Ron O'Neal, whose portrayal of a take-no-prisoners hustler in the film "Superfly," gave rise to a new genre of roles for Black male actors and created on the street a new symbol of Black machismo, passed away on Wednesday (1/14/04).
O'Neal died at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after a long bout with pancreatic cancer.
O'Neal was born in Utica, N.Y., but grew up in Cleveland where he joined a theatrical company called the Karma House. His strong interest in theatre led him to New York where he taught school in Harlem. His convincing performance in "No Place To Be Somebody," earned him a prestigious Obie Award.
The recognition jumpstarted O'Neal's career and producers of "Superfly" recognized his ability to portray a cocaine dealing street-hustler. The movie became a surprise hit and ignited a series of Black movies called "blaxploitation" films in the 1970s. The success of the film was followed-up with "Superfly TNT," a sequel in which O'Neal directed and help produce.
O'Neal had later roles in "Mercenary Fighters" (1987) and "Up Against the Wall" (1991), which he also directed. He joined up with a team of other blaxploitation stars such as Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree in "Original Gangsters" (1996). But mostly he stayed away from acting because producers only sought him for roles playing a pimp or hustler.
He is survived by his wife Audrey Pool O'Neal.