A former musician who turned to acting, Chi McBride earned a reputation for adding depth and humanity to the stock no-nonsense authority figure in a wide variety of film and television projects. Following a few guest appearances on TV, McBride had his first significant role as Heavy Gene, the surly bus station janitor on "The John Larroquette Show" (NBC, 1993-96). Almost out of the gate, he showed an unfortunate knack of landing quality roles on series that ultimately proved short-lived. From there, McBride landed supporting turns in features like "Hoodlum" (1997) and "Mercury Rising" (1998), and courted controversy as the fictional black butler to Abraham Lincoln on "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" (UPN, 1998). He went on to land one of his most beloved roles, playing beleaguered high school principal Steven Harper on "Boston Public" (Fox, 2000-04) while securing higher-profile films like "The Terminal" (2004) and "I, Robot" (2004). McBride had memorable leading roles on "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 2007-09) and "Human Target" (Fox, 2010-11), but again was the victim of cancellation. Regardless of his lack of a ratings hit, McBride was a durable character actor who added grace and gravitas to every performance.
Born on Sept. 23, 1961 in Chicago, IL, McBride originally sought out a career in music and studied several instruments while singing in various church choirs. He graduated high school from Chicago SDA Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist School, when he was 16 years old and continued to study music. In the mid-1980s, McBride moved to Atlanta, GA to work as a telephone operator for MCI, though he continued pursuing his musical ambitions. Around this time, he broke through by penning the hit song "He's the Champ," which parodied the marriage of boxer Mike Tyson and actress Robin Givens, and opened the doors to a show business career. Based on the song's success, McBride was signed by Esquire Records, and soon joined the rhythm and blues band Covert. But convinced he should try his hand in front of the cameras, McBride moved to Los Angeles and almost immediately landed guest spots on "In Living Colour" (Fox, 1990-94) and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96). Following a role in the forgettable TV movie sequel "Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation" (Fox, 1992), he broke into features with the poorly received Eddie Murphy comedy "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992).
In 1993, McBride landed the role of Heavy Gene, the surly bus station janitor who decidedly did not like cleaning on the sitcom "The John Larroquette Show" (NBC, 1993-96). While the series received favorable reviews, the network brass blanched at its dark tone due to Larroquette's struggling alcoholic and the seedy cast of characters populating the station. A change in tone, sets and even brighter lighting for seasons two and three alienated the show's base audience and the series was summarily canceled soon after. Meanwhile, McBride had small supporting turns in the biopic "What's Love Got to Do with It" (1993), which was loosely based on the life of Tina Turner (Angela Bassett), and Peter Jackson's comedy horror "The Frighteners" (1996), starring Michael J. Fox. After a supporting role alongside Tim Roth, Vanessa Williams and Laurence Fishburne in Bill Duke's "Hoodlum" (1997), McBride was an FBI agent and the only friend of a fellow agent (Bruce Willis) trying to protect an autistic boy (Miko Hughes) from government assassins in the action thriller "Mercury Rising" (1998).
Returning to the sitcom world, McBride was a fictional British butler to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (Dann Florek) in the slightly controversial, but ultimately short-lived series "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" (UPN, 1998). After that series' quick demise, McBride landed roles in "Disney's The Kid" (2000) and "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000) before returning to the small screen playing Steven Harper, the beleaguered principal of a big city high school in David E. Kelley's "Boston Public" (Fox, 2000-04). For four seasons, he essayed the role to excellent effect despite increasingly improbable storylines, and even crossed-over for a 2005 episode of Kelley's popular "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08). After playing captain to Ray Liotta and Jason Patric in the crime thriller "Narc" (2002), McBride made a 180-degree turn to play The Chief in the comedy "Undercover Brother" (2002). Supporting roles in the crime drama "Paid in Full" (2002) and the urban action thriller "Cradle 2 the Grave" (2003) followed, and the actor had the opportunity to show off his talents to a wider audience when he appeared opposite Tom Hanks in director Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" (2004) as a kind-hearted baggage carousel worker.
Continuing to land supporting roles in major projects, McBride was a police lieutenant opposite Will Smith in the futuristic sci-fi thriller "I, Robot" (2004) and appeared in the low-budget slice-of-life comedy "Waiting" (2005) as a dishwasher who dispenses advice to other employees, including a waiter (Justin Long) sick of his dead-end job. Of course, he worked consistently on the small screen, recurring as a billionaire owner of a pharmaceutical company on the first season of "House" (Fox, 2004-2012) and playing the commanding officer of the Deviant Crimes Unit on the short-lived procedural "Killer Instinct" (Fox, 2005). Though he still made movies like the comedy "Let's Go to Prison" (2006) and "First Sunday" (2008), McBride thrived better on the small screen with a 2006 episode of "Monk" (USA Network, 2002-09) before playing a bank manager who becomes linked with several strangers following a robbery and hostage situation on "The Nine" (ABC, 2006-07). He fared better as a private investigator and partner to a man (Lee Pace) capable of raising the dead with a single touch on the critical darling "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 2007-09), a show that ultimately proved to be too quirky for mainstream network audiences.
Following a 2010 episode of the long-running detective comedy "Psych" (USA Network, 2006-14), McBride was a regular once more on a short-lived series, this time playing a former cop working with an ex-assassin-turned-mercenary-for-hire (Mark Valley) on "Human Target" (Fox, 2010-11). He next appeared in a 2011 episode of the popular sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 2005-14) and landed a recurring role as a hospital administrator who butts heads with chief nursing officer Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith) on "HawthoRNe" (TNT, 2009-2011). From there, McBride scored a 2011 episode of the New York City-set legal series "Suits" (USA Network, 2011- ) and voiced Nick Fury for the animated "Ultimate Spider-Man" (Disney, 2012-17). Looking to have better luck as a series regular, McBridge had a leading role on the crime drama "Golden Boy" (CBS, 2013), on which he played the no-nonsense partner of a young, ambitious cop (Theo James) who rapidly rises up the ranks after being hailed a hero and becomes the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York.
By Shawn Dwyer
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Moved to Atlanta to work for MCI as a telephone operator
Landed guest spots on FOX's "In Living Color" and NBC's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (billed as Chi)
Feature film debut, "The Distinguished Gentleman"
Made TV-movie debut in "Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation"
Cast as Heavy Gene, the janitor, on the NBC sitcom "The John Larroquette Show"
Acted in "The Frighteners"
Co-starred in the underrated "Hoodlum"
Appeared opposite Bruce Willis in "Mercury Rising"
First leading role in a series, playing the title character in "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" (UPN)
Portrayed Drew 'Bundini' Brown in the ABC biopic "Muhammad Ali: King of the World"
Again teamed with Bruce Willis for "Disney's The Kid"
Played the high school principal in the FOX drama "Boston Public"
Co-starred in the feature "Narc"
Appeared as a Baggage Carousel Worker in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal"
Cast in the sci-fi thriller "I, Robot" with Will Smith
Starred opposite James Franco in the Disney drama "Annapolis"
Co-starred with Will Forte and Will Arnett in the comedy, "Brothers Solomon"
Cast as Emerson Cod, Ned's business partner, in the ABC series "Pushing Daisies"
Cast in "Human Target" (FOX) as Winston, a former police officer and current business partner of the lead character