Samm-Art Williams dead: Producer & playwright known for roles in Home & Fresh Prince of Bel Air dies aged 78

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Hollywood producer Samm-Art Williams has died aged 78

Producer, playwright and actor Samm-Art Williams, whose Tony-nominated 1979 play Home is being revived on Broadway this year, has died peacefully aged 78. Williams, who was also a screenwriter whose TV credits include Hangin’ with Mr Cooper, died in Burgaw, North Coralina, according to his family.

Born Samuel Arthur Williams on January 20, 1946, in Philadelphia, Williams began his career on the New York stage under the name Samm Williams in the early 1970s, appearing in major plays such as Black Jesus and working with New York's Negro Ensemble Company on works such as Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide and Liberty Calland.

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After moving to Off Broadway, he went by the name Samm-Art Williams. By the late 1970s, his talent as a playwright had been recognised, most notably for Home, a sad drama premiered by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1979 before making its Broadway debut the following year.

Samm-Art Williams as Matt Henson in Cook & Peary:Race to the Pole. Samm-Art Williams as Matt Henson in Cook & Peary:Race to the Pole.
Samm-Art Williams as Matt Henson in Cook & Peary:Race to the Pole. | CBS via Getty Images

A production of Home, directed by Kenny Leon, will begin previews on May 17 at the Todd Haimes Theatre and will formally premiere on June 5. Roundabout describes Home as a "muscular and melodic coming-of-age story," delving into the journey of Cephus Miles, a Southern black farmer who faces incarceration for his opposition to the Vietnam draft, following hardships in the North, and eventual return home. Beyond Home, Williams' contributions to the theatrical environment include Welcome To Black River and Friends. In addition to his theatrical background, Williams made an impression on television in the 1980s and 1990s, offering his writing talents to acclaimed sitcoms such as The New Mike Hammer, Cagney and Lacey, Badges, and many others. Notably, his work on Motown Returns to the Apollo landed him an Emmy nomination in 1985.

In addition to his acting abilities, he also appeared in major productions such as Blood Simple (1984) and played Jim in a 1985 American Playhouse/PBS interpretation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His film debut was in The Wanderers (1979), followed by appearances in films such as Dressed to Kill (1980). Throughout his career, Williams received awards such as a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Playwriting. He also served as an Artist-in-Residence at North Carolina Central University, where he taught about equity theatre and playwriting.

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