Billy Dee Williams Colt 45 Commercial was Controversial for his Career
Pitched Malt Liquor but “Billy Dee” Williams Played Gale Sayers and his Art Hangs at The Smithsonian
He was born William December Williams Jr. but he was always “Billy Dee”. Born in NYC and raised in Harlem, Billy Dee attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, where he was a classmate of Diahann Carroll, who coincidentally played the wife of his character Brady Lloyd on the 1980s prime-time soap Dynasty.
He rose to stardom after starring in the critically lauded blockbuster biographical TV movie, Brian’s Song (1971), in which he played Chicago Bears star football player Gale Sayers, who stood by his friend Brian Piccolo, played by James Caan, during his struggle with terminal cancer. Both Williams and Caan were nominated for Emmy Awards for best actor for their performances.
Billy Dee Williams starred in two films with Singer Diana Ross, first in Lady Sings the Blues and again in Mahogany. The early 1980s brought Williams the role of Lando Calrissian, which he played in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
He is also well known for his appearance in advertisements for Colt 45 Malt Liquor in the 1980s and early 1990s, for which he received much criticism from Hollywood press and even some casting agents.
Williams responded indifferently to the criticism of his appearances in the popular Colt 45 Malt Lquor commercials, and when questioned about his appearances, he once said “I drink, you drink. Hell, if marijuana was legal, I’d appear in a commercial for it.”
Even before he began acting, Billy Dee Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design in New York. In the late 1980s, he resumed painting.
Some of his work can be seen at his online gallery BDW World Art. He has had solo exhibitions in various galleries around the U.S., and his work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution, and The Schomburg Museum. The covers of the Thelonious Monk Competition programs since 1990 are by him.
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