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He was born in Port of Spain to Barbadian immigrants. He was known for his height (6 ft 6 in), "hearty laugh", and heavily accented bassvoice.
One of four children of parents, who had emigrated to the United States from Trinidad, Holder attended Tranquillity School and then secondary school at Queen's Royal College in Port-of-Spain. At the age of seven, he began dancing in the company of his elder brother, Boscoe, a Tony Award-winning stage director and costume designer.
In 1952, choreographer Agnes de Mille saw Holder dance in St. Thomas. She invited him to New York; he would teach at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance for two years.
Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City from 1955-56. He made his Broadway debut in House of Flowers, a musical by Harold Arlen (music and lyrics) and Truman Capote (lyrics and book). He also starred in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot in 1957.
Holder began his movie career in the British film from 1962, All Night Long, a modern remake of Shakespeare's Othello. He followed that with Doctor Dolittle (1967) as Willie Shakespeare, leader of the natives of Sea-Star Island. In 1972, he was cast as the Sorcerer in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. The following year he was a henchman – Baron Samedi – in the Bond-movie Live and Let Die; he contributed to the film's choreography.
In addition to his movie appearances, Holder became a spokesman for the drink "7 Up Soft", from the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to this, he also helped to promote advertising campaings like "crisp and clean, and no caffeine" and "never had it, never will", also in the 1980s.
In 1975, Holder won two Tony Awards for direction and costume design of The Wiz, the all-black musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Holder was the first black man to be nominated in either category. He won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design. The show ran for 1672 performances over a four-year period; it was revived in 1984.
As a choreographer, Holder created dance pieces for many companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he provided choreography, music, and costumes for Prodigal Prince (1967), and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, for which he provided choreography, music, and costumes for Dougla (1974), while also designing costumes for Firebird (1982). In 1978, Holder directed and choreographed the Broadway musical Timbuktu! Holder's 1957-piece "Bele" is part of the Dance Theater of Harlem repertory.
In the 1982-film Annie, Holder played the role of Punjab. He was in the 1992-film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy. He was also the voice of Ray in Bear in the Big Blue House, and provided narration for Tim Burton's version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He reprised his role as the 7 Up-Spokesman in the 2011 season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he appeared as himself in a commercial for "7 Up Retro" for Marlee Matlin's team.
Holder was a prolific painter (patrons of his art included Lena Horne and William F. Buckley, Jr.), ardent art collector, book author, and music composer. As a painter, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in fine arts in 1956. A book of his photography, Adam, was published by Viking Press in 1986.
In 1955, Holder married dancer Carmen de Lavallade, whom he met when both were in the cast of the musical House of Flowers. They lived in New York City and had one son, Léo. They were the subject of a 2004 film, Carmen & Geoffrey. One of his siblings (an elder brother), Boscoe, was a Tony Award-winning stage director and costume designer.
Geoffrey Holder died in Manhattan of complications from pneumonia on October 5, 2014 aged 84. His immediate survivors were his wife, Carmen, and their son, Léo.
- Waiting for Godot, Revival (all black cast), 1957 – Performer
- House of Flowers, Original Musical, 1954 – Banda dance choreography, performer
- Josephine Baker, Musical Review, 1954 – Performer
- The Wiz, Original Musical, 1975 – Direction, Costume Design (Tony Award for Best Costume Design and Best Direction of a Musical, 1975)
- Timbuktu!, Original Musical, 1978 – Direction, Choreography, Costume Design, Playbill Cover Illustration
- The Wiz, Revival, 1984 – Direction, Costume Design
- The Boys' Choir of Harlem and Friends, Staged Concert, 1993 – Staging
- KYOT-FM in Phoenix, Arizona, 1994–2011 – Voiceover
|1962||All Night Long||Film debut|
|1967||Doctor Dolittle||Willie Shakespeare|
|1972||Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask||The Sorcerer|
|1973||Live and Let Die||Baron Samedi||Also choreography|
|1978||Doctor J. Kanye|
|1998||Hasards ou coïncidences||Gerry|
|2005||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory||Narrator|
|2006||Joséphine Baker. Black Diva in a White Man's World|
|1967||Androcles and the Lion|
|1983||Alice in Wonderland||The Cheshire Cat|
|1985||John Grin's Christmas||Ghost of Christmas Future|
|1988||The Cosby Show||Choreography||Choreographed the Season 5 opening credits|
|1990||The 62nd Annual Academy Awards||Performing|
|1997||Bear in the Big Blue House||Ray||Voice|
|2002–2003||Cyberchase||Master Pi||Episode 118, "Problem Solving in Shangri-La"|
|Episode 209, "Double Trouble"|
|1994||Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller||Jean St. Mouchoir||One of only two live actors in the game (as opposed to voice only)|