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Although Geoffrey Holder became known to most American audiences as the baritone-voiced pitchman for the 7 Up soft drink, he was also an award-winning dancer, choreographer and actor as well. Holder died this past Sunday (Oct. 5) as a result of complications from pneumonia. He was 84.

Born in Port Of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on August 1, 1930, Holder began his career in dance at age seven when he began working with his older brother’s company. When Holder was 22, he was discovered by choreographer Agnes de Mille and was invited to New York to began work there.

Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York in 1955, and later starred in a few Broadway productions. Holder made his acting debut 1962 in a British film All Night Long, a remake of William Shakespeare’s Othello. He also starred in 1967’s Doctor Dolittle, facing racism from co-star Rex Harrison’s wife.

At six feet, six inches, Holder’s physical presence was prominent as the tone of his deep voice. This was put to good use as a voice-over artist for several radio spots, and most especially when he helped pitched 7 Up for its “Un-Cola” campaign.

Holder won two Tony Awards for in 1975 for direction and choreography for popular Broadway play, The Wiz. Holder also created shows and routines for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Holder also starred in the 1982 film version of Annie, and also in Eddie Murphy’s 1992 classic comedy film, Boomerang.

Little known about Holder as well was that he was a prolific painter, author, music composer and art collector. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956 for his art work, and published a book of Photography in 1986.

Holder is survived by his wife of 59 years, dancer Carmen de Lavallade, and their son, Leo.

Rest powerfully, Mr. Holder.


Photo: D. Salters/WENN