Monday, August 11, 2003

Cancer claims Gregory Hines at 57


Tap dance prodigy parlayed skills into stage, movie and TV success

By Tim Molloy
The Associated 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, publicist Allen Eichhorn said.

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 Tony Awards last year. "It came out of his instincts, his impulses and his amazing creativity. His whole heart and soul went into everything he did."

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.

Early start

Gregory Oliver Hines was born on Feb. 14, 1946, in New York. 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 was 5, 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 his 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.

Hines had a falling out with his 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, Calif.

"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."

Family reunion

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.

The brothers reunited onstage for Eubie! a homage to composer Eubie Blake. 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.




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