Roscoe Lee Browne


1925-2007. Woodbury, New Jersey, United States

If his face isn't familiar, his voice probably is. Boasting a distinctive, authoritative timbre, this stage-trained character actor used his vocal skills to great effect in animated projects—he was the dastardly Kingpin on the '90s Spider-Man series—and as a narrator—for the Babe movies and documentaries like Galapagos: Beyond Darwin. A product of the radical off-Broadway theater scene of the '60s, Browne was past 30 when he decided to become an actor, having previously enjoyed success as an athlete (he won the 1951 world championship in the 800-yard dash), teacher (he taught comparative literature and French at his alma mater, Lincoln University) and salesman. Despite his late start, he found instant success: The day after quitting his sales job in 1956 to pursue his dream, he snagged a role in a New York Shakespeare Festival show. Browne went on to appear in numerous NYSF productions and on Broadway, but he thrived in downtown theater, originating a role in Jean Genet's controversial and confrontational race play The Blacks and winning raves for his searing work in Benito Cereno. Browne also began to infiltrate Hollywood with supporting roles in B-movies, such as Black Like Me and Super Fly T.N.T. But TV was his true medium. Over 40 years, he made dozens of small-screen appearances, usually playing privileged, educated African-Americans on diverse series including All in the Family, Falcon Crest and Law & Order. Notably, he was Robert Guillaume's dry-witted replacement on Soap and he won an Emmy for his recurring role as a college professor on The Cosby Show and A Different World. Even in his sixties and seventies, Browne remained a sought-after stage and screen player, earning his sole Tony nod for his performance in August Wilson's Two Trains Running and touring with fellow actor Anthony Zerbe in Behind the Broken Words. He slowed down in the '00s because of a long battle with cancer and in April 2007, he finally succumbed to the disease. Although he wasn't as famous as other black actors of his generation (James Earl Jones, Ossie Davis), he counted most of them among his friends and admirers.

Facts Awards
  • Was an award-winning track-and-field athlete, taking two American indoor championships and winning the world championship in the 800-yard dash in 1951.
  • Worked as a sales representative for wine and liquor importer Schenley Import Corporation from 1951 to 1956; the day after quitting to pursue acting, he won a role in a New York Shakespeare Festival production.
  • Taught French and comparative literature at his alma mater, Lincoln University.