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Rollins in Ragtime, 1981
Howard Ellsworth Rollins Jr.
(1950-10-17)October 17, 1950
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Died||December 8, 1996(1996-12-08) (aged 46)
New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Woodlawn Cemetery, Baltimore|
|Alma mater||Towson State University|
Howard Ellsworth Rollins Jr. (October 17, 1950 – December 8, 1996) was an American stage, film and television actor. Howard Rollins was best known for his role as Andrew Young in 1978's King, George Haley in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generations, Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the 1981 film Ragtime, Captain Davenport in the 1984 film A Soldier's Story, and as Virgil Tibbs on the TV crime drama In the Heat of the Night . In the fall of 1996, Rollins was diagnosed with AIDS. Six weeks later, he died at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York at the age of 46, from complications from AIDS-related lymphoma. As was typical at the time, his publicist issued a statement claiming he suffered from lymphatic cancer, but it was later revealed by his family that Rollins had been diagnosed with AIDS. He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in his native Baltimore.
Rollins was the youngest of four children born to Ruth and Howard Ellsworth Rollins Sr. in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother was a domestic worker, and father was a steelworker who died in 1980. After his high school graduation, Rollins studied theater at Towson University.
In 1970, Rollins left college to play the role of "Slick" in the PBS soap opera Our Street. In 1974, he moved to New York City, where he appeared in the Broadway productions of We Interrupt This Program (1975), The Mighty Gents (1978), and G. R. Point (1979). He also appeared in the TV miniseries King and Roots: The Next Generations.
In 1981, Rollins made his film debut in the Dino De Laurentiis/Miloš Forman motion picture Ragtime. His performance in the film earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, as well as Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture. The following year, he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his role on Another World. In 1984, Rollins starred in director Norman Jewison's film A Soldier's Story, which led to his role as Virgil Tibbs on In the Heat of the Night, the television series based on Jewison's acclaimed 1967 film of the same name.
In the Heat of the Night began airing on NBC in 1988. During the show's run, Rollins struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was arrested four times for drug- and alcohol-related crimes and spent one month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Due to his ongoing personal and legal issues, Rollins was dismissed from the series at the end of Season 6. Rollins returned for several guest appearances in the seventh season of the show in 1993 – 1994.
After being fired from In the Heat of the Night, Rollins achieved sobriety and worked on rebuilding his career and reputation. In 1995, he appeared in a guest role on New York Undercover, followed by a role in the film Drunks. In 1996, he appeared in a guest role on Remember WENN. His final acting role was in the 1996 PBS television movie Harambee!.
In 1988, Rollins pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in Louisiana. In 1992 and 1993, he was arrested on three occasions for driving under the influence. In 1994, he served a month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Because of his legal problems, Rollins was dropped from In the Heat of the Night. After attending drug rehab, he returned to In the Heat of the Night as a guest star.
On December 8, 1996, Rollins died at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center (now Mount Sinai West) in New York City from complications of lymphoma; he had been diagnosed only six weeks earlier. His funeral was held on December 13 in Baltimore.
|1981||Ragtime||Coalhouse Walker Jr.||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor (4th place)
|1984||A Soldier's Story||Captain Davenport|
|1984||The House of God||Chuck Johnston|
|1990||On the Block||Clay Beasley|
|1978||The Trial of the Moke||Television movie|
Credited as Howard Rollins
|1979||Roots: The Next Generations||George Haley||Miniseries|
|1979||My Old Man||Doctor||Television movie|
|1982||The Neighborhood||Allen Campbell||Television movie|
|1982||The Member of the Wedding||Honey Brown||Television movie|
|1982||Another World||Ed Harding||Unknown episodes
Nominated - Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
|1983||For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story||Medgar Evers||Television movie
Winner - NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
|1983||Moving Right Along||Unknown episodes|
|1984||House of Dies Drear||Walter Small||Television movie|
|1984||A Doctor's Story||Dr. Zack Williams||Television movie|
|1984||He's Fired, She's Hired||Raoul||Television movie|
|1985||Wildside||Bannister Sparks||6 episodes|
|1986||The Boy King||Martin Luther King Sr.||Television movie|
|1986||The Children of Times Square||Otis Travis||Television movie|
|1986||Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI||T.C. Russell||Television movie|
|1988-1994||In the Heat of the Night||Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs||121 episodes, credited as Howard Rollins
Winner - NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, 1989
|1992||With Murder in Mind||Samuel Carver||Television movie|
|1995||New York Undercover||Reverend Hundley||Episode: "The Smoking Section"|
|1996||Remember WENN||George Smith||Episode: "The Emperor Smith"|
|1996||Harambee!||Chimbuko||Television movie, (final film role)|
- Eady, Brenda (1984-10-01). "Howard Rollins' Stalled Career Marches on with a Soldier's Story". People. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Cerio, Gregory (December 23, 1996). "Requiem for Mister Tibbs". people.com. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- Blumenthal, Ralph (1996-12-10). "Howard Rollins Is Dead at 50 Star in TV's 'Heat of the Night'". New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2008.
- "Actor Howard Rollins, 46, succumbs in New York". Jet. December 23, 1996. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- "Howard Rollins, 46, Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
- "'Heat of the Night' actor dies". The Robesonian. December 10, 1996. p. 5A. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- "Black Celebrities We've Lost to AIDS". BET. September 2008. p. 8. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
- "Howard Rollins Unveiling at Senator Theater". National Great Blacks In Wax Museum. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
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