Childhood & Early Life
Bill Duke was born William Henry Duke, Jr. on February 26, 1943, in Poughkeepsie, New York, USA, to William Henry Duke Sr. and Ethel Louise. After graduating from ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt High School’ in Hyde Park, he went to ‘Dutchess Community College’ in Poughkeepsie where he attended classes to learn performing arts and creative writing.
After graduating from ‘Dutchess Community College,’ he went to ‘Boston University’ in Massachusetts from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in drama. He went on to learn performing arts from places like the ‘AFI Conservatory’ and ‘Tisch School of Arts’ before making his Broadway debut in 1971.
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Bill Duke started his career by appearing on Broadway in 1971 when he became part of a musical titled ‘Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death.’ He then played minor roles in television series throughout the mid-70s. He made his film debut in 1976 when he was cast to play Duane in Michael Schultz-directed comedy film ‘Car Wash.’
In 1979, he produced and directed a short film titled ‘The Hero.’ He then landed opportunities to direct episodes of various television series throughout the 80s. In 1982, he directed six episodes of prime time television soap opera ‘Falcon Crest’ which was aired on ‘CBS.’ From 1982 to 1987, he directed ten episodes of ‘CBS’ network's prime time soap opera ‘Knots Landing.’
Meanwhile, he had also established himself as an actor after playing Leon James in the 1980 Paul Schrader-directed crime drama film ‘American Gigolo.’ In the same year, he was cast to play the recurring role of Luther Freeman in a TV series titled ‘Palmerstown, U.S.A.’ He played Freeman from 1980 to 1981, appearing in 17 episodes. He continued playing film and television roles throughout the 80s.
In 1990, he played FBI Agent Albert 'Diggs' Diggins in John Badham-directed action comedy film ‘Bird on a Wire.’ The following year, he directed ‘A Rage in Harlem’ which earned him accolades from critics. In the subsequent years, he went on to direct films, such as ‘Deep Cover,’ ‘The Cemetery Club,’ and ‘Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.’
From 2003 to 2004, he played Amos Andrews in ten episodes of crime drama television series ‘Karen Sisco.’ Simultaneously, he also directed episodes of series, such as ‘Fastlane,’ ‘Robbery Homicide Division,’ ‘Missing,’ and ‘Miracle's Boys.’ In 2006, he was cast to play Secretary Bolivar Trask in Brett Ratner-directed superhero film ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’
In 2011, Duke directed a documentary film titled ‘Dark Girls’ which was nominated at the ‘NAACP Image Award.’ Aired on ‘OWN,’ ‘Dark Girls’ went on to become one of the most successful documentaries. From 2011 to 2015, he played prominent roles in films and TV series, such as ‘Chaos,’ ‘Freaky Deaky,’ ‘Bad Country,’ ‘Clipped Wings, They Do Fly,’ and ‘Between.’
In 2015, he directed another documentary film titled ‘Light Girls’ which received nomination at the ‘NAACP Image Award.’ In the same year, he also directed a television series titled ‘The Blexicans.’ In 2016, he played Ed Pastrino in the popular TV series ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.’ In 2016, he was also seen in films, such as ‘Restored Me’ and ‘Beyond the Silence.’
In 2017, he played Gabriel, the arch angel in Ash Avildsen-directed supernatural musical thriller film ‘American Satan.’ The following year, he played Caruthers in the critically acclaimed psychedelic action horror film ‘Mandy.’ The film premiered at the ‘Sundance Film Festival’ on January 19, 2018.
From 2018 to 2019, he played Agent Percy Odell in eight episodes of superhero television drama series ‘Black Lightning.’ In 2019, he played Spence in Steven Soderbergh-directed sports-drama film ‘High Flying Bird.’ In the same year, he was also cast to play Senior Guard James in a film titled ‘Hollow Point.’
Apart from acting and directing, Bill Duke has also produced several projects. In 2007, he produced a drama thriller film titled ‘Cover’ which he also directed. In 2009, he produced and directed a romantic-drama film titled ‘Not Easily Broken.’ He has also served as an executive producer for many projects, such as ‘Hoodlum,’ ‘Dark Girls,’ ‘Preying for Mercy,’ ‘Beyond the Silence,’ and ‘The Art of the Journey.’
Bill Duke owns a media company called ‘Duke Media Entertainment’ which aims at bringing quality informative content to audiences around the world. His company has delivered critically acclaimed television and film content for more than three decades. ‘Duke Media Entertainment’ also aims at providing opportunities to aspiring artists.
Along with fellow industry veterans like Gordon Parks and Michael Shultz, Bill Duke has been working towards providing equal opportunities to African Americans in Hollywood. He mentors aspiring African American artists to help realize their dream of making it big in the American film industry. Duke is the recipient of many honors including a ‘Lifetime Achievement Tribute’ which was presented to him by the ‘Directors Guild of America.’