Samm-Art Williams, Playwright, Producer and Actor, Dies at 78

He challenged racial barriers in Hollywood, was a producer of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and earned a Tony nomination for “Home,” a paean to his Southern roots.

Samm-Art Williams, who made his mark in several fields — as an executive producer of the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” as an actor on both stage and screen and as a Tony-nominated playwright for “Home,” died on Monday in Burgaw, N.C. He was 78.

His death was confirmed by his cousin Carol Brown. She did not cite a cause.

An imposing 6-foot-8 (a lefty, he once served as a sparring partner to Muhammad Ali), Mr. Williams appeared in films including Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock homage, “Dressed to Kill” (1980), and the Coen brothers’ neo-noir, “Blood Simple” (1984). He had a memorable turn as Jim in the 1986 adaptation of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” part of PBS’s “American Playhouse” series.

Mr. Williams as Jim with Patrick Day in the 1986 television version of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”Everett Collection

Committed to expanding the Black presence in Hollywood, he was both a writer and an executive producer on “Fresh Prince,” the hit 1990s NBC comedy starring Will Smith as a street-smart teenager from West Philadelphia who moves in with his aunt and uncle in the moneyed hills of Los Angeles.

He also served as a writer and a producer on the television shows “Martin” and “Frank’s Place.” He was nominated for two Emmy Awards — for his work as a writer on “Motown Returns to the Apollo” in 1985 and a producer of “Frank’s Place” in 1988.

Raised in Burgaw, a former railroad town north of Wilmington, N.C., he moved to New York in 1973 to pursue a career in acting. It was his wistfulness for his small Southern hometown that inspired “Home,” a production of the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company that opened at the St. Marks Playhouse in Manhattan six years later before moving to Broadway.

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Source: Theater -


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