Geoffrey Holder Died, And Most Americans Don’t Care. There Is A Problem.

Does the name Geoffrey Holder mean anything to you? It probably doesn’t. He died this week, at the age of 84, and his passing received less media attention than the death of Paul Revere, of the cheesy Rolling Stones-lite 60’s rock band Paul Revere and the Raiders, and wasn’t within light years of the orgies of sorrow lavished on the passing of Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially African-Americans, wear jerseys honoring NFL wife beaters and child-batterers, who would have crossed the street to shake Geoffrey Holder’s hand or get his autograph.

Boy, are American values screwed up.

Let me tell you about Geoffrey Holder, one of my heroes.

He was born in Trinidad-Tobago, where he showed an early talent for dance (unimpeded in adulthood  by his 6’6″ frame), and  directed a folk dance troupe from his native country, bringing his skills to the attentions of legendary choreographer Agnes DeMille. He danced on Broadway stages and at the Metropolitan Opera, and won Tony Awards in 1975 for direction of a musical and the costume design for “The Wiz.”  He also directed and choreographed “Timbuktu!,” a re-imagining of “Kismet.” He acted on Broadway in an-all black production of “waiting for Godot.” His original dances were in the repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He was an accomplished painter, photographer and sculptor whose many works have been shown in galleries and museums across the country. He published books too, including one about Caribbean folklore, “Black Gods, Green Islands,” written with Tom Harshman. He played significant roles in quite a few movies, including a James Bond villain in “Live and Let Die.”

If you know Holder at all, you probably know him from  a series of commercials for 7-Up that he starred in during the 1970s and 1980s. Dressed in a white suit, he would typically pour a glass of the lemon-lime soft drink, “the Uncola,” intone, “Try making THAT out of a cola nut!” and burst into his wonderful deep, musical, Caribbean laugh. Yes, with all the substantive things he accomplished, it was his commercials people noticed. He didn’t care, opining that commercials were art too. “It’s seduction!” he said.

And laughed, just like in the ads.

It is almost impossible for an artist to do more things better or more successfully than Geoffrey Holder. Why was he so quickly forgotten? Was it that he did not become an angry civil rights scold, like Harry Belafonte? Is it that the arts are considered so trivial in the United States that a brilliant, unique artist like Holder is considered less valuable and noteworthy than an NFL running back? Is the appreciation of the arts so narrow that a genius like Holder is accorded less respect than recent Kennedy Center honorees like Al Green, Lily Tomlin, David Letterman, Bill T. Jones, and Merle Haggard? Would it have helped if he weren’t so relentlessly positive? If he spent more time at self-promotion, at the cost of his art? If he had been gay, accused of killing a cop, or outspoken about global warming or other issues he really knew very little about?

I don’t know. I do know that a culture that doesn’t recognize that a lifetime artist of originality and excellence like Geoffrey Holder has enriched it more than Joan Rivers is seriously confused.

____________________________

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post

40 thoughts on “Geoffrey Holder Died, And Most Americans Don’t Care. There Is A Problem.

  1. I did remember those commercials, particularly one in which he steers a young girl who constantly asks “why?” (as kids often do) away from caffeinated soft drinks, and responds to her query as to why they have it with “Why? Good question.” before laughing and clinking glasses with her. You couldn’t shoot that commercial now, there would be too many questions about why he was talking to, let alone sharing a drink with (and a soft drink at that) an 8ish girl whose parents were nowhere nearby. Sorry to see him go.

      • Shoot, I’m nervous trying to engage in civil, short-lived, conversation or banter with children anymore without worrying some busybody will start giving me the eye.

        On a similar vein on a topic we are equally hyper-sensitive to as a society:

        I dropped our 20 month old off at the daycare with a *TINY* bruise of unknown origin on his forehead. The front desk lady asked “oh my, where’d he get that bruise?”

        Me: “Uh, I don’t know…he’s a boy…he’s getting new bruises every day.”

        Lady: “Hmmm… no really, where’d he get the bruise?”

        Me: “No really… I don’t know… what are you getting at? He’s an energetic little BOY!”

        Lady: “mmmkay. Have a good day!”

