It is unlikely that 2016 is actually unique with its high amount of beloved celebrities’ deaths. Despite this, it has felt a little raw with sudden losses such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder to mention only a few. We’ve sadly lost another in William Goldwyn ‘Bill’ Nunn III who passed away on Saturday aged 63 after a battle with leukaemia.
Nunn was a rare talent, someone who rarely played the lead yet was always memorable with his powerful towering presence onscreen, metaphysically and literally standing at almost 6’4. He will be best remembered as the strong and reticent Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and the co-editor of The Daily Bugle, Joseph ‘Robbie’ Robertson in the Sam Raimi Spiderman film trilogy.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to William G. Nunn Jr and Frances Nunn (nee Bell), Nunn was part of a highly driven and talented family. His father, a journalist, who worked hard to become the manging editor of the African American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier. His paternal grandfather achieved a great deal too, being the first African American football player for George Westinghouse High School.
He worked with Spike Lee a fair amount, having made his debut in Lee’s School Daze (1988), he also performed in Mo’ Better Blues (1990) and He Got Game (1998). He found acting work regularly throughout the 1990s and early 2000s and proved to audiences his capabilities with a wide range of varying performances from the caring physical therapist in Regarding H nry (1991) to the tough Southern police chief in White Lie (1991).
If you wish to commemorate his death by watching any of his films, I strongly recommend Do the Right Thing. It may seem a hackneyed choice, but it is the most important film in Nunn’s oeuvre. Raheem’s boom box blasts Fight the Power by Public Enemy throughout (a song written for the film), interspersing with the action as the racial tensions are exacerbated. The climactic end is still visceral and heart breaking and rings far too true with current state of affairs for African Americans.
Nunn’s loss will be felt by many, especially members of the Black community who are just discovering the empowering presence in Radio Raheem. Whilst Bill Nunn may have died, his eternal and brilliantly diverse performances will keep inspiring Black people to keep fighting the power.
He is survived by his wife, Donna, and their daughters, Jessica and Cydney.