Ben Vereen

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Ben Vereen
Ben Vereen at TIFF 2014.jpg
Benjamin Augustus Middleton

(1946-10-10) October 10, 1946 (age 75)
OccupationActor, dancer, singer, voice actor
Years active1965–present
Andrea Townsley
(m. 1966;div. 1974)
Nancy Bruner
(m. 1976;div. 2012)

Benjamin Augustus Vereen (born October 10, 1946) is an American actor, dancer and singer. Vereen gained prominence for his performances in the original Broadway productions of the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar , for which he received a Tony Award nomination, and Pippin, for which he won the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.


Early life

Vereen was born Benjamin Augustus Middleton on October 10, 1946 in Laurinburg, North Carolina. [2] [3] [4] While still an infant, Vereen and his family relocated to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. He was adopted by James Vereen, a paint-factory worker, and his wife, Pauline, who worked as a maid and theatre wardrobe mistress. [5] He discovered he was adopted when he applied for a passport to join Sammy Davis Jr. on a tour of "Golden Boy" to London when he was 25. [6] He was raised Pentecostal. [7]

During his pre-teen years, he exhibited an innate talent for drama and dance and often performed in local variety shows. At the age of 14, Vereen enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, where he studied under world-renowned choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Upon his graduation, he struggled to find suitable stage work and was often forced to take odd jobs to supplement his income.



When Vereen was 18 years old, he made his New York stage bow off-off Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the Greenwich Mews Theater directed by Stella Holt. By the following year, he was in Las Vegas, performing in Bob Fosse's production of Sweet Charity , a show with which he toured in 1967–68. He returned to New York City to play Claude in Hair in the Broadway production, before joining the national touring company.

The following year, he was cast opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the film adaptation of Sweet Charity . After developing a rapport with Davis, Vereen was cast as his understudy in the upcoming production of Golden Boy , which toured England and ended the run at the Palladium Theatre in London's West End.

Vereen was nominated for a Tony Award for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 and won a Tony for his appearance in Pippin in 1973. Vereen appeared in the Broadway musical Wicked as the Wizard of Oz in 2005. Vereen has also performed in one-man shows and actively lectures on black history and inspirational topics.


Vereen in 2007 BenVereenByPhilKonstantinPublicDomain.jpg
Vereen in 2007

Vereen has also starred in numerous television programs, and is well known for the role of 'Chicken' George Moore in Alex Haley's landmark TV miniseries Roots , for which he received an Emmy nomination in 1977.

Vereen's four-week summer variety series, Ben Vereen ... Comin' At Ya, aired on NBC in August 1975 and featured regulars Lola Falana, Avery Schreiber and Liz Torres.

In 1978, on a Boston Pops TV special, Vereen performed a tribute to Bert Williams, complete with period makeup and attire, and reprising Williams' high-kick dance steps, to Vaudeville standards such as "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee".

In 1981, Vereen performed at Ronald Reagan's first inauguration. The performance generated controversy as Vereen performed the first part of the show in blackface. Before the finale, ABC cut the live performance, generating confusion and anger from viewers at home. [8] According to video artist Edgar Arcenaux, what TV viewers didn’t see was the second part of the performance, in which Vereen mimicked being refused service because of his color while trying to buy the Republican elite a congratulatory drink. As Arceneaux explains, Vereen's performance was meant as a critique of Republican civil rights policies, but the TV audience didn't get to see it. [9]

Vereen was cast opposite Jeff Goldblum in the short-lived detective series Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Vereen worked steadily on television with projects ranging from the sitcom Webster to the drama Silk Stalkings .

In 1985, Vereen starred in the Faerie Tale Theatre series as Puss in Boots alongside Gregory Hines. He appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse", in which he played Will Smith's biological father Lou Smith. He made several appearances on the 1980s sitcom Webster as the title character's biological uncle.

