Born in 1941, actor Paul Winfield signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1966. Two years later, he began his work on the Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia. Winfield earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a Louisiana sharecropper in the 1972 film Sounder. He also turned out several acclaimed performances in television miniseries, including his role as Martin Luther King Jr. in 1978's King. He won an Emmy Award in 1994 for his guest appearance on the television series Picket Fences. Winfield died in 2004.
Actor Paul Winfield was born on May 22, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. He rose to fame in the 1970s with such films and television projects as Sounder and King. Around the age of 8, Winfield found his inspiration to become an actor. He saw the film Home of the Brave, which explored racism in the military during World War II and was especially moved by the performance of its star, African American actor James Edwards.
Winfield experienced racism firsthand himself, many times during his youth. He was bussed to the mostly white Manual Arts High School. There Winfield found support and encouragement from one of the school's drama teachers. To continue his education, he received a scholarship to Yale University, but he turned it down. According to Contemporary Black Biography, Winfield thought "college was scary enough without going to a rich one." Instead he went to the University of Oregon to study drama. Winfield also later attended University of California Los Angeles and a few other schools.
Critically Acclaimed Actor
In 1966, Winfield landed a contract with Columbia Pictures. One of his first major roles was on the small screen, however. He was a cast member on the Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia from 1968 to 1970. In 1969, Winfield earned his first official film credit in The Lost Man starring Sidney Poitier.
Winfield soon moved on to a starring role in the 1972 drama Sounder with Cicely Tyson. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as dignified sharecropper Nathan Lee Morgan in the film. Despite his nomination, Winfield found few opportunities for leading parts. He took a supporting role as Jim in Huckleberry Finn (1974).
Faring better on television, Winfield gave two tremendous performances in the late 1970s. In 1978, he played Martin Luther King Jr. in the miniseries King. He earned an Emmy Award nomination for his work. The following year, Winfield gave another Emmy Award nominated turn as Dr. Huguley in Roots: The Next Generation.
Winfield made his Broadway debut in 1988 in comedy Checkmates with Ruby Dee and Denzel Washington. Two years later, he won accolades for his scene-stealing turn as a judge in the Harrison Ford thriller Presumed Innocent (1990). Winfield also worked a lot in television, appearing on such shows as Wiseguy, 227 and L.A. Law in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, he won his first Emmy for his guest role in the drama series Picket Fences.
With his low, distinctive voice, Winfield also did a lot of voiceover work as well. He contributed to such animated series as The Simpsons and Spider-Man. One of his final parts was a recurring role on the drama Touched by an Angel. Winfield also served the narrator for the documentary series City Confidential until his death. Plagued by such health problems as diabetes in his later years, Winfield died of a heart attack on March 7, 2004. He was 62 years old.
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