Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Actor in 'Roots' and 'Harlem Nights,' Dies at 77

Ji-Tu Cumbuka_Uptight - Photofest - P 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

The Alabama native also had roles in 'Bound for Glory,' 'Bachelor Party' and 'Volunteers.'

Actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka, who appeared on Roots and in such films as Bound for Glory, Brewster’s Millions and Harlem Nights, has died. He was 77.

Cumbuka died Tuesday in Atlanta after a long illness, his niece, Amber Holifield, reported on Facebook.

Cumbuka portrayed the slave Wrestler on the landmark 1977 ABC miniseries Roots and played opposite Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions (1985), Moving (1988) and, as the character "Toothless Gambler," in Harlem Nights (1989).

The 6-foot-5 actor had a recurring role as Torque, a man with a detachable hand, on the short-lived 1979 NBC series A Man Called Sloane, starring Robert Conrad, and he also appeared on the small screen in Brian's Song, The Six Million Dollar Man, Ironside, Kung Fu, Sanford and Son, Knight Rider, Hunter, Knots Landing and CSI.

Cumbuka's film résumé also included Blacula (1972), Maurie (1973), Mandingo (1975), Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory (1976), Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), Angela (1977), Bachelor Party (1984), Volunteers (1985) and Outrageous Fortune (1987).

Born in Alabama on March 4, 1940, Cumbuka attended Texas Southern University. He made his onscreen debut in Uptight (1968), directed by Jules Dassin, and then had a role in Elvis Presley's last film as an actor, Change of Habit (1969).

His name was given to him by his grandmother. Ji-Tu means "giant" and Cumbuka "to remember" in Swahili. He published a memoir, A Giant to Remember, in 2012.

Donations can be made to the actor's Help Somebody Foundation Ministries, which he founded to provide services to underserved people through education and ministry.