Film, television and theater actor Paul Benjamin, who appeared in Spike Lee’s acclaimed 1989 film Do the Right Thing, died last month, the Oscar-winning director announced on Wednesday.
Sharing an image of Benjamin from the film as one of the three wise Brooklyn “corner men” who gathered daily under a beach umbrella, Lee penned a heartfelt tribute to the 81-year-old on Instagram, revealing he died on June 28, in Los Angeles. A cause of death has not been revealed, Variety reports.
“I’m sad to write that the great actor Paul Benjamin, who played ML, far left, passed this past Friday, two days before the 30th anniversary of ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Rest in Paradise,” Lee wrote.
Born in South Carolina, Benjamin’s dreams of being an actor began in childhood, but as noted by The New York Times, he knew better than to talk about that growing up.
“A mention of being an actor was like going to the moon,” Benjamin recalled in a 1995 video interview. “If they had taken me seriously, I would have been run out of town.”
Benjamin got his start as a stage actor in New York doing Shakespeare. He also appeared in Off Broadway plays such as Operation Sidewinder and Camino Real, both in 1970. He made his film debut playing a bartender in Midnight Cowboy in 1969, and later nabbed small roles in Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes and Born to Win.
Featured roles came with “Across 110th Street” in ’72 and in blaxploitation films including The Education of Sonny Carson and Friday Foster with Pam Grier. Benjamin also worked with Hollywood icons Barbra Streisand and Clint Eastwood and appeared in episodes of In the Heat of the Night, Law and Order, ER and The Shield.
His film and television credits also include the Richard Pryor comedy Some Kind of Hero, Escape from Alcatraz, a TV adaptation of Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, John Singleton’s Rosewood as well as the indie classic The Station Agent.
Benjamin wrote and performed in the play “Carrier,” in Los Angeles, which earned Paula Kelly an NAACP acting award.