The son of African American stage actor Al Freeman (1884-1956), and star of stage, TV and film, Al Freeman Jr. (born Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr., on March 21, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas), has died at the age of 78 years old.
His career, as an actor primarily, as well as a writer and director, spans several decades, dating back to the 1950s.
He made his big screen debut in 1960’s melodrama The Rebel Breed.
Most notably, in 1967, Freeman Jr. co-starred with Shirley Knight in the film version of Leroi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka’s) off-Broadway play Dutchman, in a performance that earned him excellent reviews, and further attention for his portrayal of a black subway passenger victimized by a frantic white woman.
Dutchman would later be adapted for the screen, with Freeman Jr. and Knight reprising their roles – a film we’ve featured on this site on more than one occasion, and will likely feature again shortly, in light of today’s news.
Three years later, Freeman Jr. co-starred with Patty Duke in the landmark TV movie My Sweet Charlie (1970), playing a volatile New York City lawyer stranded in a small Texas town with a white unwed mother.
Freeman Jr. is likely best best known to daytime-drama fans for his lengthy stint as Lt. Ed Hall on One Life to Live – a role that won him a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series in 1979, and setting his place in history as the first African American actor to win that specific award.
And more recently, he’ll also be remembered for his portrayal of Elijah Muhammed in Spike Lee’s 1992 opus Malcolm X; he actually played Malcolm X in the 1979 miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations.
Freeman was also a screenwriter, penning screenplays for Ossie Davis’ Countdown at Kusini (1976), and was a director himself, helming (and starring in) the 1971 feature A Fable, from a script written by Amiri Baraka, based on his own play (The Slave: A Fable), about a black radical who violently and fatally torments his white ex-wife and children, after they start a new family with a white man.
On TV, Freeman Jr appeared in serials like The Cosby Show, and Homicide: Life on the Street.
His Broadway theatre credits include Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), Look to the Lilies (1970) and Medea (1974).
Up until his death, Freeman Jr. was a professor at Howard University, in the Department of Theatre Arts, teaching acting. He served as Chairman/Artistic Director of the Department for six years.
I was informed this afternoon that he died last night, August 9th; although the cause of his death hasn’t yet been made public.
“It is with tremendous sadness that the passing of our beloved Professor Al Freeman, Jr. is confirmed,” Kim James Bey, chair of Howard university’s Theatre Department said in a statement.