        • I work at a daycare center under New Mexico’s PreK Initiative. I interact with 20 children, ages 4-5. I’ll tell you the reason why the front desk lady was so inquisitive. Children tend to acquire bumps and bruises and cuts and scrapes during the course of a typical day. If it happens on our watch, we must fill out an Incident Report which is reviewed and signed by the center director and then reviewed with the parents. If a child comes to the center with an existing cut, bruise, etc, we ask when and how he got it. This is done simply to protect the daycare center against charges that the child received such injury while under our care.

          It’s a simple precaution that all daycare centers make, so don’t take offense.

        • Don’t even try, unless you’re a teacher or a Scout leader or a coach, there’s no reason to talk to kids who are not of your family. One of the first assistants in my office used to say,”sometimes it’s easier to just not go there,” when presented with unnecessary situations that could lead to problems. I’d say opening oneself up to confrontations by angry or overprotective parents is one of those situations where it’s easier to just not go there.

          • Bull-crap if there’s no reason to talk to kids who are not of your family. People don’t learn civility because ONLY their parents teach it…because if ONLY their parents teach it, they learn that civility is only OWED to family…

            If I’m at church, sitting in the parents waiting area and a little 5 year old girl innocently wanders over and starts chatter boxing, I’m not gonna rebuff her. If a teenager asks me a question, I’m not going to ignore them.

            Self-feeding cycles of destruction don’t stop until we stop feeding them.

            Worries about how “overprotective” parents will react is folly – we don’t base our decisions on how people will react, if the reactions we are considering are INAPPROPRIATE.

            • If I’m at church and whatever kids in front of me turn around to look up at whoever’s in back, I just give the gesture to turn back around. Nothing to see here. If a kid tries to chat me up I usually just ignore them or tell them to go back to their parents. Nothing good and a lot of bad can come of me, a single man over 40, talking to kids, and that goes double for initiating.

              Reactions may be inappropriate, but they can also be dangerous, appropriate or not, and getting slugged by an overprotective father or having to explain to the police what was going on, innocent or not, are just not high on my list of priorities.

  2. “Was it that he did not become an angry civil rights scold, like Harry Belafonte? ”
    Who?

    “Is it that the arts are considered so trivial in the United States that a brilliant, unique artist like Holder is considered less valuable and noteworthy than an NFL running back?”
    Probably, but I can’t name many NFL running backs either.

    “Is the appreciation of the arts so narrow that a genius like Holder is accorded less respect than recent Kennedy Center honorees like Al Green, Lily Tomlin, David Letterman, Bill T. Jones, and Merle Haggard?”
    Who? Who? Yay I know one! Who? Oh! Make that two!

    “Would it have helped if he weren’t so relentlessly positive? If he spent more time at self-promotion, at the cost of his art?”
    Maybe, and probably. But then, if he was in it for his art over his personal brand, does it really matter? It’s up to us to notice it, and if we don’t that’s our loss.

    “If he had been gay, accused of killing a cop, or outspoken about global warming or other issues he really knew very little about?”
    I don’t think any of those things are a recipe for fame. Definitely not lasting fame. And I think that’s the thing missing here. The bulk of Mr. Holder’s work didn’t happen in my lifetime, he outlived his own fame. Whereas Joan and Robin were part of my upbringing and Ray Rice is front and center now, and some people are probably wondering who Michael Sam is already.

  3. I remember Geoffrey well. I have seen him in movies, and commercials, heard him sing (magnificent) and dance (spectacular). The man was basically one of the best. I don’t know why he never got the recognition he deserved, but his accomplishments and talents far outstripped Rivers or Williams. Steve may be stretching it just a bit, but we are getting close to that bad.

  4. He may not have been Joan or Robin, but he was truly unforgettable. I remember him well growing up in the 70s and 80s.

  5. The Kennedy Center Honors often cover those who I think had only one string in their bow and have not adapted/reinvented themselves through changing tastes. And some think are honored because they are huge influences in that subculture instead of familiar and influential to the general public.

    This bigger thing is that we need to honor and laud people of accomplishment.An artist like Mr Holder wasn’t a one hit wonder, and the sports ‘heroes’ sadly make more in one year, than almost any artist makes in a much longer career. Sports are ephemeral, art is not.