He also appeared as Mayor Ben (a leopard) on the children's program Zoobilee Zoo and as Itsy Bitsy Spider in Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme . In 1993 he appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Interface" as the father of Roots co-star LeVar Burton's character Geordi La Forge; fellow Roots star Madge Sinclair appeared in the same episode as Geordi's mother. In Roots, Vereen had played "Chicken George", the grandson of Burton's character Kunta Kinte. [10] He also appeared on the television series The Nanny episode "Pishke Business". In 2010, he appeared on the television series How I Met Your Mother episodes "Cleaning House" and "False Positive" as Sam Gibbs, the long lost father of James Stinson, Barney Stinson's brother. He returned in 2013 and 2014 for another two episodes.

Personal life

Vereen has appeared as a public speaker and humanitarian speaking on such topics as black history, overcoming adversity, and the importance of continuing education.

In 2007, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and has a website in which he shares his personal story along with advice from medical experts.

According to The Fayetteville Observer of April 29, 2006, Vereen learned while applying for a passport in the late 1960s that he was adopted. His birth certificate revealed that his birth name was Benjamin Augustus Middleton, that he was the son of Essie Middleton, and that he was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina. In April 2006, Vereen visited Scotland County with a genealogist on a search for family members and learned that his mother's name was Essie May Pearson. The Laurinburg Exchange reported: "Vereen, an adoptee who learned that he was born in Laurinburg and made a celebrated trip to Scotland County in 2006 to reconnect with family. While on the trip he learned his mother had died 24 years before, but that several relatives still lived in the area." According to her acquaintances, Essie had gone on a trip when Vereen was a child, and had left her baby in someone's care. When she returned, the child was gone. In the April 28, 2006 interview with the 'Laurinburg Exchange', Vereen said that his visit "has just all been so overwhelming ... I've finally found my family". [11] In May 2006, he met his mother's daughter (his sister), Gloria Lewis-Walker, of Derby, Connecticut. [12] [13] [14]

He also has a brother, James Middleton, who lives in Tucson, Arizona.

In the early 1980s, Vereen moved with his family to Saddle River, New Jersey. [15]

His 16-year-old daughter, Naja, was killed in an auto accident in 1987 [16] on the New Jersey Turnpike when a truck overturned on her car.

In 1992, Vereen suffered three accidents in one day, when his car hit a tree causing him to hit his head on the roof of his car, then he suffered a stroke while he was walking on a Malibu highway, apparently veering into the road where he was struck by a car driven by record producer David Foster. His critical injuries (including a broken leg) required him to undergo arduous physical rehabilitation in the ensuing months. [17] [18]

Vereen is the godfather of R&B singer Usher and is also the first cousin once removed of former NFL running back Shane Vereen. Vereen was the keynote speaker for the Boys & Girls Clubs in St. Petersburg, Florida annual alumni tribute gala held in October 2007.

In August 2011, Vereen was named Co-Artistic Director of Tampa's Broadway Theatre Project. [19]

In September 2012, Vereen filed for divorce from his wife of 36 years, Nancy Bruner Vereen, citing irreconcilable differences. [20]

He is an active Democrat. [21]

Vereen was inducted as an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity on April 9, 2019. [22] [ non-primary source needed ]

His son, Ben Vereen Jr., died in 2020 at the age of 55. [23]

Sexual harassment allegations

In January 2018, four actresses in a Florida production of Hair directed by Vereen in 2015 alleged that he sexually harassed them throughout the production. [24]

According to the New York Daily News , "the women — part of the Venice Theatre production outside of Tampa — say Vereen forced unwanted kisses, hugged them aggressively, stripped naked during an acting exercise and made degrading comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives". The Daily News published cast members' claims that he used his position of authority as a director and mentor to pressure them to engage him in unwanted sexual interactions. For example, two of the actresses said he privately lured them on separate occasions to his Florida rental home. One woman willingly admits she and Vereen began a relationship, though she feels it was ultimately coerced; the other says he sexually molested her and later non-consensually kissed her and made sexually disparaging remarks. [24]

