Born: February 14, 1946
Birthplace: New York, NY
Died: August 9, 2003
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
Hines starred in more than forty films and also made his mark on Broadway during his lifetime. He was the recipient of many accolades, including a Daytime Emmy Award, a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award, as well as nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award and four Primetime Emmy Awards.
Hines was an avid improviser of tap steps, tap sounds, and tap rhythms alike. His improvisation was like that of a drummer, doing a solo and coming up with rhythms. He also improvised the phrasing of a number of tap steps, mainly based on sound produced. A laid-back dancer, he usually wore loose fitting pants and a tighter shirt.
Although he inherited the roots and tradition of the black rhythmic tap, he also promoted the new black rhythmic tap. "He purposely obliterated the tempos," wrote tap historian Sally Sommer, "throwing down a cascade of taps like pebbles tossed across the floor. In that moment, he aligned tap with the latest free form experiments in jazz and new music and postmodern dance."
Hines successfully petitioned the creation of National Tap Dance Day in May 1989, which is now celebrated in forty cities in the United States, as well as eight other nations. He was on the board of directors of Manhattan Tap, a member of the Jazz Tap Ensemble, and a member of the American Tap Dance Foundation, which was formerly called the American Tap Dance Orchestra.
In 1989, he created and hosted a PBS special called "Gregory Hines' Tap Dance in America," which featured various tap dancers such as Savion Glover and Bunny Briggs.
Through his teaching, he influenced tap dancers such as Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, Ted Levy, and Jane Goldberg. In an interview with The New York Times in 1988, Hines said that everything he did was influenced by his dancing: "my singing, my acting, my lovemaking, my being a parent."
Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in The Girl in Pink Tights in 1954. He earned Tony Award nominations for Eubie! (1979), Comin' Uptown (1980), and Sophisticated Ladies (1981), and won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Jelly's Last Jam (1992) and the Theatre World Award for Eubie!.
Hines performed as the lead singer and musician in a rock band called Severance based in Venice, Los Angeles in 1975 and 1976. Severance was one of the house bands at an original music club called Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout, otherwise known as the 4H Club. Severance released their self-titled debut album on Largo Records (a subsidiary of GNP Crescendo) in 1976.
In 1986, he sang a duet with Luther Vandross called "There's Nothing Better Than Love", which reached the No. 1 position on the Billboard R&B charts.
In 1981, Hines made his movie debut in Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part I, replacing Richard Pryor, who had originally been cast in the role but suffered severe burns in a house fire just days before he was due to begin shooting. Madeline Kahn, also starring in the film, suggested to director Mel Brooks that he look into Hines for the role after they learned of Pryor's hospitalization. He appeared in the horror film Wolfen later that year.
Hines's peak as an actor came in the mid-1980s. He had a large role in The Cotton Club (1984), where he and his brother Maurice (in Maurice's sole film credit) played a 1930s tap-dancing duo reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers. Hines co-starred with Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1985 film White Nights, and co-starred with Billy Crystal in the 1986 buddy cop film Running Scared. He starred in the 1989 film Tap opposite Sammy Davis Jr. (in Davis's last screen performance). He appeared in the highly successful 1995 film Waiting to Exhale. On television, he starred in his own sitcom in 1997, The Gregory Hines Show, which ran for one season on CBS, and had a recurring role of Ben Doucette on Will & Grace.
In an interview in 1987, Hines said that he often looked for roles written for white actors, "preferring their greater scope and dynamics." His Will & Grace role, for example, never made reference to race. Of his role in Running Scared, he said that he enjoyed that his character had sex scenes, because "usually, the black guy has no sexuality at all."
Hines starred in the 1998 film The Tic Code. He voiced Big Bill in the Nick Jr. animated children series Little Bill, which ran from 1999 to 2004. He won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for the role in 2003.