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Actor Mykelti Williamson has appeared in films such as Forrest Gump and Free Willy, and on TV shows such as 24.
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Mykelti Williamson was born on March 4, 1957, in St. Louis, Missouri. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Williamson found refuge in the stage, becoming a member of the teen dance group featured on Soul Train. He made his acting debut in the show Starsky & Hutch, and went on to appear in a number of TV shows. He is best known for the films Forrest Gump and Free Willy, as well as roles on TV's 24 and CSI: NY.
"That left a hole in me."
[On his childhood sexual abuse.]
"Everyone has gone through something painful in their life. But if you surround yourself with people who have the light turned on, you can—you will—come through it."
Actor Mykelti Williamson was born Michael T. Williamson on March 4, 1957, in St. Louis, Missouri. Williamson's father served as an Air Force staff sergeant, and his mother was a certified public accountant. Of mixed African-American and Blackfoot Indian heritage, Williamson was named Mykelti by his grandfather—it means both "spirit" and "silent friend" in the Blackfoot language. Williamson's father left the family when Mykelti was still a child. This left Williamson's mother to work full time in order to support her son, and often meant Mykelti had to be left in the care of neighbors, a traumatic arrangement for the young boy.
While under the watch of his new caregivers, Williamson says he was repeatedly molested by the man of the house. Mykelti kept silent about the abuse after his neighbor threatened to kill his mother if he told. As an adult, Williamson says he continued to be plagued by memories of the assault he suffered as a child. "That left a hole in me," he later confessed to reporters.
Williamson escaped his abusive past when the family relocated to Los Angeles. There, he discovered the joy of performance, and started acting in church productions beginning at the age of 10. In 1973, when Mykelti was 13, he was selected to become the youngest member of The Lockers, a dance troupe featured on the variety TV show Soul Train.
While maintaining his life as a TV dancer, Williamson also excelled as a student and athlete at Crenshaw High School. He was especially good at basketball and football, however, Williamson quickly realized that his heart did not lie in athletics. To the dismay of his coaches, Williamson quit sports and instead joined the cheerleading squad, which better suited his taste for performance and dance.
Upon graduating from high school in 1975, Williamson went on to study television and film at Los Angeles City College while at the same time auditing acting classes at USC. He then transferred to the Gene Evans Motion Picture School in San Jose, California, where he graduated in 1978. That same year, he made his television premiere as a guest star on the show Starsky and Hutch.
Throughout the 1980s, Williamson steadily accrued television credits. In 1983, he landed recurring roles in two NBC dramas: as minor league baseball player Deejay Cunningham on Bay Hill Blues and as Officer Ron Garfield in the popular police drama Hill Street Blues. In 1988, he was cast in another successful police drama, the Emmy Award-winning Midnight Caller.
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