I love to resurrect the ghosts of the greats, the infamous, and people who inspired and paved the way for us to follow. In addition to contemporary greats and positive people, who we as black people can admire, which this post intended; to give praise and props to a phenomenal contemporary actor. It is the artist known by one name, “Leon,” whose government name is Leon Preston Robinson IV born March 8, 1962. Leon began his professional career as a film actor in 1982. In today’s world of entertainment, when you’re talent affords you the privilege of being known by one name – is pronominal and speaks to the greatness of the artist.
I was surprised by his long resume, although he is one of my favorite actors. Leon is best known for his roles as J.T. Matthews in the 1991 Robert Townsend film, The Five Heartbeats, Derice Bannock in the 1993 film, Cool Runnings, and as Shep in the 1994 basketball drama film, Above the Rim. All great movies! But it was his portrayal as the great David Ruffin in the Temptation’s movie that solidified his acting chops. He brought David back to life!
Mr. Robinson appeared on television such as the 1989 episode of the NBC series Midnight Caller, in which he played an athlete who falls victim to Crack cocaine. He also co-starred in the 1989 ABC miniseries The Women of Brewster Place starring Oprah Winfrey where Leon played the boyfriend of a suburbanite actress Robin Givens. What probably made him more famous in the early days of his career was being cast as Saint Martin de Porres in Madonna’s controversial 1989 music video “Like a Prayer”.
Robinson’s early film roles included a football teammate of Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves (1983), as Shadow Nadeing, the Notre Dame-bound basketball playing the co-worker of Matt Dillon, in The Flamingo Kid (1984). He costarred in the Michael Mann-produced Tri-Star Pictures film Band of The Hand as well as the “Killer Bee” in the Dennis Hopper-directed gang film Colors, starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. After his exposure in the 1989 video for the song “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, he played a leading role in the 1993 Disney film Cool Runnings. That same year, he co-starred as John Lithgow’s henchman in Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger and followed with a turn as a disillusioned ex-jock in New Line Cinema’s Above the Rim (1994).
Robinson also appeared as Lela Rochon’s married lover in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale directed by Forest Whitaker starring Whitney Houston and a starring role in the Merchant/Ivory produced movie, Side Streets with Rosario Dawson. He produced as well as starred in the 1997 romantic drama The Price of Kissing with TV star Pauley Perrette. He also starred in the movie Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, directed by Tim Reid and winner of Best Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.
Robinson has received critical acclaim for his portrayal of three singers. He brought David Ruffin back to live in the 1998 NBC miniseries The Temptations, as well as portraying Little Richard in the self-titled 2000 NBC movie biography, and JT in the 20th Century Fox groundbreaking movie, The Five Heartbeats directed by Robert Townsend. He received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Little Richard.
During this period, Robinson joined the ensemble cast of two TV series, playing the popular Jefferson Keane on HBO’s first series, Oz and as Lawrence Hill on Showtime’s Resurrection Blvd. He had a co-starring role as “Stoney” best friend of Joaquin Phoenix in Miramax’ military drama Buffalo Soldiers; an uncredited role as “Joseph 13 X” in Michael Mann’s award-winning biopic. He appeared in Ali starring Will Smith and with Denzel Washington in the movie Malcolm X. Also, he was briefly hosting his own late-night talk show, The L-Bow Room, on BET.
In 2008, Robinson starred in the 20th Century Fox thriller Cover, directed by Bill Duke, and starred alongside Danny Masterson and Dominique Swain in the indie comedy The Brooklyn Heist, directed by Julian Mark Kheel. In 2009, AOL Black Voices voted Robinson one of the Sexiest Actors of All-time. Between 2013 and 2014, he appeared in four movies; the romantic comedy I Really Hate My Ex, written and directed by Troy Beyer; the southern drama Soul Ties, based on the book by Tee Austin, the indie rock/drama 37 and the romantic drama; And Then There Was You with Garcelle Beauvais.
In theater, Robinson has headlined three national tours, with sold out performances at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater, NYC’s Beacon Theater, Detroit’s Fox Theater, Washington, DC’s Warner Theater and more in Friends and Lovers (2005), based on Eric Jerome Dickey’s NY Times bestselling book. In 2009 and 2010 as a soldier returning from Iraq in 3 Ways to Get A Husband co-starring Billy Dee Williams and in 2012, the revival of Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys.
Robinson is the lead vocalist and songwriter of the band, Leon and the Peoples. In 2007, he received an International Reggae and World Music Award nomination for the band’s debut CD The Road Less Traveled, winner of Best International Artist at the Joe Higgs Reggae Awards and completed a 36 city US tour with reggae greats Beres Hammond and Marcia Griffiths titled the “For The Love Of It Tour”. He was a frequent guest on Beres Hammond’s 2008 and 2010 North American tours. He headlined NYC’s Central Park 2010 and 2013 AIDS Walk Concerts. Other performances include 2011 Aspen Jazz Fest., 2012 Catalpa NYC Music Festival, New Orleans Music Festival, Chicago’s Festival Of Life, Reggae on River, Jamaica’s Rebel Salute, and BET’s popular 106 & Park.
Leon and The Peoples’ single, Love Is A Beautiful Thing, was featured on the BET/Centric TV show Culture List, which premiered on July 21, 2013. I had no idea, although I know of his fame that this multi-talented performer has such a wealth of credited accomplishments and work with so many of today’s great stars. When I look at his long movie resume of performances, whether on the screen, in the theater or on stage as a singer; the actor Leon should be recognized as one of the greatest actors of our time. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…