GREGORY HINES, R.I.P.

Gregory Hines has died at the age of 57. He had cancer.

Mr. Hines, who had performed on stage since childhood, was largely credited with reviving interest in tap dance for a generation weaned on rock and roll. His improvisational footwork dazzled, his smile was boyishly radiant and his stage persona as a sleepy-eyed sharpie added to his comic allure on film, television and, most notably, Broadway.

He worked closely with some of the greatest figures in dance, including Mikhail Baryshnikov. (Mr. Hines called him “Mike” Baryshnikov.) And he was a mentor in the 1980s to the teenage tap-dancing sensation Savion Glover; they starred together in the film “Tap” (1989).

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“Eubie!,” a celebration of Eubie Blake’s popular songbook, brought Mr. Hines his first of five Tony Award nominations. He won the 1992 Tony for best actor as jazz icon “Jelly Roll” Morton in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” for which he also was nominated for his tap choreography.

He also had a leading role in the 1981 hit “Sophisticated Ladies,” a revue that featured the music of Duke Ellington and ran two years on Broadway.

His starring film roles, including a too-driven dancer in Francis Ford Coppolla’s “The Cotton Club” (1984), did not quite capture the spry spirit he channeled into his Broadway parts.

More typically he was cast in buddy movies, such as “Deal of the Century” (1983) with Chevy Chase, “White Nights” (1985) with Baryshnikov and “Running Scared” (1986) with Billy Crystal, and was the first choice to play opposite Nick Nolte in “48 Hours.” Because of a Broadway scheduling conflict for Mr. Hines, Eddie Murphy instead got the part of a temporarily paroled street-smart hustler and became a movie powerhouse.

On camera, Mr. Hines sometimes seemed better-suited to smaller, character parts, such as the wisecracking Roman slave Josephus in Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part I” (1981). He also had a memorable cameo in “Waiting to Exhale” (1995), lusting after his curvy neighbor.

He had his own short-lived CBS sitcom, “The Gregory Hines Show” (1997), playing a single father, and was a favorite guest-star on television series, including “Will & Grace.”

He received several Emmy Award nominations, most recently in 2001 for his lead role as tap dancer Bill Robinson in the mini-series “Bojangles,” and won a 1999 Daytime Emmy Award as the voice of “Big Bill” in the Bill Cosby animated TV series “Little Bill.”

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. BigFire says:

    One of the best screen scene of Mr. Hines is in the movie “The Cotton Club” where the screen character reconciled with his brother while doing a tap song ‘n dance routine about prohibition. It features his real life brother Maurice.

  2. PoliBlog says:

    Hines Passes
    OTB reports on the untimely death of Greogory Hines. 57 is simply too early to die. I will remember Mr. Hines fondly for the simple reason that my wife and I saw White Knights on our first date. (Yes, back…

  3. TAPS
    Yesterday morning, on the way to church, I found myself thinking about Gregory Hines. Normally, I can go months without thinking about Gregory Hines. But there I was, thinking about Gregory Hines as a cynical defector doing his jaded tap…