Actor known for roles in Roots, Harlem Nights dies in Atlanta

ATLANTA - Character actor and author Ji-Tu Cumbuka passed away in Atlanta on July 4 after a long illness.

He is one of those actors whose name you may not immediately recognize, but you'll certainly recognize his face from his many movie and television appearances over a more than 40-year-long career.

Born in Helena, Alabama in 1942, the 6-foot-5 Cumbuka detailed his early years in the segregated South in his 2011 autobiography A Giant to Remember: The Black Actor in Hollywood, which provided a retrospective of his long career. He began his screen work in the late 1960s, first appearing in the blaxploitation film Uptight (1968), almost immediately followed by a role in Elvis Presley's final motion picture Change of Habit (1969).

Many film and TV guest-starring roles followed through the 1970s, leading up to his notable role as the slave Wrestler in the original Roots miniseries in 1977. After that, Cumbuka was the co-star of the short-lived 1979 NBC spy series A Man Called Sloane.

PHOTOS | Character actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka dies

Cumbuka's prolific career continued into the 80s, with guest starring roles on many television series, along with many movie notable movie roles, including Brewster's Millions, Volunteers, Outrageous Fortune, Moving and Harlem Nights.

His final on-screen role came in a guest spot as a hot dog vendor in a 2004 episode of CSI.

A family spokesperson says a memorial service will be held on Monday, July 17, at 10 am, at the Georgia National Cemetery located at 1080 Scott Hudgens Drive in Canton, Georgia. In lieu of flowers, Cumbuka's family says donations can be made to Help Somebody Foundation & Ministries, which Cumbuka founded to provide humanitarian services and outreach through education and ministry.

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