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Paul Winfield: 10 Roles

Published: 3/7/2014
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Paul Winfield (AP Photo/Tonya Evatt)

Actor Paul Winfield died 10 years ago today. At a time when prominent roles for African-American actors were few and often unimpressive, Winfield showed the world just how great a black actor could be, taking on groundbreaking roles as well as lighter pieces that showcased his memorable voice. On the 10th anniversary of Winfield's death, we remember 10 of his most career-defining roles.

10. Of Mice and Men. When Winfield was a young actor, one of his earliest roles was with a local repertory theater as one of the leads in Of Mice and Men –– which he was required to play in whiteface.

9. R.P.M. One of Winfield's earliest movie roles was in Stanley Kramer's 1970 film R.P.M., in which Winfield played a young black activist trying to bring change to a university. It wasn't the greatest movie ever, but it gave Winfield a leg up in the movie industry.

8. Roots: The Next Generations. In Winfield's time, one of the greatest stories of the African-American experience was Alex Haley's Roots, and Winfield had a chance to be a part of it. Though he wasn't in the original TV miniseries, he was cast as Dr. Horace Huguley in the popular 1979 sequel, and was nominated for an Emmy for the role.

7. Picket Fences. Sixteen years later, Winfield won an Emmy. It was for a guest role on popular drama Picket Fences, playing Judge Harold Nance.

6. King. Winfield portrayed one of history's great leaders when he took the lead role in the 1978 NBC miniseries King. His dramatization of the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. earned him an Emmy nomination.

5. The Lost Man. It was a small role with low billing, but it was a crucial one - it was Winfield's first major film appearance. Sidney Poitier, star of the film, hired Winfield for the role.

4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Winfield actually made into the Star Trek franchise twice: once, in the movie The Wrath of Khan as a Starfleet captain who became a minion of Khan, and once on the TV series The Next Generation as an alien captain who communicated through metaphors.

3. City Confidential. An important facet of Winfield's career was his voice acting. His commanding tones were well-known, and he was sought after for a number of voice-only roles. His longest lasting stint was as the narrator for A&E's crime documentary City Confidential from 1998 until his death in 2004. He voiced characters on two episodes of The Simpsons.

2. Julia. The 1968-1971 Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia was groundbreaking, the first weekly series to focus on an African-American woman in a non-stereotypical role. Carroll played a nurse who worked in a doctor's office, rather than the servant or housekeeper roles that were previously all that was available to African-American actresses. Winfield played one of Carroll's character's love interests.

1. Sounder. Perhaps Winfield's finest hour was in the 1972 movie Sounder, in which he played a Louisiana sharecropper during the Great Depression. The movie was a critical and popular success, and Winfield was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor –– only the third African-American to be nominated for that honor. (Marlon Brando won the Oscar that year for The Godfather.)

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.

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