Tap dancer Greg Hines dead

Updated on Aug 12, 2003 06:13 PM IST

Gregory Hines, 57, the greatest tap dancer who transcended the stage with a successful screen career, died of cancer recently.

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PTI | ByAssociated Press, Los Angeles

Gregory Hines, the greatest tap dancer of his generation who transcended the stage with a successful screen career that included starring roles in White Nights and The Cotton Club, has died at 57.

Hines died of cancer Saturday in Los Angeles, publicist Allen Eichhorn said Sunday. With his smooth, solo tap style reminiscent of Fred Astaire, Hines became internationally known at a young age as part of a jazz tap duo with his brother, Maurice. He won a 1992 Tony Award for the musical Jelly's Last Jam.

"His dancing came from something very real," said Bernadette Peters, who appeared with Hines as co-hosts of the 2002 Tony Awards show. "It came out of his instincts, his impulses and his amazing creativity. His whole heart and soul went into everything he did." "He was the last of a kind of immaculate performer _ a singer, dancer, actor and a personality," said George C. Wolfe, who directed Jelly. "He knew how to command."

Hines and his brother performed together in the musical revue Eubie! in 1978, in Broadway's Sophisticated Ladies and on film in 1984's The Cotton Club.

In The Cotton Club, Hines also had a lead acting role, which led to more offers from Hollywood. He starred with Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1985's Cold War-era dancers' story White Nights and with Billy Crystal in 1986's Running Scared, and he appeared with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett in 1995's Waiting to Exhale, among other movies.

On television, he had his own series in 1997 called The Gregory Hines Show, as well as a recurring role on Will and Grace. Last March, he appeared in the spring television series Lost at Home.

Gregory Oliver Hines was born on Feb. 14, 1946, in New York City. He has said his mother urged him and his older brother toward tap dancing because she wanted them to have a way out of the ghetto. When he was a toddler, his brother was already taking tap lessons and would come home and teach him steps.

They began performing together when Gregory Hines was five, and they performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem for two weeks when he was 6. In 1954, they were cast in the Broadway musical The Girl in Pink Tights, starring French ballerina Jeanmaire.

"I don't remember not dancing," Hines said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press. "When I realized I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance." Sammy Davis Jr. was one of young Gregory Hines' inspirations, as were the Nicholas Brothers and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Hines drew on Robinson's style for some of his work in Jelly's Last Jam.

Paired with brother Maurice, he was a professional child star. In his teens, joined by their father, Maurice Sr., on drums, they were known as Hines, Hines and Dad. But there was a time, Hines said in the 2001 interview, that he didn't want to dance. He was in his mid-20s, "a hippie" in a brief moment of rebellion.

"I felt that I didn't want to be in show business anymore. I felt that I wanted to be a farmer," he said with a laugh. Invited to work on a farm in upstate New York, he quickly learned a lesson.

Beginning before dawn, "I was milking cows and shoveling terrible stuff and working all day. By the end of the day, all I wanted was my tap shoes _ I thought, 'What am I doing? I better get back where I belong on the stage where we work at night and can sleep late!"' Hines had a falling out with his older brother in the late 1960s because the younger was becoming influenced by counterculture and wanted to perform to rock music and write his songs.

In 1973, the family act disbanded and Hines moved to Venice Beach. "I was going through a lot of changes," Hines told the Washington Post in 1981. "Marriage. We'd just had a child. Divorce. I was finding myself."

He returned to New York in 1978, partly to be near his daughter, Daria, who was living with Hines' first wife, dance therapist Patricia Panella. His brother, with whom he had reconciled, told him about an audition for the Broadway-bound The Last Minstrel Show.

He got the part, but the show opened and closed in Philadelphia. The brothers reunited onstage for Eubie! a homage to composer Eubie Blake, choreographed by LeTang. Gregory Hines was lauded for his singing of Low Down Blues and his rat-tat-tat tapping during Hot Feet.

He won several awards, and was nominated for a Tony. Hines also earned Tony nominations for Comin' Uptown and Sophisticated Ladies and he won a Tony for best actor in a musical playing jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton in Jelly's Last Jam. Tony-winning choreographer and dancer Savion Glover, a protege of Hines, danced the roll of the young Morton in the Broadway show.

Hines landed his first film role in the 1981 Mel Brooks comedy, History of the World Part I, in which he played a Roman slave as a last-minute replacement for Richard Pryor. He has since been nominated for a number of awards, most recently an Emmy in 2001 for his lead role in the miniseries Bojangles.

His PBS special, Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America, was nominated in 1989, and in 1982 he was nominated for his performance in I Love Liberty, a variety special saluting America. He was nominated in 1985 for a performance on Motown Returns to the Apollo.

He also won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1999 for his work as the voice of Big Bill in the Bill Cosby animated TV series, Little Bill, and NAACP Image Awards for Bojangles  and Running Scared.

Hines was engaged to Negrita Jayde and, in addition to his father and brother, is survived by his daughter Daria, son Zach, grandson Lucian and stepdaughter Jessica Koslow.

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