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Cleavon Jake Little (June 1, 1939 – October 22, 1992) was an American film and theatre actor, best known for his lead role as Bart in the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles and as the irreverent Dr. Jerry Noland in the early 1970s sitcom Temperatures Rising. In 1978 he played "The Prince of Darkness" in the radio station comedy FM. He was also in the 1984 action film Toy Soldiers and acted out the role of Super Soul in the film Vanishing Point in 1971.


Early life

Little was born in Chickasha, Oklahomamarker and was the brother of singer DeEtta Little, best known for her performance of Gonna Fly Now, the main theme to Rocky, the film which catapulted Sylvester Stallone to stardom in 1976. He grew up in Californiamarker and attended college initially at San Diego City College, and then at San Diego State Universitymarker where he earned a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts.After receiving a full scholarship to graduate school Juilliardmarker he moved to New Yorkmarker. After completing studies at Juilliard, Little trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Little made his professional debut in February 1967, appearing Off-Broadway at The Village Gatemarker as the Muslim Witch in the original production of Barbara Garson's MacBird. This was followed by the role of Foxtrot in the original production of Bruce Jay Friedman's long running play Scuba Duba which premiered in October 1967. The following year, he made his first film appearance in a small uncredited role in What's So Bad About Feeling Good, and his first first television appearance as a guest star on two episodes of Felony Squad. A series of small roles in films followed in films like John and Mary (1969) and Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970).

Little made his Broadwaymarker debut in 1969 as Lee Haines in John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical Jimmy Shine with Dustin Hoffman in the title role. In 1971, he returned to Broadway to portray the title role in Ossie Davis's musical Purlie, a role for which he won a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical. A year later, Little was hired as an ensemble player on the syndicated TV variety weekly The David Frost Revue and he portrayed Shogo in Narrow Road to the Deep North on Broadway.

In 1971, Little was chosen to portray Super Soul in the movie Vanishing Point. After a few more films and guest appearances, Little was cast to portray Sheriff Bart in the 1974 comedy film Blazing Saddles, beating out Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script intending to play the role himself. Studio execs were apparently nervous over Pryor's reputation as a racy comedian and thought Little would be a safer choice. This role earned him a BAFTA Award nomination as Most Promising Newcomer. He would also play in a supporting role for Richard Pryor in the racing movie Greased Lightning (1977), based on the true life story of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car racing champion in America.

In 1975, Little returned to Broadway to portray the role of Lewis in the original production of Murray Schisgal's All Over Town under the direction of Dustin Hoffman. The following year, he appeared as Willy Stepp in the original production of Ronald Ribman's The Poison Tree at the Ambassador Theatre.

Later career and death

After Blazing Saddles, Little appeared in many less successful films, such as FM, High Risk, Jimmy the Kid and Toy Soldiers. Little also made guest appearances on The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Police Story, All In The Family, The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, ABC Afterschool Specials, The Fall Guy and ALF. In 1989, he appeared in an episode of Dear John and won the Outstanding Guest Actor Emmy, defeating Robert Picardo, Jack Gilford, Leslie Nielsen and Sammy Davis, Jr. Little also had a part in Fletch Lives, the sequel to 1985's Fletch. Little also co-starred opposite of Lauren Hutton and Jim Carrey in the 1985 horror comedy Once Bitten. Little was slated to star in the TV series Mr. Dugan, where he was to play a black Congress, but that series was poorly received by real black Congressmen and was canceled before making it to air. He replaced Frankie Faison as Ronald Freeman, a black dentist married to Ellen Freeman, a white housewife, on the short-lived FOX sitcom True Colors.

In 1988, Little returned to Broadway to appear as Midge in Herb Gardner's Tony Award winning play I'm Not Rappaport with Judd Hirsch, Jace Alexander and Mercedes Ruehl. In 1991, Little was cast as a civil rights lawyer in the TV docu-drama, Separate But Equal, starring Sidney Poitier, who portrayed the first black U.marker S.marker Supreme Courtmarker Justice, Thurgood Marshall, NAACP lead attorney in the 1954 Supreme Court case desegregating public schools. He also played in the MacGyver series as Frank Colton, one half of a bounty hunter brother duo. His last appearance overall was a guest part on an episode of Tales from the Crypt, before he died in Sherman Oaks, Californiamarker, in 1992 of colon cancer. He was cremated.


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