Ron O’Neal, an Obie Award-winning actor, died on Jan. 14 from cancer. He was 66.
O’Neal attended Ohio State University for a short time before dropping out to spend several years performing in the interracial, Cleveland acting troupe, Karamu House. In 1967, he moved to New York and gave acting lessons in Harlem to support himself while appearing in summer stock and off-Broadway shows.
O’Neal stepped into the spotlight in 1970 when he was cast in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “No Place to Be Somebody.” His performance in the Broadway show earned him an Obie Award, a Clarence Derwent Award, a Drama Desk and a Theatre World Award.
The producers of the 1972 blaxploitation film, “Superfly,” caught O’Neal’s performance and cast him as the movie’s lead character — a hip, cocaine dealer named Youngblood Priest. “Superfly” was a box office hit, but the 30 movies that followed in O’Neal’s career were mostly low-budget or straight-to-video fare. He returned to Broadway in 1975 and replaced Cleavon Little in “All Over Town,” a play directed by Dustin Hoffman.