  6. I remember the 7-Up commercials, but my favorites were “Annie” (which I have seen too many times to count) and “Boomerang.” Sadly, I never saw him perform on stage (that was a bit before my time, unfortunately.)

  7. Unfortunately, Geoffrey Holder faded from the limelight. Showbiz is the ficklest of fickle industries. Actors have to actively promote themselves to succeed or be remembered. They ARE the product, after all.

    There are many fine actors and actresses (I know someone’s gonna call me sexist) who are not household names because they are happy being actors and don’t necessarily want to be stars. They don’t want celebrity because the price of fame can bee too high: the loss of privacy and the inability to walk more than a block down a street without being gawked at at the very least. I seems that Mr. Holder was this type of performer, one who enjoys the craft and the accolades of a live audience and didn’t want to be a super star. From what you’ve written, it appears that Mr. Holder also did extraordinary fame as he could have done. After all, it doesn’t take extraordinary talent, just a lot of money spent on a great publicist.

    I do fault the media if they didn’t sufficiently cover his death (I don’t have cable TV so I don’t know what they said about him, if anything), but that is the nature of showbiz; you’re only as good as your last performance. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb, link below), he wasn’t very active the last three decades and hadn’t done anything since 2008. Never forget that TV news is also very much showbiz and they’re generally only interested in lengthy stories about very famous celebrities, and they don’t have to necessarily be very talented ones.

    I don’t think this is a uniquely American situation, and I don’t think it’s unique to our time, either. Of course some cultures value the arts more than others, but the majority of human beings the world over do not. The broadcast of a professional sports game will always draw a bigger audience than the broadcast of any movie or TV show. That’s why broadcasters will only broadcast opera during the Superbowl; they know their viewership would never watch a football game.

    I remember Mr. Holder’s 7-Up commercials from when I was a kid and I liked them. I couldn’t tell you his name for $1 million, though, and I couldn’t tell you what else he had done. He was an actor but he was not famous. I wouldn’t blame today’s American culture for a conspicuous lack of coverage of his death, I’d blame the business he was in. With showbiz you’re either a somebody or a nobody, and it doesn’t take long for a somebody to either become or nobody (like countless TV stars who disappear after their hit shows end) or worse–supermarket tabloid fodder.

    Is it a shame? Sure it is. Would Mr. Holder care? Probably not just from what you wrote about him not being a vain glory hog. But also from the fact that he obviously knew the business quite well. He knew that anyone who’s not in front of an audience today is yesterday’s news. I’m sure he would have loved the thought of all the news networks devoting lengthy segments to loving adoration of his accomplishments. But if he really wanted it that badly he would have worked hard to stay in the limelight over the last 30 years.

    He did not. His choice.

    Unethical of the networks? Undoubtedly. As i said, it’s a shame they ignored him, i.e., their lack of coverage is worthy of shame, i.e., ignoring his passing was unethical. But hey, if you expect the corporate news media in any country to set and then adhere to high ethical standards of journalism… well, you’re in for a lifetime of heartache.

    But I’m glad you posted this story. I’ll post it to my FB page. As long as one person remembers you, you’re not forgotten and still exist. You don’t know it, of course, but that’s another discussion…

    IMDb Link to Geoffrey Holder:
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0390305/?ref_=nv_sr_1

    • Wonderful comment, Frank—thanks. Not that I agree with all of it:

      1. Unfortunately, Geoffrey Holder faded from the limelight. Showbiz is the ficklest of fickle industries. Actors have to actively promote themselves to succeed or be remembered. They ARE the product, after all.
      If you are just a celebrity, that may be true, but Holder’s choreography, “The Wiz,” his paintings and sculptures, all were the product, and in his eyes, the celebrity Holder was an afterthought. One shouldn’t have to be a celebrity to have one’s value appreciated. That the culture’s problem.

      2. “There are many fine actors and actresses (I know someone’s gonna call me sexist) who are not household names because they are happy being actors and don’t necessarily want to be stars. They don’t want celebrity because the price of fame can been too high: the loss of privacy and the inability to walk more than a block down a street without being gawked at at the very least.