According to Variety , "While directing the 2015 production of the musical at the Venice Theatre in Florida, Vereen is alleged to have invited female cast members back to his apartment and goaded them into sex acts. He’s also accused of inappropriate talk and conduct during rehearsals that involved cast members stripping naked, ostensibly as preparation for a show that has, since its original 1967 production, been associated with a famous, full-cast nude scene." [25]

Vereen has since apologized for his misconduct. [25]



1969 Sweet Charity Dancer
1970 Gas-s-s-s Carlos
1975 Funny Lady Bert Robbins
1979 All That Jazz O'Connor Flood
1980This Boxer Wears a Shirt
1982Cycling Through ChinaHimselfDocumentary
1985 The Zoo Gang The Winch
1988 Buy & Cell Shaka
1993 Once Upon a Forest Phineasvoice
1998 Why Do Fools Fall in Love Richard Barrett
1999I'll Take You ThereMr. Gwin
2001The PaintingWhistlin' Willie Weston
2006 Idlewild Percy Senior
2007 And Then Came Love Chuck Cooper
2009 21 and a Wake-Up General Garner
2011 Mama, I Want to Sing! Horace Payne
2013 Khumba Mkhulu, the Elder Zebravoice
2014 Top Five Carl
2014 Time Out of Mind Dixon


1975Ben Vereen... Comin' at YaHost4 episodes
1976Louis Armstrong – Chicago StyleLouis ArmstrongTelevision Movie
1976 The Muppet Show Special Guest StarEpisode: "Ben Vereen"
1977 Roots Chicken George Moore3 episodes
1977 The Carol Burnett Show Self2 episodes
1980 Tenspeed and Brown Shoe E.L. 'Tenspeed' Turner14 episodes
1981 Pippin: His Life and Times The Leading PlayerTelevision Movie
1982-84 The Love Boat Various roles3 episodes
1983 The Charmkins DragonweedVoice; Television Short
1983-85 Webster Uncle Philip Long11 episodes
1984 SCTV
1984 The Jesse Owens Story Herb DouglasTelevision Movie
1984 Ellis Island Roscoe Haines3 episodes
1985 A.D. Ethiopian5 part miniseries
1985Lost in LondonPaul WilliamsTelevision Movie
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Puss in Boots Episode: "Puss in Boots"
1986-87 Zoobilee Zoo Mayor Ben62 episodes
1988Jenny's SongJoeTelevision Movie
1988 J.J. Starbuck E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner5 episodes
1990The Kid Who Loved ChristmasPerformerTelevision Movie
1990 Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme Itsy Bitsy SpiderTelevision Movie
1990 Booker Carl McQueenEpisode: "The Life and Death of Chick Sterling"
1991-93 Silk Stalkings Capt. Ben Hutchinson11 episodes
1992IntrudersGene Randall2 episodes
1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation Dr. Edward LaForgeEpisode: "Interface"
1994 Lois and Clark:
The New Adventures of Superman
Dr. Andre NovakEpisode: "Illusions of Grandeur"
1994 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Lou SmithEpisode: "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse"
1994 The Nanny Ben VereenEpisode: "Pishke Business"
1995 New York Undercover LouieEpisode: "Eliminate the Middleman"
1996 Touched by an Angel Ulysses DoddEpisode: "Secret Service"
1997 Second Noah Sweet BillyEpisode: "Desperately Seeking Mickey"
1998 Soldier of Fortune, Inc. Senator Stanford ParksEpisode: "Party Girl"
1999 Promised Land Lawrence Taggert Sr.3 episodes
1999 The Jamie Foxx Show RoyalEpisode: "Taps for Royal"
2001 The Feast of All Saints Rudolphe LermontantTelevision Movie
2002 Oz A.R. WhitworthEpisode: "Good Intentions"
2007 Grey's Anatomy Archie RocheEpisode: "Love/Addiction"
2007 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Rev. Jeremiah MorrisEpisode: "Senseless"
2008 Accidental Friendship WesTelevision Movie
2008Your Mama Don't DanceJudge8 episodes
2010 House of Payne Clarence SandersonEpisode: "Curtis Sings the Blues
2010-14 How I Met Your Mother Sam Gibbs4 episodes
2011Broadway: The Next GenerationHimselfDocumentary Series
2014 Love That Girl! JudgeEpisode: "Business is Business"
2013 NCIS Lamar AddisonEpisode: "Homesick"
2015 Hot in Cleveland Mayor of ClevelandEpisode: "Out of Our Minds"
2016 The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
Let's Do the Time Warp Again
Dr. Everett von ScottTelevision Special NBC
2017 Making History Dr. Theodore Anthony Cobell3 episodes
2017-18 Sneaky Pete Porter6 episodes
2018 Magnum P.I. Henry BarrEpisode: "Death Is Only Temporary"
2018-19 Star Calvin5 episodes
2019 Bull Willie LambertEpisode: "Forfeiture"
2019 Tales HarryEpisode: "My Life"
2021 The Good Fight Frederick Douglas4 episodes
2021-22 B Positive Peter MorganRecurring role; 12 episodes


