Geoffrey Holder, beloved multitalented artist, died Sunday in Manhattan at the age of 84. According to a family spokesperson, the cause was complications from pneumonia.
Born in the West Indies, Holder was a legendary figure within the dance world. He later transitioned his career into acting and became — perhaps — best known for appearing in films including Annie, Boomerang and as the spokesman for 7Up. Read his full obituary from The New York Times:
Geoffrey Richard Holder was born into a middle-class family on Aug. 1, 1930, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, one of four children of Louise de Frense and Arthur Holder, who had immigrated from Barbados. Geoffrey attended Queen’s Royal College, an elite secondary school in Trinidad. There he struggled with a stammer that would plague him into early adulthood.
“At school, when I got up to read, the teacher would say, ‘Next,’ because the boys would laugh,” he said in an oral history interview.
Growing up, Mr. Holder came under the wing of his talented older brother, Arthur Aldwyn Holder, known to everyone by his childhood nickname, Boscoe. Boscoe Holder taught Geoffrey painting and dancing and recruited him to join a small, folkloric dance troupe he had formed, the Holder Dancing Company. Boscoe was 16; Geoffrey, 7.
Geoffrey’s career mirrored that of his brother in many ways; Boscoe Holder, too, went on to become a celebrated dancer, choreographer, musician, painter and designer. And he, too, left Trinidad, in the late 1940s, for England, where he performed on television and onstage.
Geoffrey took over the dance company, as its director and lead performer, and he took it to New York City in 1954, invited by the choreographer Agnes de Mille, who had seen the troupe perform two years before in St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. She arranged an audition for the impresario Sol Hurok. To pay for the troupe’s passage, Mr. Holder, already an established young painter, sold 20 of his paintings.
After dropping his bags at an uncle’s apartment in Brooklyn, he fell in love with the city.
“It was a period when all the girls looked like Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor, with crinoline petticoats and starched hair,” he told The New York Times in 1985. “The songs of that period were the themes from ‘The Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Limelight,’ and it was so marvelous to hear the music in the streets and see the stylish ladies tripping down Fifth Avenue. Gorgeous black women, Irish women — all of them lovely and all of them going somewhere.” Read more.