Billy Dee Williams grew up in the Harlem section of New York City in a family that nurtured artistic expression in all forms. At his mother’s urging, at the young age of seven, Billy Dee made his acting debut on Broadway in the FIREBRAND OF FLORENCE, starring Lotte Lenya. Billy attended public school including the High School of Music and Art. He was awarded the prestigious Hallgarten Award Scholarship to attend the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design. In order to earn money to buy paint and canvas Billy, remembering his positive stage experience as a youngster, returned to acting, contrary to the strong protests of his art professors. Billy quickly distinguished himself in the performing arts and despite the often-arduous schedules managed to keep his love of painting an integral part of his life.
Billy has acted in over 100 films, and is immediately recognized for his significant role as the dashingly handsome Lando Calrission in the Star Wars epics THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. Billy has received critical acclaim for his portrayal as the elegant romantic lead in both LADY SINGS THE BLUES and MAHOGANY, with Diana Ross. He has played pivotal roles in NIGHTHAWKS, BATMAN and the historically based story BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS. His acting talent enriched the comedy LADY’S MAN as well as the compelling drama THE VISIT where the Independent Spirit Awards acknowledged Billy’s superb performance as Best Supporting Actor. Among the many other films that include Billy’s acting talents are HIT, UNDERCOVER BROTHER, the award winning short film OEDIPUS and the film CONSTELLATION, which showcases many of Billy’s own paintings, and recently FANBOYS.
Billy is recognized for his outstanding performances on Broadway in A TASTE OF HONEY with Joan Plowright and Angela Lansbury, FENCES and as Martin Luther King in I HAD A DREAM. He has also played in THE EXONERATED, MAINTENANCE MAN, and IF THESE HIPS COULD TALK. Nominated for an Emmy for his memorable work in the made-for-television film, BRIAN’S SONG, he has created roles for numerous television series including DYNASTY, THE JEFFERSON’S, GIDEON’S CROSSING, THE HURLEY’S, HALF AND HALF, STREET TIME, SCRUB, and THAT 70’S SHOW.
Billy, distinguished by his natural charismatic and urbane charm, became the perfect choice to be the spokesperson for Colt 45’s satirically entertaining commercials, making Billy known as the smooth “Colt 45 Guy”, and for Avon to develop a new fragrance in his name, UNDENIABLE by Billy Dee Williams. Billy is a favorite return guest on comedic episodes on the Jimmy Kimmel show.
For Billy, painting has been a life-long pursuit. His paintings of family and friends capture the essence of their personalities and character. While working on the Broadway stage, he reconnected with the art environment of New York, which prompted him to embark upon a series of remarkable new paintings. Music, philosophy, psychological motif, love, interior landscape and history all became subjects to explore. In a burst of artistic energy Billy painted 120 works in two years. Billy’s paintings generally are acrylic on canvas, applied with brush and airbrush; collage elements often appear. Billy, always willing to challenge himself, has also created three-dimensional canvasses incorporating ceramic, Lucite, and neon light.
Billy’s paintings are emotive and strong. He is a visual storyteller where the rhythmic composition, perspective and bold colors carry the message. His subject matter comes from life, addressing universal themes that he presents through his unique expressionistic figurative style as an abstraction of reality.
Billy has had many national and international exhibitions garnering recognition for his exceptional paintings. His paintings are included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Gallery, Washington DC, the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, New York, African American Museum, New Orleans, US Olympic Committee, and the Museum of Jazz, Kansas City. Private collectors include such notable individuals as General Alexander Haig, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, saxophonist Kenny G. The Nissan Motor Corporation and Sears Corporation also include Billy’s paintings in their collections.
Billy is the Honorary Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute, which supports jazz education. The Institute selects one of Billy’s paintings every year for the cover of their concert program held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Billy was also invited to paint a seven-foot sculpture of an angel for the Los Angeles Community of Angels Project, created to raise funds for charities in the city.
According to Billy, “DO BE OP MOP BE BOP”, a jazz phrase taken directly from one of his paintings, represents “PRAISE FOR EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL JOURNEYS INTO NEW FRONTIERS.” Billy, relentlessly continues to take those journeys himself, and in so doing inspires us all.