Taurean Blacque, Atlanta actor, dies at 82

Taurean Blacque, well-known for his roles in TV, film and on stage, lived in Atlanta. He died last week. AJC Photo/Eric Williams).

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Taurean Blacque, well-known for his roles in TV, film and on stage, lived in Atlanta. He died last week. AJC Photo/Eric Williams).

It was a powerful performance.

Veteran Atlanta actor Taurean Blacque played 1960s activist Eldridge Cleaver in “Servant of the People,” a play covering the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party. It debuted at Atlanta theater company Jomandi Productions in the mid-1990s. The drama was wrenching and at times painful, all the more so because several former Black Panthers portrayed on stage were sitting in the audience.

“He just came in and killed it,” friend, director and playwright Thomas Jones said.

But more drama arose after the curtain fell. Kathleen Neal Cleaver, the activist’s ex-wife, stormed backstage, buttonholing Blacque about inaccuracies and missing elements plaguing the production

“His eyes went wide, my eyes went wide, and we were like, this could go left very quickly,” said Jones, who directed the play.

But mid-tirade she stopped abruptly and said to him, “but you were brilliant,” before resuming her heated criticism.

The confrontation became a conversation as Blacque humbly thanked her and the emotional temperature dropped.

The night spoke volumes about the veteran actor’s makeup — talent coupled with humility and a big heart, said friends and colleagues

Blacque was born May 10, 1940, in New Jersey. The veteran of TV series “Hill Street Blues” — where he played streetwise detective Neal Washington — the soap opera “Generations,” a number of movie turns and a ton of theater roles in Atlanta and elsewhere died at 82 following a brief illness, a family statement of July 21 said.

He was a towering figure in local performing arts, with a body of work that reads like a compendium of the most celebrated Black American playwrights. August’s Wilson’s “Fences.” James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner.” Lonnie Elder III’s “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.”

His ability to bring a variety of roles to vivid life won the respect of True Colors Theater Company founder Kenny Leon, who cast him in several productions.

“He had that natural authentic feel,” said Leon. “It never seemed like he was acting, although he was different in every production. He had a great radar for the truth and delivering the truth in a simplistic way that carried over into his real life.”

“He always brought joy into whatever rehearsal room he was in,” added Leon. At the same time, friends said, he didn’t wave his celebrity like a banner. Teamwork, collaboration, a willingness to try new approaches and meticulous preparation were his hallmarks.

Once, he was said to have shown up for a first script read-through not only having memorized his own lines, but all the other characters’ as well.

Blacque’s persona was high-wattage, even away from the footlights.

“He had the best laugh, A guffaw that was sturdy, strong and solid,” said lark hackshaw, a veteran production stage manager. Add to that a mile-wide smile, a commanding voice and a presence that exerted its own gravitational pull.

“He had health issues,” said hackshaw, “but he never focused on that. He was always more interested in you. What was new with you and was there anything he could do for you.”

That extended to mentoring many young actors.

One was Michael Mario Good, an actor, director and eventual acting studio owner who met Blacque fresh out of college. He credits the veteran with grooming, supporting and encouraging him in what became akin to an adoptive relationship.

The relationship reached a high point in 2013. Good said that acting onstage with Blacque in a production called “Sins of the Father” was “the experience of a lifetime.”

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Rising Sage Theatre’s drama “Levi” features Taurean Blacque (left) and Anthony Goolsby. CONTRIBUTED BY RISING SAGE THEATRE CO.

Rising Sage Theatre’s drama “Levi” features Taurean Blacque (left) and Anthony Goolsby. CONTRIBUTED BY RISING SAGE THEATRE CO.

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Rising Sage Theatre’s drama “Levi” features Taurean Blacque (left) and Anthony Goolsby. CONTRIBUTED BY RISING SAGE THEATRE CO.

The veteran actor’s big heart and generous spirit led to a series of child adoptions when he was living in Los Angeles after an adoption agency sought him out as a celebrity spokesman. Blacque met with a number of the youngsters. The experience tugged at his heartstrings — so much so that he said he would serve in the role only if he, himself, could adopt. Overcoming bureaucratic and attitudinal hurdles, he eventually brought a dozen kids into his home.

He wanted to get his adopted brood and two biological children away from gangs and crime in Los Angeles, so he relocated to Atlanta in the 1990s, buying an eight-bedroom home in DeKalb County.

A heightened focus on theater followed, although he still did a healthy amount of TV and film.

Blacque’s death will leave a void in the annual National Black Theater festival in North Carolina this August, hackshaw said.

Friends say Atlanta arts organizations and adoption groups will also miss his voice.

Jones says he’ll miss something less public-but no less significant.

“Sitting at Houlihan’s after a rehearsal and having calamari and chicken wings. We’d just laugh and talk about what we were going through.”

“He just lived his life fully,” said Jones.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is seeking information about services.