Geoffrey Holder, famed dancer, 7Up pitchman, dies

Posted at 6:58 PM, Oct 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-06 18:58:48-04

(CNN) — Geoffrey Holder, a versatile artist known for his ability as a dancer, actor and — most famously to most of America — a pitchman for 7Up, has died. He was 84.

The cause was complications due to pneumonia, according to Charles M. Mirotznik, his family’s attorney.

Holder, who stood an imposing 6-foot-6 and had a deep, mellifluous, Caribbean-lilted voice, was a multitalented performer who easily shifted between painting, theater, film and TV. He won two Tony awards in 1975 for the musical “The Wiz,” the vibrant all-black re-telling of “The Wizard of Oz.” Holder earned awards for best direction and a Tony for best costume design.

With his regal stature made him an unforgettable presence on screen, as well.

Some of his more memorable work appears in 1967’s “Doctor Dolittle,” 1982’s “Annie” and 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” in which he faced off against Roger Moore’s James Bond as the villain Baron Samedi. In later decades he worked with Eddie Murphy in 1992’s “Boomerang,” and more recently did voice work in 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Holder could even make a commercial sing. For TV viewers in the ’70s and ’80s, the performer was most familiar as the dapper pitchman in 7Up ads, telling viewers to sample the “Un-Cola” in his rich voice.

For someone who was renowned in so many arenas, Holder’s advertising work may have come as a surprise. But as he explained to People magazine in 1975, “I’m no snob. The commercial is an art form unto itself. After all, you are seducing people.”

Holder honed his artistic gifts from an early age. Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1930, he joined his older brother’s dance troupe at the age of 7. By 1954, Holder was making his Broadway debut in the musical “House of Flowers.”

He followed that up with principal dancer work with New York’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1955 and 1956, and went on to star in an all-black production of “Waiting for Godot” in 1957. That same year, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for painting.

On top of that, Holder was also an author: He released a cookbook of Caribbean cuisine in 1973.

Holder is survived by his wife, Carmen De Lavallade, whom he married in 1955, and their son, Léo.