Actor Al Freeman Jr. has died, according to Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a spokesperson for Howard University where Freeman had been the chairman of the theater department. He'd joined the university in 1988, shortly after exiting his role as Captain Ed Hall on One Life to Live. He retired in May of this year.
Freeman is known for several key performances throughout his career, including:
**Malcolm X. In this 1992 movie from Spike Lee, Freeman impressed everyone. In one interview, Lee declared, "He’s one of the great actors of all time.” Years earlier, he'd been nominated for an Emmy for playing the same character in Roots: The Next Generations.
** My Sweet Charlie. Co-starring with Patty Duke in this 1970 TV movie, the intense project paired a single, pregnant woman with a black lawyer on the run. It caused a bit of stir at the time, but it was a quality project, resulting in Emmy wins and Freeman being nominated in the Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role category.
**One Life to Live. For 15 years, Freeman was on and off this daytime soap opera. Paired with Ellen Holly, the two were at the forefront of African-Americans getting prime storylines in this genre. At one point, Laurence Fishburne played their son. What Freeman and Holly did during those early years was phenomenal and, sadly, often overlooked in favor of later, teen-populated plots on other soaps. However, the legacy is there, witnessed by viewers across the country as it happened. He also won the Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series in 1979 for his portrayal.
**Finian's Rainbow. The actor excelled in the role of Howard, a scientist trying to create mentholated tobacco. He had a memorable satirical scene where he serves a mint julip to a senator in the most cliche way imaginable for a person of color.
There are no details as yet as to the cause of Freeman's death or if he had any survivors, except that his passing occurred on August 9. He was married for a time, but that ultimately ended in divorce.
Freeman once said that teaching had renewed him and that he got more from his students than they got from him. More likely, the exchange was a valuable two-way street.