Joe Seneca


Actor

About

Birth Place
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Born
January 14, 1919
Died
August 15, 1996
Cause of Death
Asthma Attack

Biography

With his white hair and face cracked with wrinkles that bespoke the personification of kindliness and wisdom, Seneca is perhaps best remembered for his critically praised portrayal of a blues singer in "Crossroads" (1986). He spent much of the 1950s as a singer with the satirical group The Three Riffs and most of the 60s as an itinerant composer. From 1970-73, Seneca was a contributing w...

Family & Companions

Betty Seneca
Wife
Survived him.

Biography

With his white hair and face cracked with wrinkles that bespoke the personification of kindliness and wisdom, Seneca is perhaps best remembered for his critically praised portrayal of a blues singer in "Crossroads" (1986). He spent much of the 1950s as a singer with the satirical group The Three Riffs and most of the 60s as an itinerant composer. From 1970-73, Seneca was a contributing writer for the acclaimed PBS children's show "Sesame Street."

Turning to acting in the 1970s, Seneca managed to debut in a big way, in the Broadway production of "Of Mice and Men" starring James Earl Jones. He later was featured in the Broadway and touring productions of "The Little Foxes," starring Elizabeth Taylor (1981), and co-starred in August Wilson's award-winning "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1984).

Seneca made his TV debut in "With All Deliberate Speed" (CBS, 1976), about school desegregation, and went on to appear in "Wilma" (NBC, 1977), the biopic of athlete Wilma Rudolph, "Terrible Joe Moran" (CBS, 1984), with James Cagney and Art Carney, and "A Gathering of Old Men" (CBS, 1987), with Louis Gossett Jr. Seneca was a guest performer on numerous shows from "Amazing Stories" and "The Equalizer" to the comedic "The Cosby Show" and "The Golden Girls."

Although he had a bit part as a party guest in Robert Benton's "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), Seneca's feature film career did not take off until the 1980s. Sidney Lumet cast him as Paul Newman's medical expert in "The Verdict" (1982) and he had a meaty role as teacher-singer Willie Brown in "Crossroads" (1986). Seneca was a scientist destroyed by "The Blob" and the college president in Spike Lee's "School Daze" (both 1988). He went on to appear in Lee's "Mo' Better Blues" (1990) and "Malcolm X" (1993). He also earned critical applause for his turn as Spits in "The Saint of Fort Washington" (also 1993). Seneca's final screen role was as Reverend Sweet in Joel Schumacher's "A Time to Kill" (1996).

Life Events

1970

Writer, "Sesame Street"

1974

Appeared with James Earl Jones in "Of Mice and Men" on Broadway

1976

TV-movie debut, "With All Deliberate Speed" (CBS)

1979

Feature film debut, bit part in "Kramer vs. Kramer"

1981

Toured with Elizabeth Taylor in "The Little Foxes"

1982

First substantial screen role, "The Verdict"

1984

Co-starred in Broadway production of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

1986

Appeared in and wrote song for "Crossroads"

1988

First appearance in a Spike Lee film, "School Daze"

1990

Re-teamed with Lee for "Mo' Better Blues"

1996

Final screen role, Rev. Isaiah Sweet, in "A Time to Kill"

Companions

Betty Seneca
Wife
Survived him.

Bibliography