Varied career included film, stage, sports

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Roscoe Lee Browne, a stage and film actor as well as poet and athlete, died Wednesday of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His rich voice and dignified bearing brought him an Emmy and a Tony nomination in a decades-long career that ranged from classic theater to TV cartoons. He also was a poet and a former world-class runner in the 800-meter event.

The narrator of two Oscar-nominated films and the recipient of three NAACP Image Awards for best actor, Browne launched his theater career in 1956 during the inaugural season of the New York Shakespeare Festival. After working off- and on Broadway and in theater festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, he appeared in plays by a wide range of authors, including William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

He won an Obie Award in 1965 for his role as a rebellious slave in the off-Broadway performance of "Benito Cereno."

In movies, he was a spy in the 1969 Alfred Hitchcock feature "Topaz" and a camp cook in 1972's "The Cowboys," which starred John Wayne.

Browne's film credits include the title role in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones," "The Comedians," "Uptown Saturday Night," "The Mambo Kings" and "Babe" and its sequel.

On television, he played memorable character roles, including a snobbish black lawyer trapped in an elevator with Archie Bunker in an episode of "All in the Family." His TV appearances on such shows as "Barney Miller," "Falcon Crest" and "The Cosby Show" brought him Emmy nominations and the award for "Cosby."

In 1992, Browne returned to Broadway in "Two Trains Running," one of August Wilson's acclaimed series of plays. It won the Tony for best play and brought Browne a Tony nomination for best featured (supporting) actor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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