Childhood & Early Life
Paul Edward Winfield was born on 22 May 1939 at Los Angeles, California in USA. His mother, Lois Beatrice Edwards, was a union organiser in garment industry. Clarence Winfield, who was a construction worker and city trash collector, was his stepfather.
He completed his school education from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. It is here that he began acting. Later, he earned his first acting job along with a scholarship to study at the University of Portland between 1957 and 1959.
Following this, subsequent scholarships allowed him to attend colleges like the Stanford University in 1959, followed by the Los Angeles City College between 1959 and 1963. He then spent two years in the University of California (U.C.L.A) in Los Angeles. He left U.C.L.A when he was merely six credits short of a bachelor’s degree.
In 1965, he attended the University of Hawaii and later between 1970 and 1971 he enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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In 1964, he was cast in a single act play ‘The Dutchman and the Toilet’ by actor, director and producer Burgess Meredith. The following year he appeared in an episode of the detective television series ‘Perry Mason’.
In 1966, he won a contract with Columbia Pictures that gave him opportunity to work on television. As a member of Stanford Repertory Theatre, he simultaneously focused on contemporary and classic theatre plays.
During the late 1960s and early years of 1970s he appeared in numerous feature films and television series in guest roles. This included television sitcom ‘Julia’ (1968), a series that was unique as it featured a black woman as the central character during a period of racial tension in the United States.
In 1969, he joined the Inner City Cultural Center Theatre in Los Angeles. The Center offered drama programs for high school students and he spent two years here.
He began his career in feature films with minor roles in films like ‘The Lost Man’ (1969), ‘R.P.M’ (1970) and ‘Brother John’ (1971). He received his first lead role in the 1972 movie ‘Sounder’. His performance in the movie earned critical appreciation.
In 1974, he appeared in the musical ‘Huckleberry Finn’, which was based on the Mark twain novel.
In 1978, he portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the miniature series ‘King’ and the following year he played Dr. Huguley in television series ‘Roots: The Next Generation’.
In the 1980s, he received opportunities to play major roles in projects like ‘Angel City’ (1980), ‘The Sophisticated Gents’ (1981), The Blue and the Gray (1982), Sister, Sister (1982), ‘For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story’ (1983), ‘Baldwin's American Playhouse: Go Tell It on the Mountain’ (1985), ‘Under Siege’ (1986) and ‘Mighty Pawns’ (1987).
In 1988 he made his Broadway debut with actor Denzel Washington in comedy ‘Checkmates’. The same year he appeared in horror movie ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ and as a main cast of the fifth season of situational comedy series ‘227’.
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Though he never got to play the central characters, he appeared in relatively meaningful roles in successful movies like ‘Picket Fences’ (1992), ‘Cliffhanger’ (1993), the movie adaptation of Anne Tyler novel ‘Breathing Lessons’ (1994) and ‘Dennis the Menace’ (1986).
He also acted in homosexual roles like in the films ‘Mike’s Murder’ (1984) and a cross dressing cameo in the movie ‘Relax...It's Just Sex’ (1998).
In 1999, he portrayed the first African American judge, Thurgood Marshall, in television movie ‘Strange Justice’. His final appearance was in the 2003 TV movie remake of the film ‘Sounder’.
He was known to have a unique voice and provided voice for cartoons ‘Batman Beyond’, ‘The Magic School Bus’, ‘Spider-Man’, ‘Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Gargoyles’, ‘K10C’ among others.
He was known for his narration of the A&E crime series titled ‘City Confidential’, a role that began in 1998 and continued till his death in 2004.
Awards and Achievements
He was awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture in 1978 for ‘A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich’.
In 1995, he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in ‘Picket Fences’.
He was presented with the Lifetime achievement award at the St. Louis International Film Festival in 1999.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was a homosexual, but he preferred to conceal the fact in public. He was in a relationship with architect Charles Gillan, Jr. since 1972 for a period of 30 years until the death of Charles Gillan, Jr due to bone cancer.
He was known to have had issues with weight, obesity and diabetes. He died on 7 March 2004 due to a heart attack in Los Angeles, at the age of 64.