Al Freeman, Jr., an Emmy Award-winning actor and professor at Howard University, died on August 9 in Washington, DC, according to a spokesperson. The cause of Freeman's death was not disclosed. He was 78.
Albert Cornelius Freeman, Jr., was born March 21, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas. He served in the Air Force and attended Los Angeles City College before heading to New York for theater roles.
On Broadway, Freeman was part of the original Broadway productions of Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, alongside Cicely Tyson, and in James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie.
Freeman played Ed Hall on ABC's One Life to Live from 1972 to 1987, and in the process made history. In 1979, Freeman was the first African-American to win the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor. He was also the first African-American to direct a soap, which he also accomplished with One Life to Live.
"Al Freeman, Jr., amazing man, extraordinary actor, a joy 2 work with on the soap opera OLTL. He will missed," Freeman's former co-star, Judith Light (Karen Wolek), wrote on Twitter.
To non-soap fans, Mr. Freeman may be best known for the role of Elijah Muhammad, starring opposite Denzel Washington in the 1992 Spike Lee film Malcolm X. He earned an NAACP Image Award for his work in the film.
"There were several people in the room, myself included, who had either seen Elijah Muhammad in person or on news film," Paul Lee, a Malcolm X scholar, told Ebony magazine in 1993 while describing rehearsals for the film. "As soon as Al went into his act, there were audible gasps from people who found it difficult to believe that he had nailed such an unusual personality."
Freeman began teaching at Howard University in 1988, and was named chairman of the Theater Arts department in 2005.