      Yes, but actors are a dime a dozen. Holder was an actor incidentally—that may have been his highest profile medium, but not his primary one. Fame is just random, that’s all, and not just in the arts. Why did we never hear about Joshua Chamberlain until “The Killer Angels”? It’s just another kind of public ignorance, and like all ignorance, we shouldn’t accept it as inevitable.

      3. “I do fault the media if they didn’t sufficiently cover his death (I don’t have cable TV so I don’t know what they said about him, if anything), but that is the nature of showbiz; you’re only as good as your last performance.”

      “Everybody does it” variation: “It happens all the time.” That’s not a justification or a mitigation. Still wrong.

      4. “According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb, link below), he wasn’t very active the last three decades and hadn’t done anything since 2008.”

      Mozart hasn’t done much since 1791.

      “5. Never forget that TV news is also very much showbiz and they’re generally only interested in lengthy stories about very famous celebrities, and they don’t have to necessarily be very talented ones.”

      That makes it sensible, appropriate or right? Of course not. Yes, as I said, the culture is confused. And the culture values who the media says it should value. That’s a problem to be addressed.

      6. I don’t think this is a uniquely American situation, and I don’t think it’s unique to our time, either.

      Everybody does it squared!

      7. Of course some cultures value the arts more than others, but the majority of human beings the world over do not.

      The majority of human beings are morons—that doesn’t mean that we should accept that as acceptable or immutable.

      8. The broadcast of a professional sports game will always draw a bigger audience than the broadcast of any movie or TV show. That’s why broadcasters will only broadcast opera during the Superbowl; they know their viewership would never watch a football game.

      Yes, and most men would rather fuck than read or think. Still not the standard we should be aiming for.

      9. I’m sure he would have loved the thought of all the news networks devoting lengthy segments to loving adoration of his accomplishments. But if he really wanted it that badly he would have worked hard to stay in the limelight over the last 30 years.
      He did not. His choice.

      Because hanging on past your pull date, a la Joan Rivers, is undignified and unseemly, as well as narcissistic.

      10. “Unethical of the networks? Undoubtedly. As i said, it’s a shame they ignored him, i.e., their lack of coverage is worthy of shame, i.e., ignoring his passing was unethical. But hey, if you expect the corporate news media in any country to set and then adhere to high ethical standards of journalism… well, you’re in for a lifetime of heartache.”

      Yikes. So the best approach is to shrug and not give a damn?

      But I’m glad you posted this story. I’ll post it to my FB page. As long as one person remembers you, you’re not forgotten and still exist. You don’t know it, of course, but that’s another discussion…

      • Haha! Nowhere in there did I say I agree with the media’s alleged apathy toward Mr. Holder’s passing. Just the opposite! And sorry, but I believe it’s true that this is not a uniquely American attitude unique to this time in history, as you claim, but has been a universally human attitude since recorded history.

        You can’t force people to care about something, and most people don’t care about much more than their families and their wallet, and that order doesn’t necessarily reflect their caring priorities. And sorry, but to not mourn the passing of someone you don’t know or care about is not unethical, either. And to not appreciate art is not unethical, either. Just because you value what Mr. Holder contributed to society doesn’t mean everyone else has to. You sound like a dictator when you belittle others for not liking what you like. Never in recorded history (and no doubt before) have those who admired and appreciated art outnumbered those who couldn’t care less about it. That is not likely to change. That’s sad, in my opinion, but there’s nothing unethical about it. What is currently unique about art in our culture is that public schools have been cutting art programs for about 20 years now, so the future is not bright for art appreciation in the America.

        As far as the corporate news networks are concerned, they’re money-grubbing whores. Ratings is all they care about. They’re the most unethical lapdogs on the air. But there is a way to get them to act right: put the squeeze on their advertisers to pressure them to pay more respect to the passing of great artists.

