Do the Right Thing Actor Paul Benjamin Dies At 81

Escape from Alcatraz - Clint Eastwood and Paul Benjamin

Actor Paul Benjamin passes away at the age of 81. A veteran character actor, Benjamin was best known for his memorable role in 1989 classic Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee.

In 1969, Benjamin made his feature film debut in Midnight Cowboy starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, the father of actress Angelina Jolie. The film initially received an X rating, but ultimately earned seven Oscar nominations, including three wins. Benjamin portrayed a bartender in New York City. Three years later, Benjamin co-headlined the crime film Across 110th Street, starring opposite Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, and Anthony Franciosa. After building up his acting resume throughout the 1970s, Benjamin landed a supporting role in 1979’s Escape from Alcatraz, a prison film classic starring Clint Eastwood. A decade later, Benjamin scored his most iconic role in Lee’s aforementioned Do the Right Thing, a breakthrough film about racial tension in Brooklyn. Benjamin portrayed a corner man known as ML. During the 2000s, Benjamin appeared in popular television series like The Shield and Law & Order. He also portrayed Al Ervin in three episodes of NBC’s ER. This past decade, Benjamin appeared in two feature films, The Talk Man and Occupy, Texas.

On Instagram, Lee himself broke the news about Benjamin’s death, alongside an image from Do the Right Thing. The iconic director offered a brief message about his past collaborator, and noted that Benjamin passed away just two days before Do the Right Thing’s 30th anniversary. Lee concluded the Instagram post by writing “Rest In Paradise.” As of today, Lee’s tribute to Benjamin has been acknowledged by over 36,000 Instagram users, and has received over 1,600 comments. Check out Lee’s full post below. 

Meanwhile, many of Benjamin’s fellow performers have also posted messages on social media. Accomplished actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire) noted that Benjamin “lead by example” and described him as “a man of dignity, pride & grandeur.” In addition, actor and filmmaker Robert Townsend recalled working with Benjamin on the 1991 musical drama The Five Heartbeats. Comedian Orlando Jones also shared his thoughts about Benjamin’s career, specifically their creative collaboration for the play “Naked Angels,” which was written by Jones and directed by Benjamin. Candyman actor Tony Todd kept his message brief, remembering Benjamin as “an inspiration.”

While Benjamin’s acting career had slowed over the past decade, his cinematic legacy remains intact. And given that Do the Right Thing just recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, Benjamin’s past collaborators will surely recall their memories about the late actor and share further stories on social media. As new viewers experience Do the Right Thing for the first time - now and in the years to come - Benjamin’s legacy will only grow stronger.

Rest in Peace Paul Benjamin: January 1, 1938 - June 28, 2019

Source: Spike Lee/Instagram

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