A tribute to actor, Howard Rollins.
Howard Rollins as Detective Virgil Tibbs.
Howard E. Rollins Jr.
Growing up as a young child, I was always intrigued by police and cop related shows. Remember that show "CHiPs"? You know the one that Erik Estrada co-starred in? Yea that was one of my favorites. Another show I enjoyed watching during my teenage years was, "In the Heat of the Night". This was the show that starred the late Carroll O'Connor as Sparta Police Chief, Bill Gillespie. It also co-starred another great actor named Howard Rollins. Howard Rollins played the role of Chief of Detectives, Virgil Tibbs. If you've ever seen the pilot of In the Heat of the Night, you'll probably remember his famous words, "You'll call me Mister Tibbs". Most people probably remember Sidney Poitier as Detective Tibbs in the movie version of "In the Heat of Night". However, that was before my time. As a youth, I didn't really appreciate how talented of an actor that Howard Rollins was. After watching Ragtime and episodes of In the Heat of Night now, I have a much greater appreciation for how talented this man was as an actor. I'm going to discuss Rollins in this article, and give a tribute to him for his excellent acting abilities. I hope you enjoy.
Still of Detective Virgil Tibbs from "In the Heat of the Night" opening credits.
Biography and filmography.
Howard Ellinsworth Rollins was born in Baltimore, Maryland on October 15, 1950. Rollins left college early to appear on the CBS soap opera "Our Street". Rollins would move to New York in 1974, and appeared on Broadway. He also appeared in several television films, most notably "Roots: The Next Generations". Rollins gained a lot of recognition for his performance in the motion picture "Ragtime", which was released in 1981. His role in Ragtime led to him being nominated for for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Rollins went on to appear in the soap opera "Another World", and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 1982. He would later star in "A Solder's Story" in 1984, which lead to him being cast as Detective Virgil Tibbs in the series, "In the Heat of the Night".
Although Howard Rollins was a very gifted actor, he struggled with both legal and drug issues. These issues were the crust of why Rollins was eventually fired from In the Heat of the Night. Following his time on In the Heat of the Night, Rollins went on to appear in several television shows. His final acting role came in 1996 when he appeared in the television movie "Harambee". Howard Rollins died on December 8, 1996 at the age of 46. The cause of his death was due to complications from lymphoma. Rollins had been diagnosed with the disease six weeks prior to his death.
Howard Rollins as Coalhouse Walker in "Ragtime".
How this personal tribute came about.
Writing this article came to me a couple of nights ago. "In the Heat of the Night" airs daily on the WGN network. I DVR the episodes daily, and I normally watch some of them at nighttime before going to sleep. A few nights ago, I watched an episode of the show titled, "Virgil Tibbs Attorney at Law". This particular episode had Rollins returning to the show as a special guest star after being fired from the series. In this episode, Tibbs was obviously disturbed and saddened by something. It turns out that Tibb's marriage had failed upon his return to Sparta, which was the cause of great sadness to him. There was a scene with Tibbs and his Aunt Etta(played by actress Tonea Stewart), where she breaks down in tears saying that she was worried about him. It appeared to me that those tears went beyond just acting. Although Tibbs' Aunt Etta cried for him, it appears that the actress Tonea Stewart was crying for Howard Rollins the man, not the actor. I could very well be wrong about this, but that's what I gathered from that scene. It was truly a heartfelt scene, and was one of many that Howard Rollins was featured in during his time on In the Heat of the Night.
I hadn't known about the movie "Ragtime" until a few months ago. One day, me and my godmother's husband were discussing Howard Rollins, and he informed me about Rollins being in this particular movie. I decided to watch the film and just like his terrific acting on "In the Heat of the Night", I was just as impressed by Rollins in this film. It's always somewhat sad watching actors on television who have passed on. However, the good thing that comes from television and cinema is that we can always watch and admire their talents over and over again. Howard Rollins was truly a gifted and talented individual. I honestly felt like he was the best actor on In the Heat of the Night. That's the show that I will remember his most for, but he was amazing in "Ragtime" as well. Rest in peace Howard E. Rollins Jr. Thanks for reading.