Trailblazing Actor, Singer, and Activist Harry Belafonte Dead at 96

Getty / Gary Gershoff

Harry Belafonte, a beloved Hollywood star, iconic singer, and prominent civil rights activist, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, The New York Times reported. He was 96 years old. That outlet noted that Belafonte’s longtime spokesperson Ken Sunshine confirmed the actor died of congestive heart failure.

Belafonte rose to astronomical heights in the 20th century as one of the most renowned entertainers of his time, who blazed trails for other Black performers alongside icons like his late friend Sidney Poitier. The actor became known as one of the first Black leading men in Hollywood, starring in iconic films like 1954’s “Carmen Jones,” as well as many TV variety specials. Belafonte also forayed into film production with features like “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” and heist picture “Odds Against Tomorrow,” both from 1959.

According to Variety, Belafonte then stepped back from the big screen for much of the ’60s as he was dissatisfied with the roles he was offered at the time. This led to his involvement in the civil rights movement, where he worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The performer would engage in charitable activities for underdeveloped African nations and spoke out against South Africa’s apartheid policies.

Aside from his acting career, Belafonte – who first made his mark as a nightclub singer – also exploded in the music scene as a pop singer. He recorded numerous albums and was known for his famous hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” which spurred the US’s calypso craze and led to him being crowned the “King of Calypso,” per USA Today. Over the course of his career, Belafonte won an Emmy (the first Black performer to do so), a Tony, and two Grammys, and he earned the Recording Academy’s lifetime achievement award in 2000.

Belafonte is survived by his third wife, Pamela Frank; daughters Shari, Adrienne, and Gina; and a son, David. He was previously married to Julie Robinson and Marguerite Belafonte.

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