result
1982 Clarence Derwent Awards Most Promising Male A Soldier's Play Won
1982 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play A Soldier's Play Nominated
1990 Soap Opera Digest Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor: Prime Time Knots Landing Nominated
1991 Soap Opera Digest Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor: Prime Time Knots Landing Won
1992 Soap Opera Digest Awards Outstanding Actor: Prime Time Knots Landing Nominated


  1. ^ a b c d Gliatto, Tom (June 22, 1992). "Death in Knots Landing". People. 37 (24). ISSN 0093-7673.
  2. ^ "Larry Riley, 39, Actor On 'Knots Landing'". The New York Times. June 10, 1992. Retrieved December 1, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Larry Riley Biography (1952–1992)". Retrieved December 1, 2009.
  4. ^ Heckman, Don (November 3, 1988). "CABARET REVIEW : Riley's Tribute to Louis Jordan". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ "Actor Larry Riley, 39, Dies of AIDS in Burbank, Calif". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 82 (10): 62. June 29, 1992. ISSN 0021-5996.
  6. ^ Theatre World 1991–1992, Volume 48. Hal Leonard Corporation. 2000. p. 240. ISBN 1-55783-142-4.
  7. ^ "Late Actor Larry Riley Of 'Knots Landing' Leaves $200,000 Estate To Widow". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 83 (22): 51. March 29, 1993. ISSN 0021-5996.

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