Published 09:10 ET July 5, 2020
Earl Cameron, who was one of the first black actors to appear in mainstream British films and played supporting roles for enduring entertainment symbols such as James Bond and the title character in “Doctor Who” before appearing in the UN thriller “The Interpreter” in his 80s, has died. He was 102.
Cameron died on Friday, according to The Royal Gazette, a newspaper in his native Bermuda. The British newspaper The Guardian, quoting the actor’s agent, said he died at home in Warwickshire, England.
Cameron stumbled into acting as a way to make money during World War II, holding on to it with repertory theater roles and grandson education for Ira Aldridge, an American who became a well-known Shakespearean actor in England, according to Cameron’s British Film Institute biography.
His break in films also broke barriers to British film. Cameron was cast in one of the lead roles in “Pool of London”, a 1951 noir film that was the first British film with an interracial relationship. His character, Johnny Lambert, is a merchant seaman who meets a white woman while on national leave.
Cameron worked steadily in making films during the 1950s, sometimes in stereotypical roles as a witch doctor and a murderous rebel leader in British Kenya, and sometimes in roles designed to confuse stereotypes, such as his portrayal of a Doctor in “Simba”, a 1955 movie which was also about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.
He got his 007 streaks in the fourth James Bond movie, “Thunderball,” in 1965 and played an intelligence activity in the Bahamas opposite Sean Connery. In the 1950s and 1960s, he supplemented his film work with often British television roles, including two episodes of “Doctor Who” in 1966.
“Unless it was stated that this was a part for a black actor, they would never consider a black actor for that part. And they would never consider switching a white part to a black part,” Cameron told The Guardian in an interview 2017.
“So that was my problem. I got mostly small parts, and it was extremely frustrating – not just for me but for other black actors. We had a very hard time getting valuable roles.”
In 1972, Cameron got to work with another Bahama-born actor who broke barriers for black film actors. Sidney Poitier cast Cameron to play ambassador for an African country in “A Warm December”, where Poitier was the lead and directing.
Born in Bermuda in 1917 as the youngest of six children, Cameron arrived in England in 1939 after joining the British merchant. After Britain entered World War II that year, “it was almost impossible for a black person to get any kind of job,” and he had no qualifications, Cameron would remember.
“Coming from Bermuda in 1939, which was a very racist island, the degree of racism in England did not surprise me. I had grown up with it,” he told The Royal Gazette in a 2018 interview.
Cameron appeared in a number of major Hollywood and British films late in his life, including “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn (2005); “The Queen” with Helen Mirren (2006) and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010).
Queen Elizabeth II appointed him commander of the British Empire’s Most Excellent Order in 2009 for his contributions to British entertainment.
“In a time when the whole world is investigating the history of colorful people, Earl Cameron’s life and legacy makes us pause and remember how he broke obstacles and refused to be limited to what his humble beginnings may have dictated as his path,” David Burt, premiered for Bermuda, The Royal Gazette told us late Friday.
Cameron is survived by his wife, Barbara and his children.
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