There are not many black actors that played a white racist, drew a comment from Idi Amin when he died, and worked with Phil Silvers. Well, Godfrey Cambridge was that man.

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Born Godfrey MacArthur Cambridge on 26th February 1933 (this would have been his 81st birthday) he won a four-year scholarship to study medicine but decided, instead, to become an actor, leaving college in his third year. He acted in many off-Broadway productions, winning the Village Voice’s Obie Award in Jean Genet’s  “The Blacks”; and, on Broadway, he gained a Tony Award Nomination in “Purlie’s Victorious”. It was as a comedian that he broke into television, initially on The Jack Paar Tonight Show  (1957). Then a spot on The Red Skelton Show and The Phil Silvers Show in 1957.

The Monkees (1967)

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A Nice Place to Visit

He established himself in films in the late sixties.

He played Benjamin “Benny” Brownstead in The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968)

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A small role in Sidney Lumet’s 1968 Bye Bye Bravermanand then Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970) and his turn as Gravedigger Jones, cop and partner to Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St Jaques) in Ossie Davis’ cracking Blaxploitation comedy action flick.

Cotton Comes to Harlem

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He played both comic and straight roles but is likely remembered for such portrayals as that of the white bigot Jeff Gerber who wakes up one morning to find himself turned black in Watermelon Man (1970) with Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde)

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A cracking sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem came out in 1972, Come Back Charleston Blue with Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed chasing a Harlem gangster, dead for more than four decades who appears to be slitting the throats of his rivals. (Phillip Michael Thomas – Tubbs from Miami Vice – has a role as a Minister).

Come Back Charleston Blue

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A few episodes of Police Story, then Whiffs (1975) Elliott Gould, Eddie Albert, Harry Guardino and Jennifer O’Neill.

Preview Clip

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The same year he teamed up with the stupendous Pam Grier and much missed Yaphet Kotto, Eartha Kitt and Scatman Crothers in Friday Foster (1975).


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A TV Movie, Scott Joplin with Billy Dee Williams, Seymour Cassel, Art Carney and Sam Fuller was his final film.  His compulsive eating probably contributed to his untimely death at 43 on the set of the television film Victory at Entebbe (1976) in which he was to have played General Idi Amin He died of heart attack on set. Amin claimed Cambridge’s death was “punishment from God.” Julius Harris (Tee Hee in Live and Let Die, played Amin in the finished film).

When Cambridge died he was just 43 years old.