        And sorry, but the comparison to Mozart is over the top. Geniuses like Mozart come along a few times a century. If Mr. Holder were a brilliant artist of that level, there would have been no need for you to write your commentary. And it doesn’t negate the realities of the shallowness of celebrity, either. Good luck changing that industry. The artists and craftspeople tend to be wonderful human beings, but the producers and agents tend to be greedy, exploitative scum. Just like every other industry, usually the most ruthless creeps tend to wind up at the top of the food chain. Ethics are not their highest priority, especially when having good ones cuts into profits.

        Like I originally said, I don’t know what TV news networks did or didn’t do to honor (or dishonor) Mr. Holder’s passing, but it doesn’t seem that his death was ignored by everyone, especially by those who worked in the business. It is a great honor for your colleagues to remember you:

        CNN.com: Geoffrey Holder, famed dancer, 7Up pitchman, dies
        http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/06/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/geoffrey-holder-death/index.html?iref=allsearch

        Huffington Post: Broadway To Dim Marquee Lights In Honor Of Geoffrey Holder
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/08/broadway-honor-geoffrey-holder_n_5952872.html

        BBC.co.uk: Geoffrey Holder, Bond villain and dancer, dies aged 84
        http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-29505646

        ABCNews.com: Geoffrey Holder, Director and Actor, Dies at 84
        http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/geoffrey-holder-director-actor-dies-84-25998679

        Variety.com: Geoffrey Holder, Dancer, Actor in ‘Live and Let Die,’ Dies at 84
        http://variety.com/2014/film/news/geoffrey-holder-dancer-actor-in-live-and-let-die-dies-at-84-1201323049/

        • That’s pretty funny. Your justification for conduct that is unhealthy for society is everybody does it; I point out that this is a rationalization, and your rebuttal is that everybody does it.

          The entire mission and thesis of this blog is that the world can be more ethical, if people recognize the value of ethics, ethical values, and living accordingly. Good conduct is encouraged by recognition. I’m not dictating anything. Indeed, from a persoanal standpoint, I don’t especially like ballet, jazz dancing, folk dancing, Caribbean art; I could live without “The Wiz”; I saw “Timbuktu” in its pre-Broadway run and thought it was a pretty pale version of “Kismet,”; I wouldn’t but most of Mr. Holder’s art in my house; I don’t buy books like the ones he published; and he was more of a personality than a real actor—but I know a productive, talented man who contributes a lot more to society than he takes when I see one, and yes, attention should be paid.

          I don’t especially like Mozart, either.

          But of course I wasn’t comparing Holder to Mozart. I was pointing out that as far as lasting fame and appreciation goes, “What have you done lately?” is a ridiculous standard. I know, I know: “everybody does it.”

          You really need to work on that. It is the substance of your entire argument and the previous comment, and it is no argument at all. We should try to continue appreciating valuable, productive lives as long as possible, because they let the culture know what a valuable life is.

  8. I LOVED Holder but I am a huge James Bond fan — and I do remember his amazing commercials even though I was very young when they aired.

    I didn’t know that Holder was still alive until I heard NPR’s piece yesterday about him.

    He mostly was a NYC actor/artist which, as you know, is rarely appreciated by anyone outside of theater. Even Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman are rarely recognized for their stage work. Then there is the amazing Audra McDonald — possibly the most celebrated Broadway star ever. I bet most Americans don’t even know who she is.

    • They don’t. I bet most readers of this blog don’t know who she is. Stage is essentially invisible to most of the public—the average American will never see a live professional stage production in their entire life.

      • Well, Audra DID appear in the highly touted live TV production of Sound of Music and did a bang-up job as the Abbess, so maybe a few more do know. Amen to the last part, and that’s unfortunately to the average American’s loss, speaking as someone who’s seen more than his share. BTW, Beth, how’d you miss John Malkovich, whose first love is actually the stage? (but few folks know it)

      • They won’t. Nor will they hear a live symphony. I think soon, very few will even see a movie (I don’t think I have seen a first-run movie in 2-3 years). The biggest problem is that I (and many Americans) don’t have the time. I have very few 4-hour open blocks of time in my life (less than 1/month). We have dual-career households with children and jobs who demand some of our ‘off-work’ time every day. When I do get a block of free time, I end up spending it fixing something that has been broken for weeks, waiting for me to have the time to fix it. Going to the theatre isn’t even on the front page of the to-do list.

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