Born in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood of Montreal in 1918, Percy Rodriguez’s birth surname was Rodrigues, but after it was misspelled in a Broadway program early in his career, Rodriguez became his de facto stage name and most of his acting credits are under that spelling. He was of Afro-Portuguese heritage. His father abandoned his mother while he was a youth and he started working to help provide for his family. By his late teens he had become a professional boxer and started scouting out acting jobs. Although winning a Dominion Drama Festival acting award in 1939, job offers scarce, prompting him to work as a machinist and toolmaker for the next decade or so in order to supplement his income. He joined Montreal’s Negro Theatre Guild, and by the mid-1950s he was doing voice-over work for the NFB and appearing on CBC shows such as the series Radisson and Festival. He appeared in the early Canadian feature Trouble-fête (1964).
He moved to New York City where he made his Broadway debut in Lillian’s Hellman’s Toys in the Attic in 1960 with Jason Robards and Maureen Stapleton. Rodriguez appeared next in The Actors Studio Theatre 1964 production of James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie. He subsequently became a life member of the Studio. His distinctive, booming voice commanded early attention and this attention eventually led to film and television offers. He settled permanently in Los Angeles, where he became one of just a small vanguard of 1960s Black actors who were able to circumnavigate around restrictive and negative stereotypes throughout most of his career. He projected quiet authority and inner calm to his many roles.
He broke into television with episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible, Naked City, Wild, Wild West, Route 66 and Star Trek (as Commodore Stone) before making big news in 1968 for his casting as a neurosurgeon during the final, 1969 season of the popular primetime soap Peyton Place, co-starring with Ruby Dee as his wife. It was a breakthrough white-collar role for a Black actor in a series. In the same year Rodriguiz had an excellent supporting role in the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, starring Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke.
More interesting roles came with the mini-series The Old Man Who Cried Wolf and Roots: The Next Generation, the series The Silent Force and Executive Suite, and the made-for-television movies Ring of Passion and Angel Dusted. He had recurring role on Stanford, the one-season extended series of Sanford and Son that again starred Redd Foxx, and in Benson, in which he played a judge. He continued to remain visible in the 1980s with guest spots on episodes of The Fall Guy, T.J. Hooker and Dynasty.
Rodriguez narrated numerous movie trailers and documentaries throughout his long, 50-year career. Known as the King of Voiceovers, among his more notable projects were his voicings for the ads and trailers for the film Jaws and his narration of Michael Jackson’s musical sci-fi Captain EO for Disney. He also can be heard in the Canadian animated feature, Heavy Metal, and on the trailers for Shivers and The Gate. Rodriguez died of kidney failure at his Indio, California, home in 2007.
Also see: Percy Rodriguez’s filmography.
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