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Billy Dee Williams (born William December Williams, Jr. on April 6 1937 IN New Yorkmarker, United Statesmarker) is an American actor, artist, singer and writer, best known for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars films as well as being a pitchman for Colt 45 malt liquor.

Early life

Williams was born in New York Citymarker, the son of Loretta, a West Indianmarker-born elevator operator from Montserratmarker, and William December Williams, Sr. a Texasmarker-born janitor. He has a twin sister, Loretta, and grew up in Harlemmarker, where he was raised by his maternal grandmother while his parents worked at several jobs. Williams graduated from Manhattan's School of Performing Artsmarker where he was a classmate of Diahann Carroll, who coincidentally played the wife of his character Brady Lloyd on the 1980s prime-time soap Dynasty.



He made his film debut in 1959 in The Last Angry Man starring Paul Muni, in which he portrayed a juvenile delinquent. His first big break was in the acclaimed television movie, Brian's Song in which he played Gale Sayers. In 1972 he played Billie Holliday's husband Louis McKay in Motown Productions' Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. Diana Ross starred in Lady Sings the Blues opposite Williams; Motown paired the two of them again three years later in Mahogany.

His most famous role is Lando Calrissian, which he played in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. He later reprised this role, when he lent his voice for the character in the 2002 video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, as well as the audio dramatization of Dark Empire and the National Public Radio adaptation of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Williams had originally auditioned for the role of Han Solo during the casting of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Williams appeared in numerous other films, most recently lending his voice to Oedipus (2004). One of his most notable roles was in 1989's Batman as district attorney Harvey Dent. Williams originally took the role believing that it would land him in a sequel playing the supervillain Two-Face and arranged a pay or play contract in preparation for the role. However, the studio decided to pay the penalty fee instead when the time came for the third installment, Batman Forever, in order to cast Tommy Lee Jones for the role.


Williams' television work included a recurring guest-starring role on the short-lived show Gideon's Crossing. He has had a brief cameo in the hit TV show Scrubs Season 5, where he plays the godfather of Julie (Mandy Moore). J.D.'s best friend Turk hugs him calling him "Lando" even though he wants to be called Billy D. He is also well-known for his appearance in advertisements for Colt 45, a brand of malt liquor, for which he received much criticism. Williams responded indifferently to the criticism of his appearances in the liquor commercials. When questioned about his appearances he was quoted as saying, "I drink, you drink. Hell, if marijuana was legal, I'd appear in a commercial for it."

Williams was paired with actress Marla Gibbs on three different TV shows: The Jeffersons (Gibbs' character, Florence, had a crush on Williams and challenged him on everything because she thought he was an impostor); 227 (her character, Mary, pretending to be royalty, met Williams at a banquet); and The Hughleys (both Gibbs and Williams portrayed Darryl's parents). (In one memorable scene on The Jeffersons, Williams, waiting for Florence to hand over his driver's license to him, repeats the line "Do you want my arm to fall off?" Florence, now convinced that he is Williams, yells "that's the line you said to Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues! He then replies "I got another one right!")

Williams made a special guest appearance on the hit sketch comedy show, In Living Color in 1990. He portrayed Pastor Dan in an episode of That '70s Show. In this episode entitled "Baby Don't You Do It" (2004) his character is obsessed with Star Wars, and uses this to help counsel Eric Forman (himself a major "Star Wars" fan) and Donna Pinciotti about their premarital relationship.

Williams made a cameo appearance as himself on the TV series Lost in the episode "Exposé". He also appears regularly on short clips on the Jimmy Kimmel Live as a semi-parody of himself. One of his more recent appearances was in the fourth season of Mind of Mencia.

He played Toussaint Dubois for General Hospital: Night Shift in 2007 and 2008. Williams reprised his role as Toussaint on General Hospital itself beginning in June 2009.


In 1961, Williams recorded a jazz LP produced by Prestige Records entitled Let's Misbehave on which he sang several swing standards. The album is currently out of print.

Video games

Williams voiced Lando Calrissian in the video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. He has recently played a live action character, GDI Director Redmond Boyle, in the game Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, making him the second former Star Wars actor to appear in a Command and Conquer game, with the first being James Earl Jones as GDI General James Solomon in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun.


In 2008, Williams reprised his role as Lando Calrissian to appear in a video on in a mock political ad defending himself for leader of the Star Wars galaxy against vicious attack ads from Emperor Palpatine. The video is titled "Vote for Lando Calrissian! w/ BILLY DEE WILLIAMS"


Even before he began acting, Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design in New York. In the late 1980s, he resumed painting. Some of his work can be seen at his online gallery BDW World Art. He has had solo exhibitions in various galleries around the U.S., and his work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution, and The Schomburg Museum. The covers of the Thelonious Monk Competition programs since 1990 are by him.

Personal life

Williams has been married three times, first to Audrey Sellers, with whom he had a son Corey (b. 1960). They were divorced some years later, after which he apparently became quite depressed. ".... there was a period when I was very despondent, broke, depressed, my first marriage was on the rocks." Williams was briefly married to actress Marlene Clark in the late 1960s, divorced in 1971. He married Teruko Nakagami on December 27, 1972. She brought a daughter, Miyako (b. 1962), from her previous marriage to musician Wayne Shorter.) They have a daughter Hanako (b. 1973). They filed for divorce in 1993, but were reported to have reconciled in 1997.



Short subjects:
  • Very Heavy Love (2001)
  • Oedipus (2004) (voice)

Television work

Recorded musical work

Video game work


  • PSI/Net (1999), ISBN 978-0-312-86766-9
  • JUST/In Time (2001), ISBN 978-0-8125-7240-7
  • Twilight: A Novel (2002), ISBN 978-0-312-87909-9

Further reading

  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Billy Dee Williams." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. Ed. Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 1742-43.


  1. Billy Dee Williams Biography (1937-)
  2. S W A D - Williams, Billy Dee
  3. Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams)
  4. "Vote for Lando Calrissian! w/ BILLY DEE WILLIAMS"
  5. Roger Ebert Interview, October 26, 1975 (retrieved Aug 2, 2008.)
  6. Jet, July 5, 1993
  8. Camera

External links

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