Paul Benjamin, who appeared in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, has died. Lee announced on Instagram that the veteran actor died June 28. The cause of death was not immediately known. Benjamin was 81.
Benjamin, who played one of the three wise Brooklyn “cornermen” in Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, began his career in 1969 as a bartender in Midnight Cowboy. He went to play small roles in Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes and Born to Win, then segued into more extensive TV work later in the 1970s.
He appeared as a death row inmate in a 1988 episode of In The Heat of the Night and also in the 1994 pilot episode of ER, which led to his recurring role of homeless man Al Ervin during the next few seasons. Benjamin also worked on the American Masters documentary of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ralph Ellison, which aired on PBS, as well as guest-starring roles in Law & Order and The Shield.
Benjamin’s other film credits include Escape From Alcatraz (1979) Some Kind of Hero (1982) opposite Richard Pryor, Martin Ritt’s drama film Nuts (1987) starring Barbra Streisand, Pink Cadillac (1989) with Clint Eastwood, Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats (1991), Bill Duke’s Hoodlum (1997), and John Singleton’s Rosewood (1997).
His most recent work in the 2000s was in independent films such as Stanley’s Gig, The Station Agent, Deacons For Defense, and James Hunter’s 2005 drama Back in the Day.