If ever there was a performer who could do it all, it was Gregory Hines. Perhaps best known for his dancing, he was an innovator who helped update tap for a new generation. He was an actor, too, one with a fine sense for comedy who excelled at drama as well. And he was a singer – not just when a movie or Broadway role called for it, but with a No. 1 hit to his credit.
This multitalented man died of liver cancer 10 years ago today, at only 57. In his honor, we're remembering all three facets of his illustrious career.
Dancer: Hines danced from his earliest days, beginning to tap at age three and performing professionally by the time he was five. His idols, Sammy Davis Jr., Howard Sims, and the Nicholas Brothers instilled in him a love for invention and a respect for the roots of tap, a combination that led Hines to become one of the greatest tap dancers in the medium's history. He danced on Broadway and on the silver screen, teaching young dancers and creating National Tap Dance Day (celebrated each year on May 25). His love for dance showed when he abandoned himself to music and let his body take the reins.
Actor: Hines's skill as a dancer led to movie roles, beginning when Mel Brooks cast him as a dancing Roman slave in History of the World, Part 1. The role required some dancing ability, but even better comedic timing – and Brooks was right on when he put Hines to the comic test. Hines was tailor-made for the funny role, and he went on to co-star in The Cotton Club, White Nights, Waiting to Exhale, and many other films.
Singer: It's no surprise that the man who won a Tony Award for his role in Jelly's Last Jam could sing. But Hines took a career detour that was unusual even for a Broadway triple threat when, in 1986, he duetted with Luther Vandross on "There's Nothing Better than Love." The single climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart on the strength of two fine performances.
Whether he was singing, dancing or acting, it was hard to ignore Hines's star power – and it's impossible to forget him.
Written by Linnea Crowther