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Howard Rollins

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Howard Rollins Jr.
Rollins in Ragtime, 1981.
Howard Ellsworth Rollins Jr.

(1950-10-17)October 17, 1950
DiedDecember 8, 1996(1996-12-08) (aged 46)
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
(Baltimore, Maryland)
Alma materNorthern High School
Towson State University
Years active1970–1996
Known forVirgil TibbsIn the Heat of the Night

Howard Ellsworth Rollins Jr. (October 17, 1950 – December 8, 1996) was an American stage, film, and television actor. Howard Rollins was known for his role as Andrew Young in 1978's King, George Haley in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generations, Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the 1981 film Ragtime, Captain Davenport in the 1984 film A Soldier's Story, and as Virgil Tibbs on the NBC/CBS television crime drama In the Heat of the Night (1988–1994).

Over the span of his acting career, Rollins was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy.

Early life and education


Born to Ruth and Howard Ellsworth Rollins Sr. on October 17, 1950, in Baltimore, Maryland, Rollins was the youngest of four children. His mother was a domestic worker and his father a steelworker who died in 1980. Rollins attended Northern High School, graduating in 1968.[1] After his high school graduation, Rollins studied theatre at Towson University.[2][3]



In 1970, Rollins left college to play the role of "Slick" in the PBS soap opera Our Street. In 1974, Rollins moved to New York City, where he appeared in the Broadway productions of We Interrupt This Program (1975), The Mighty Gents (1978), and G. R. Point (1979). He also appeared in the TV miniseries King and Roots: The Next Generations.[2] In 1981, Rollins made his film debut in the Dino De Laurentiis/Miloš Forman motion picture Ragtime. His performance in the film earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as well as Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture. The following year, Rollins was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his role on Another World. In 1984, Rollins starred in director Norman Jewison's film A Soldier's Story, which led to his role as Virgil Tibbs on In the Heat of the Night, the television series based on Jewison's acclaimed 1967 film of the same name.

In the Heat of the Night began airing on NBC in 1988. During the show's run, Rollins struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was arrested four times for drug and alcohol-related crimes, spending one month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Due to his ongoing personal and legal issues, Rollins was dismissed from the series at the end of Season 6.[3] Rollins returned for several guest appearances in the seventh season of the show in 1993 through 1994. While on the series, Rollins recorded "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" for the 1991 In the Heat of the Night Christmas CD, Christmas Time's A Comin', produced by his co-stars Randall Franks and Alan Autry. Franks wrote the musical score for the classic Christmas story that featured Rollins telling the story to children related to fellow cast members.[4] After being fired from In the Heat of the Night, Rollins achieved sobriety and worked on rebuilding his career and reputation.[3] In 1995, he appeared in a guest role on New York Undercover, followed by a role in the film Drunks. In 1996, he appeared in a guest role on Remember WENN. Rollins final acting role was in the 1996 television movie Harambee!.

Personal life


Rollins never married or had children.[citation needed] Rollins is a distant relative of American former MLB player Jimmy Rollins. [citation needed]


In 1988, Rollins pled guilty to cocaine possession in Louisiana. In 1992 and 1993, Rollins was arrested on three occasions for driving under the influence. In 1994, he served a month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Because of his legal problems, Rollins was dropped from In the Heat of the Night.[5] After attending drug rehab, he returned to In the Heat of the Night as a guest star.[6]

Death and legacy


In the fall of 1996, Rollins was diagnosed with AIDS. Six weeks later, on December 8, Rollins died at age 46 at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City from lymphoma-related complications.[7][8][9] His funeral was held on December 13 in Baltimore.[10][11] Rollins was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in his native Baltimore. On October 25, 2006, a wax statue of Rollins was unveiled at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore. The statue is now at Baltimore's Great Blacks in Wax Museum.[12]


Year Title Role Notes
1981 Ragtime Coalhouse Walker Jr. Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor (4th place)
1984 A Soldier's Story Captain Davenport
1984 The House of God Chuck Johnston
1990 On the Block Clay Beasley
1995 Drunks Joseph
Year Title Role Notes
1978 The Trial of the Moke Television movie
1978 King Andrew Young Miniseries
Credited as Howard Rollins
1979 Roots: The Next Generations George Haley Miniseries
1979 My Old Man Doctor Television movie
1981 Thornwell Carson Television movie
1982 The Neighborhood Allen Campbell Television movie
1982 The Member of the Wedding Honey Brown Television movie
1982 Another World Ed Harding Unknown episodes
Nominated—Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
1983 For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story Medgar Evers Television movie
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
1983 Moving Right Along Unknown episodes
1984 House of Dies Drear Walter Small Television movie
1984 A Doctor's Story Dr. Zack Williams Television movie
1984 He's Fired, She's Hired Raoul Television movie
1985 Wildside Bannister Sparks 6 episodes
1986 The Boy King Martin Luther King Sr. Television movie
1986 The Children of Times Square Otis Travis Television movie
1986 Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI T.C. Russell Television movie
1988-1994 In the Heat of the Night Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs 121 episodes, credited as Howard Rollins
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, 1989
1992 With Murder in Mind Samuel Carver Television movie
1995 New York Undercover Reverend Hundley Episode: "The Smoking Section"
1996 Remember WENN George Smith Episode: "The Emperor Smith"
1996 Harambee! Chimbuko Television movie
Final film role


  1. ^ Classmates, Northern High School (Baltimore, Maryland) '1968 Yearbook
  2. ^ a b Eady, Brenda (1984-10-01). "Howard Rollins' Stalled Career Marches on with a Soldier's Story". People. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
  3. ^ a b c Cerio, Gregory (December 23, 1996). "Requiem for Mister Tibbs". people.com. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  4. ^ Gospel Voice (USA)December 1991, pg. 6, by: Edith Kynard, "From TV to Country to bluegrass, stars join together for drug prevention project"
  5. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (1996-12-10). "Howard Rollins Is Dead at 50 Star in TV's 'Heat of the Night'". New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2008.
  6. ^ "Actor Howard Rollins, 46, succumbs in New York". Jet. December 23, 1996. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
  7. ^ "Howard Rollins, 46, Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  8. ^ "'Heat of Night' actor Howard Rollins dies". Reading Eagle. (Pennsylvania). Associated Press. December 10, 1996. p. B6.
  9. ^ "TV, film actor Howard Rollins dies". Wilmington Morning Star. (North Carolina). Associated Press. December 10, 1996. p. 4B.
  10. ^ "'Heat of the Night' actor dies". The Robesonian. December 10, 1996. p. 5A. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  11. ^ "Black Celebrities We've Lost to AIDS". BET. September 2008. p. 8. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  12. ^ "Howard Rollins Unveiling at Senator Theater". National Great Blacks In Wax Museum. Retrieved October 8, 2007.