Roger Robinson, Tony-Winning Actor and a Detective on 'Kojak,' Dies at 78

Courtesy of Ebony Repertory Theatre
Roger Robinson

He was seen recently on 'How to Get Away With Murder' and 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.'

Roger Robinson, the veteran character actor who won a Tony Award, starred in such films as Brother to Brother and had recurring roles on Kojak and How to Get Away With Murder, has died. He was 78.

Robinson died Wednesday in Escondido, California, of complications from a heart condition, Ebony Repertory Theatre producing artistic director Wren T. Brown announced.

In last year's HBO telefilm The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Robinson portrayed Day Lacks, the first cousin and father of Henrietta's (Renee Elise Goldsberry) children. And on ABC's How to Get Away With Murder, he played Mac Harkness, the father of Viola Davis' Annalise Keating.

In 2009, Robinson received his Tony for best performance by a featured actor in a play for his portrayal of Bynum Walker in Joe Turner's Come and Gone by August Wilson, a playwright with whom he had a long association.

Thirteen years earlier, he was nominated in the same category for playing Hedley in Wilson's Seven Guitars, and he starred as Becker in a Royal National Theatre production of the playwright's Jitney that won an Olivier Award.

Early in his career, Robinson portrayed the young detective Gil Weaver on Telly Savalas' Kojak for three seasons of the 1970s CBS cop drama.

A former Universal Studios contract player, he guest-starred on such shows as Ironside, Starsky and Hutch, The Jeffersons, A Man Called Hawk, Law & Order, New York Undercover, Homicide: Life on the Street, ER, NYPD Blue, Rubicon, Kate Brasher and Elementary.

Robinson received a supporting actor Spirit Award nomination for Brother to Brother (2004) and also appeared on the big screen in Believe in Me (1971), Willie Dynamite (1974), Newman's Law (1974), Meteor (1979), It's My Turn (1980), The Lonely Guy (1984), Who's the Man? (1993) and Wedding Daze (2006)

Robinson was born in Seattle on May 2, 1940. His father was a musician and his mother an educator. He graduated from Bellevue High School in 1958 and briefly attended Everett Junior College before moving to Los Angeles in 1959.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy — he played the oboe and tenor saxophone with the third Naval District Band in Brooklyn — Robinson studied acting with director Lloyd Richards and, while still in the service, was hired to play a soldier off-Broadway in A Walk in Darkness.

He made his Broadway debut in 1969 opposite Hal Holbrook and Al Pacino in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?

Robinson also worked on Broadway in the musical Amen Corner, The Miser, The Iceman Cometh and Drowning Crow. He was in more than 30 off-Broadway plays, with his final stage performance coming this year opposite Wendell Pierce in Some Old Black Man.

Survivors include his sister Tina. Celebrations of his life to take place in Los Angeles and New York are in the works.