Roscoe Lee Browne

Roscoe Lee Browne was an American actor known for his appearances on such popular TV programs as ‘Barney Miller,’ ‘The Cosby Show,’ ‘ER’ and ‘Will & Grace.’


Roscoe Lee Browne was born on May 2, 1925, in Woodbury, New Jersey. He debuted on Broadway in A Cool World in 1960. The following year, he took his first screen role in The Connection. From the end of the 1960s until his death, he made steady television appearances, including roles on the shows Soap, Barney Miller, Falcon Crest, The Cosby Show, ER and Will & Grace. He died on April 11, 2007, in Los Angeles, California.

Early Life

Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, on May 2, 1925 (some sources say 1922), African-American actor Roscoe Lee Browne was known for his distinctively deep and rich voice. He grew up as the son of a Baptist minister. A strong student, Browne earned a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University in 1946. He continued his studies at Middlebury College. In addition to his bright mind, he possessed great physical talents as a runner. Browne won the 1951 world championship for the 800-yard dash.

Browne later became a college professor at Lincoln University, where he taught French and comparative literature. He also worked as a salesman for a wine importer before discovering his passion for acting.

Acclaimed Actor

Browne was in his mid-30s when he decided to become an actor. For his first acting job, he appeared in a New York production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in 1956. He landed roles on Broadway in the 1960s in such plays as The Cool World and Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright. Browne also developed and directed A Hand Is On the Gate: An Evening of Negro Poetry and Folk Music, featuring Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. In 1965, he won an Obie Award for his work in the off-Broadway play Benito Cereno.

Browne also worked in film and on television. He made his film debut in 1961's The Connection, which explores drug addiction, and went on to appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) and play the title character in The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970). He worked with John Wayne on The Cowboys (1972) and with Sidney Poitier on Uptown Saturday Night (1974).

On the small screen, Browne made guest appearances on such shows as All in the Family and Barney Miller. He also had roles on series like Soap and Falcon Crest. Browne received several Emmy Award nominations over his long career, winning his first in 1986 for his guest appearance that year on The Cosby Show. That same year he appeared in the film Legal Eagles alongside Robert Redford and Debra Winger.

Later Career

Roscoe Lee Browne received a Tony Award nomination for his work in August Wilson's Broadway play Two Trains Running. With his authoritative yet smooth voice, Browne was the perfect choice for narrating films and documentaries. He served as the narrator for both the popular 1995 family movie Babe and the 2006 animated film Garfield 2, among other projects.

On April 11, 2007, Browne died of cancer in a Los Angeles hospital. He was 81 years old. In addition to his acting roles, Browne is remembered for his love of poetry. He and Anthony Zerbe performed an annual poetry performance entitled Behind the Broken Words, which featured works by Browne, William Butler Yeats and others.

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