Sammy Williams, Tony-Winning Actor From 'A Chorus Line,' Dies at 69

Courtesy of Photofest
Robert LuPone (left) and Sammy Williams in 'A Chorus Line'

Later in his career, Williams was a choreographer, director and actor in Los Angeles.

Sammy Williams, who won a Tony Award in Michael Bennett's groundbreaking original Broadway production of A Chorus Line, has died. He was 69.

Family spokeswoman and friend Brandee Barnaby says Williams died of cancer Saturday in Los Angeles.

Williams won a Tony for best featured actor in 1976 for the role of Paul San Marco in A Chorus Line, the landmark musical with a score by Marvin Hamlisch about the inner lives of dancers auditioning for the ensemble of a big show. Paul is a painfully shy young Puerto Rican performer just beginning to feel comfortable about being gay; he is reluctantly coaxed to revisit an emotional episode from the past in which his parents learned of his sexuality while he was working in a drag act.

The powerful monologue connected deeply with gay men dealing with shame, discrimination and family rejection in an era before more widespread mainstream cultural visibility for the LGBT community. 

The stories in A Chorus Line had been largely drawn from real life, based on taped workshop sessions in which Broadway dancers discussed the life experiences that had led them to the stage. Paul's backstory combined elements of Williams' path to self-acceptance as a gay man with more specific details from the life of Nicholas Dante, who co-wrote the show's book with James Kirkwood.

Williams also contributed to another plotline in the musical by revealing that, as a young boy, he tagged along to his sister's tap-dancing class, declaring "I can do that!" on one occasion when she refused to attend. However, the song that resulted from that anecdote, titled "I Can Do That," ended up being performed by a different character in the show.

Just 26 when his association with A Chorus Line began, Williams' performance was all the more remarkable because he had never before played a speaking role on the stage. He later developed his professional experiences into a solo show, And the Winner Is, which he performed around the country.

Williams had other earlier smaller parts on Broadway in Applause and The Happy Time. After relocating from New York he became a choreographer, director and actor in Los Angeles, appearing in Follies at the Ahmanson Theatre in 2012.