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Roger E. Mosley, Actor Best Known for ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ Dies at 83


Roger E. Mosley, whose knack for taking part in a troublesome guy with a mischievous streak earned him accolades playing an action-ready helicopter pilot on the hit Nineteen Eighties television series “Magnum, P.I.,” in addition to real-life figures like Sonny Liston and Leadbelly on the massive screen, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 83.

He died after sustaining injuries from a automobile accident in Lynwood, Calif., last month that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, his daughter Ch-a Mosley announced on Facebook.

Mr. Mosley, who grew up in a public-housing project within the Watts section of Los Angeles, appeared on dozens of television shows over 4 a long time, starting with Nineteen Seventies staples like “Cannon” and “Sanford and Son.” He also appeared within the mini-series “Roots: The Next Generations” in 1979.

Aspiring to a profession in film, he made early appearances in so-called blaxploitation movies of the early Nineteen Seventies like “Hit Man” and “The Mack.” He also appeared in “Terminal Island,” a 1973 grindhouse film that also starred Tom Selleck, who would later recommend him for “Magnum, P.I.”

A strapping 6 feet 2 inches tall, Mr. Mosley was often forged as a bruiser. But his natural warmth and humor brought a depth to even probably the most macho parts, including the title role in “Leadbelly,” a 1976 movie concerning the brawling early-Twentieth-century folk and blues pioneer Huddie Ledbetter, which Roger Ebert called “certainly one of the best biographies of a musician I’ve ever seen.”

“Leadbelly” offered Black audiences “the sort of film they’re hungry for,” Mr. Mosley was quoted as saying in a 1976 article in People magazine. “Not a Super Fly character however the story of a person who actually lived.”

The following 12 months, he earned critical praise playing Sonny Liston, the heavyweight boxing champion famously dethroned in 1964 by Muhammad Ali (then often called Cassius Clay), within the 1977 film “The Best,” which starred Ali as himself.

While Mr. Mosley’s profession continued to construct momentum during that decade, it was “Magnum, P.I.,” the favored CBS crime drama that ran from 1980 to 1988, that brought him mass recognition.

His character, Theodore Calvin, often called T.C., was a rugged yet wry Vietnam War veteran helicopter pilot who was continually rescuing Thomas Magnum, Tom Selleck’s Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, Ferrari-driving private investigator character, when he landed at risk within the jungles or on the beaches of Maui, where he lived in a guesthouse on a lavish estate. (In line with the Web Movie Database, Mr. Mosley was a licensed helicopter pilot but was not allowed to do his own stunts on the show.)

The part was originally written for a white actor, Gerald McRaney, The Hollywood Reporter wrote in its obituary for Mr. Mosley, however the producers reached out to Mr. Mosley to bring diversity to the forged.

Although Mr. Mosley reportedly had little interest within the role at first because his sights were on work in feature movies, he later said he was proud that he helped break stereotypes as certainly one of television’s first Black motion stars.

“I’m a great actor, but I’m a Black man; there’s a variety of pride in that,” Mr. Mosley told “Entertainment Tonight” in 1985. He at all times aimed to set a great example for Black youth; for instance, he refused to let his “Magnum” character drink or smoke.

The show’s diversity, he said, was a think about its success. “We have now myself for Black people, now we have John for the Europeans, now we have Magnum for the women,” he said. (John Hillerman played Higgins, the estate’s stuffy English caretaker — although Mr. Hillerman was actually American.) “We have now a little bit little bit of every little thing for everybody.”

When CBS rebooted “Magnum” in 2018, with Jay Hernandez as Magnum and Stephen Hill as T.C., Mr. Mosley appeared in two episodes as a barber.

Roger Earl Mosley was born on Dec. 18, 1938, in Los Angeles, the eldest of three children raised by his mother, Eloise, a college cafeteria employee, and his stepfather, Luther Harris, who ran a tire shop in Watts supplying eighteen-wheelers, his son Brandonn Mosley said. (His mother later modified her first name to Sjuan, pronounced “swan.”)

Along with his daughter Ch-a and his son Brandonn, Mr. Mosley’s survivors include his wife, Antoinette, and one other son, Trace Lankford. One other daughter, Reni Mosley, died in 2019. His first marriage, to Saundra J. Locke in 1960, led to divorce.

Mr. Mosley was a standout wrestler at Jordan High School in Watts, but after graduation he decided to try acting and took a drama class on the Mafundi Institute, an arts education center in the world. At some point, a visiting director from Universal Pictures lectured the category on the self-discipline needed to make it in the sector.

“I do know actors who needed to eat ketchup sandwiches,” Mr. Mosley recalled him saying in 1976.

Mr. Mosley fired back: “You’ve gotten the audacity to inform us to eat ketchup sandwiches for our art. I do know people who find themselves eating ketchup sandwiches to survive. We’d like any individual to present us a break.”

“Young man,” the director said, “I need to see you on the studio next Wednesday.”

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