1965 The Prodigal Son DancerGreenwich Mews Theater, Off-Broadway
1967–68 Sweet Charity DancerUS & Canada Tour
1968–72 Hair Hud - Claude Biltmore Theatre, Broadway
National Tour
1968 Golden Boy Understudy to
Sammy Davis Jr.
London Palladium
International Tour
1970Gurton's Apocalyptic NeedleAlternate rolesThe New Troupe/Touring
1970Don't Call Me TobySinger/DancerThe New Troupe, Touring
1970–71No Place to be SomebodyAlternate rolesTouring Company
1971–73 Jesus Christ Superstar Judas Iscariot Mark Hellinger Theatre, Broadway
1972–74 Pippin Leading Player Imperial Theater, Broadway,
U.S. tour
1985 Grind LeRoy Mark Hellinger Theatre, Broadway
1992–93 Jelly's Last Jam Chimney Man Shubert Theater, Broadway Replacement
1995–96 A Christmas Carol Ghost of Christmas Present Madison Square Garden, Broadway
1999 Chicago Billy Flynn U.S. & Canada Tour
2001 Fosse Performer Shubert Theater, Broadway Replacement
2002I'm not RappaportMidge Shubert Theater, Broadway
U.S. National tour
2003 The Exonerated Performer Off-Broadway
2005-06 Wicked The Wizard of Oz Gershwin Theatre, Broadway Replacement


Solo albums

Ensemble albums

Singles and EPs

Awards and nominations

The handprints of Ben Vereen in front of Theater of the Stars at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park Ben Vereen (handprints in cement).jpg
The handprints of Ben Vereen in front of Theater of the Stars at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park
1972 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Musical Jesus Christ Superstar Nominated
1972 Theatre World Award N/AWon
1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance Pippin Won
1973 Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical Won
1976 Golden Globe Award New Star of the Year – Actor Funny Lady Nominated
1977 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in Variety or MusicThe Bell Telephone JubileeNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor Drama or Comedy Series Roots Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor - Television Ellis Island Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries Intruders Nominated

The Community Mental Health Council awarded Vereen with their 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award. For his humanitarian contributions, he has received a number of awards including Israel's Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Arizona, Emerson College, St. Francis College, and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2001, Medgar Evers College created the Ben Vereen Scholarship for the Performing Arts, and in 2004, he received an Achievement in Excellence Award from his alma mater, the High School of the Performing Arts.

He was the first simultaneous winner of the "Entertainer of the Year," “Rising Star," and "Song and Dance Star" awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame.

Vereen was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his performance in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship. In 2004, Vereen was nominated for a "Career Achievement Award" by the Le Prix International Film Star Awards Organization.

In 2011, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. [26]

In 2012, Vereen was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame.

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