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Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, Rawlins appeared in off-Broadway productions of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Winterset, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, and Nightride, for which he won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.
His Broadway credits included A Man for All Seasons and Da, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play. Rawlins also won Obie Awards for his performance in the 1964 off-Broadway production of the play The Old Glory by the poet Robert Lowell and for his performances in off-Broadway productions of Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow and Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler.
On television, Rawlins had recurring roles on The Defenders, Kojak, and Ryan's Hope. His feature films included Diary of a Mad Housewife and They Might Be Giants. Rawlins was a regular on the CBS soap opera, The Edge of Night for several years, where he played the role of wealthy Orin Hillyer.
He also could be heard on television and radio commercials, and was most notably the voice-over for the Dunkin' Donuts TV and radio advertising campaign created by the New York advertising agency Ally & Gargano.
- CMU School of Drama: Notable Alumni, drama.cmu.edu; accessed June 8, 2015.
- Lester Rawlins at the Lucille Lortel Archives, lortel.org; accessed June 8, 2015.
- "The Old Glory Revival, Article in Playbill". Playbill.com. 2011-09-22. Archived from the original on 2012-01-29. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
- "NY Times Obituary". Nytimes.com. 1988-03-29. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
- Lester Rawlins at the Internet Broadway Database
- Lester Rawlins on Internet Movie Database