Roger E. Mosley, whose knack for playing badass with a mischievous streak won him accolades playing an action-ready helicopter pilot on the hit 1980s TV series “Magnum, PI,” as well as real-life figures like Sonny Liston and Leadbelly on the big screen, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 83 years old.
He died in a car crash in Lynwood, California last month that left him paralyzed from the shoulders up, his daughter Ch-a Mosley announced on Facebook.
Mr Mosley, who grew up in a public housing project in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, has appeared on dozens of TV shows over four decades, starting with 1970s staples like ‘Cannon’ and ‘Sanford and Son”. He also appeared in the miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations” in 1979.
Aspiring to a career in film, he made his first appearances in so-called blaxploitation movies of the early 1970s like “Hit Man” and “The Mack.” He also appeared in “Terminal Island,” a 1973 grindhouse movie that also starred Tom Selleck, who would later recommend him for “Magnum, PI.”
A strapping 6ft 2in tall, Mr Mosley was often chosen as the murderer. But his natural warmth and humor brought depth to even the most macho parts, including the title role in “Leadbelly,” a 1976 film about early 20th-century folk and blues pioneer Huddie Ledbetter, whom Roger Ebert called it “one of the best biographies of a musician I’ve ever seen.
“Leadbelly” gave black audiences “the kind of movie they craved,” Mosley reportedly said in a 1976 People magazine article. “Not a Super Fly character but the story of a man who actually lived.”
The following year, he received critical acclaim playing Sonny Liston, the famous heavyweight boxing champion dethroned in 1964 by Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), in the 1977 film “The Greatest “, which featured Ali as himself.
As Mr. Mosley’s career continued to gain momentum during this decade, it was “Magnum, PI,” the popular CBS crime drama that ran from 1980 to 1988, that brought him to life. garnered mass recognition.
His character, Theodore Calvin, known as TC, was a rugged but ironic veteran helicopter pilot who continually rescued Thomas Magnum, Tom Selleck’s private detective wearing a Hawaiian shirt and driving a Ferrari, when he landed in danger in the jungle. or on the beaches of Maui, where he lived in a guesthouse on a lavish estate. (According to the Internet Movie Database, Mr. Mosley was a certified helicopter pilot but was not allowed to do his own stunts on the show.)
The role was originally written for a white actor, Gerald McRaney, wrote The Hollywood Reporter in its obituary for Mr. Mosley, but producers reached out to Mr. Mosley to bring diversity to the casting.
Although Mr. Mosley reportedly had little interest in the role at first because he was aiming for work in feature films, he later said he was proud to have helped break stereotypes as the one of television’s first black action stars.
“I’m a good actor, but I’m a black man; there’s a lot of pride in that,” Mr. Mosley told “Entertainment Tonight” in 1985. He always sought to set a good example for black youth; for example, he refused to let his “Magnum” persona drink or smoke.
The show’s diversity, he said, has been a factor in its success. “We have myself for the blacks, we have John for the Europeans, we have Magnum for the ladies,” he said. (John Hillerman played Higgins, the stuffy English keeper of the estate – although Mr. Hillerman is actually American.) “We’ve got a bit of everything for everyone.”
When CBS rebooted “Magnum” in 2018, with Jay Hernandez as Magnum and Stephen Hill as TC, Mr. Mosley appeared in two episodes as a barber.
Roger Earl Mosley was born on December 18, 1938 in Los Angeles, the eldest of three children raised by his mother, Eloise, a school cafeteria worker, and stepfather, Luther Harris, who ran a grocery store. tires to Watts supplying eighteen wheelers, said his son Brandonn Mosley. (Her mother later changed her first name to Sjuan, pronounced “swan.”)
As well as his daughter Ch-a and son Brandonn, Mr Mosley’s survivors include his wife, Antoinette, and another son, Trace Lankford. Another daughter, Reni Mosley, died in 2019. Her first marriage, to Saundra J. Locke in 1960, ended in divorce.
Mr. Mosley was a standout wrestler at Jordan High School in Watts, but after graduating he decided to try acting and took a drama class at the Mafundi Institute, a center for arts education in the region. One day, a guest director from Universal Pictures taught the class the self-discipline needed to succeed in the field.
“I know actors who had to eat ketchup sandwiches,” Mr. Mosley recalled in 1976.
Mr Mosley fired back: “You have the audacity to tell us to eat ketchup sandwiches for our art. I know people who eat ketchup sandwiches to survive. We need someone to give us a break.
“Young man,” the director said, “I want to see you in the studio next Wednesday.”