UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: Broadway will dim the lights of every theater on Friday, October 10 at 7:45 p.m. in honor of Geoffrey Holder.
Geoffrey Holder, the only theater man who at 6 feet, 6 inches could look Tommy Tune right in the eye and say “Abosolutely maaaaah-velous,” died Sunday in New York City. He was 84. Charles M. Mirotznik, a spokesman for the family, told the New York Times the cause was complications of pneumonia.
As well known for the honey-smooth bass-baritone that resonated through countless voice-overs as for the white linen suit and Panama hat that set off his gleaming Caribbean features — saucer eyes, broad-as-the-George-Washington-Bridge smile and shaved head — Holder became an advertising icon in the 1970s and ’80s as the pitchman for 7Up, declaring it “the Un-Cola — you know, Sev’mup — wet, wild, all that…” :
But Holder, born in Trinidad, was much more than a seductive accoutrement to Madison Avenue. He left an enduring stamp on virtually every field in the performing arts, as musician, choreographer, actor, director and designer, winning two Tony Awards in 1975 for his direction and costume designs for The Wiz. Soon after coming to New York, he became a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet; later his dances were in the repertories of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He also was highly regarded as a photographer, sculptor and painter.
Holder made his Broadway debut in the chorus of the 1954 Peter Brook production of House Of Flowers, a steamy West Indies-set musical with a book by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen, who also wrote the music. The show starred Diahann Carroll, Pearl Bailey and Carmen De Lavallade, whom Holder would marry a year later. She and their son, Leo, survive him.
Holder’s performance in the 1973 Bond film Live And Let Die reprised Baron Samedi, a character he’d played in House Of Flowers. His other films included Doctor Dolittle, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, Annie and Boomerang.
Holder said his artistic life was governed by a simple credo, shaped by his own experience as a West Indian child who had yet to see the world, the Times reported.
“I create for that innocent little boy in the balcony who has come to the theater for the first time,” he told Dance magazine in 2010. “He wants to see magic, so I want to give him magic. He sees things that his father couldn’t see.”