Ron O'Neal

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Ron O'Neal
Ron O'neal.jpg
O'Neal in Super Fly (1972)
Born(1937-09-01)September 1, 1937
DiedJanuary 14, 2004(2004-01-14) (aged 66)
EducationThe Ohio State University
OccupationActor, director, writer
Years active1969–2002
Carol T. Banks
(m. 1973⁠–⁠1980)

Audrey Pool
(m. 1993⁠–⁠2004)

Ron O'Neal (September 1, 1937 – January 14, 2004) was an American actor, director and screenwriter, who rose to fame in his role as Youngblood Priest, a New York cocaine dealer, in the blaxploitation film Super Fly (1972) and its sequel Super Fly T.N.T. (1973). O'Neal was also a director and writer for the sequel, and for the film Up Against the Wall.

Early life[edit]

Ron O'Neal grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, to parents Eunice and Ernest O'Neal, a former jazz musician who earned his living as a factory worker. Ernest died when Ron was 16 years old. Six months later his brother, who worked as a truck driver, was killed in an accident. Following these tragedies his mother found a job in a hospital to sustain the family. Ron graduated from Glenville High School and attended Ohio State University, where he became interested in acting after seeing the play Finian's Rainbow. He joined the Karamu House company in Cleveland, Ohio, working with the oldest African-American theatre company in the United States from 1957 until 1964, during which period he appeared in plays such as Kiss Me, Kate, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun, while working as a housepainter to earn his living. In 1964, he went to New York, teaching acting classes at the Harlem Youth Arts Program and appearing in Off-Broadway plays.


In 1969, he appeared in the Broadway play Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. In 1969, appearing in Charles Gordone's Pulitzer Prize-winning play No Place to Be Somebody,[1] he garnered even more attention, winning an Obie Award and several other prizes. From there, he moved on to cinema with two minor roles in Move (1970) and The Organization (1971), after which he was contacted by a friend from Cleveland, screenwriter Phillip Fenty, who suggested he star in an all-black film about a drug dealer. Although shot on a meager budget, the film, Super Fly (1972), went on to become a major hit at the box office.

The success of that film led to a sequel, Super Fly T.N.T. (1973), which O'Neal himself directed, and in which he reprised his role as Youngblood Priest. Nevertheless, the movie was a box office failure. Afterward, he was frequently typecast as pimp or drug dealer. In 1975, he returned to Broadway, starring in All Over Town under the direction of Dustin Hoffman and he also appeared in Shakespeare plays during the 1970s, including Othello, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.

During those years, film roles that went beyond stock characters were few and far between, notable exceptions being his roles in Brothers (1977), the television movie Brave New World (1980), and the miniseries The Sophisticated Gents (1981). He had a number of television guest appearances, frequently playing detective roles. He played a recurring role as police detective, Isadore Smalls, in the TV series The Equalizer, which ran for three seasons in the mid-1980s and starred British actor, Edward Woodward. He played the primary antagonist, Colonel Ernesto Bella, in 1984's Red Dawn. In 1988, O'Neal had a recurring role as Mercer Gilbert on the popular NBC television sitcom A Different World, playing the wealthy father of the spoiled southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy). His appearances lasted through 1992. In 1996, he appeared in the blaxploitation reunion film Original Gangstas.

Personal life[edit]

O'Neal was first married to actress Carol Tillery Banks, from November 1973 until 1980 (divorced), and then to Audrey Pool, from 1993 until his death in 2004.


O'Neal died in Los Angeles on January 14, 2004, after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, on the same day Super Fly was released on DVD in the United States.[2]

The Wu-Tang Clan's 2014 album A Better Tomorrow includes a song titled "Ron O'Neal".[3][4]





  1. ^ Gussow, Mel (1969-12-31). "Theater: 'No Place to Be Somebody' Opens Run" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-24.
  2. ^ McLellan, Dennis (January 16, 2004). "Ron O'Neal, 66; Star of Blaxploitation Hit 'Superfly'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-29.
  3. ^ Breihan, Tom (7 August 2014). "Wu-Tang Clan – "Ron O'Neal"". Stereogum. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  4. ^ Minsker, Evan (7 August 2014). "Wu-Tang Clan Release New Single "Ron O'Neal"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  5. ^ "Ron O'Neal, 66, Actor Who Starred In 'Superfly' Films". The New York Times. January 17, 2004. Retrieved 2011-01-31.

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