Paul Winfield, an Academy Award-nominated actor who was known for his versatility in stage, film, and television roles, including a highly praised 1978 depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., has died. He was 62. Winfield died Sunday of a heart attack, said his agent Michael Livingston. Actor and author Jack Larson, a friend, told Advocate.com that Winfield, who was openly gay in his life if not in the media, had been distraught over the past two years following the death of his longtime companion, Charles Gillan Jr. Larson produced the 1984 drama Mike's Murder, written and directed by gay filmmaker James Bridges, in which Winfield gave one of his finest performances as a gay man distraught over the death of his onetime lover.
In 1968, Winfield played the boyfriend of Diahann Carroll in her situation comedy, Julia--a role that some suggest helped open television to other black performers. Four years later Winfield's portrayal of the father in Sounder earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. He was Emmy-nominated for best actor in the title role of the 1978 miniseries King and nominated the next year in the best supporting actor category for playing a college chancellor willing to sing Negro spirituals to get donations for his school in Roots: The Next Generation. He finally won an Emmy in 1995 for a guest appearance on Picket Fences. He played a federal judge whose rulings on busing inner-city children are challenged by a local resident. Despite acclaim, Winfield was often relegated to supporting roles, including playing Jim in a 1974 remake of Huckleberry Finn.
Sidney Poitier hired Winfield for his first movie role in The Lost Man in 1969. Other significant roles included an appearance in the Broadway play Checkmates with Denzel Washington and his portrayal of Don King in a 1995 HBO movie. A Los Angeles native, Winfield was born May 22, 1941. Until he was 8, he was raised by union organizer Lois Edwards, who later married Winfield's stepfather. He was bused to the predominantly white Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles and was named best actor for three years in a row in an annual Southern California high school drama competition. He later studied drama at four colleges before leaving the University of California, Los Angeles, six credits short of a bachelor's degree. He is survived by his sister, Patricia Wilson, of Las Vegas.