Charlie Robinson Dies: ‘Night Court’ & ‘Buffalo Bill’ Actor Was 75

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Charlie Robinson, a prolific actor who played the clerk on Night Court for most of the NBC sitcom’s run and before that was a regular on its lauded series Buffalo Bill, died Sunday of cancer complications at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 75.

His manager, Lisa DiSante, told Deadline that Robinson died of cardiac arrest with multisystem organ failures due to septic shock, and metastatic adenocarcinoma.

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Robinson racked up more than 125 TV and film credits — including an impressive five series-regular roles — during a half-century career that stretched into 2021. He got his start guesting on such 1970s-80s series as Cannon, The White Shadow, Lou Grant, St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues and the sequel miniseries Roots: The Next Generation. His first recurring role was on the short-lived NBC primetime soap Flamingo Road.

The cast of NBC’s ‘Buffalo Bill’ - Credit: Everett Collection
The cast of NBC’s ‘Buffalo Bill’ - Credit: Everett Collection

Everett Collection

In 1983, Robinson was cast in Buffalo Bill, the sitcom starring Dabney Coleman as a despicable host of local talk show in the titular New York city. Robinson played Newdell, a makeup man who took no guff from anyone, including the irascible host. The series scored Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy noms for both of its seasons but failed to secure a wide audience and was canceled in 1984.

Turns out, that was just the career break Robinson needed.

That fall, he returned to the Peacock network as Mac Robinson, the new clerk on Night Court. He would stay with the series for the rest of its nine season run. Unlike his previous series, Night Court was an early hit, landing in the year-end top 20 among primetime shows during his first season in 1984-85. Airing in the plum post-Cheers slot at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, it went on to place in the seasonal top 10 for the next three seasons, finally wrapping in 1992.

But Robinson would return in the fall of 1992 with a series regular role in yet another sitcom, this time opposite Jay Thomas and Susan Dey in CBS’s Love & War. The opposites-attract comedy lasted three seasons — — giving Robinson a remarkable run of 12 consecutive TV seasons as a series regular spanning three different shows.

And he was back the following TV season as a regular on Ink, the 1996-97 CBS sitcom starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. On that one, Robinson played Ernie Trainor, a seen-it-all police reporter. It lasted one season.

Robinson with Tim Allen in ‘Home Improvement’
Robinson with Tim Allen in ‘Home Improvement’

Robinson continued to work mostly in TV through the end of his life. He recurred on ABC’s Home Improvement from 1995-99 before landing yet another series-regular role — time time on the CBS detective drama Buddy Faro, starring Dennis Farina. Robinson played El Jefe, who followed the title character from Mexico to L.A. and became part of his crime-solving team. The show had a brief run in fall 1998.

On the big screen, he appeared in such films as Apocalypse Now, The River, Gray Lady Down, Beowulf, Set It Off, Antwone Fisher, Even Money, Jackson and Steam.

After the turn of the century, Robinson landed one more series-regular role — as Wilfred, the caretaker of Froggy Cottage in Greg Garcia’s anthology comedy The Guest Book.

During the past two decades, Robinson recurred as Sgt. Jeffries on the CW dramedy Hart of Dixie and as Mr. Munson on CBS’ Mom. He also guested on such popular series as My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show, Charmed, House, How I Met Your Mother, My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock, Big Love, Key and Peele, Grey’s Anatomy and This Is Us.

Among his final roles was recurring on Freeform’s pandemic-themed 2020 limited series Love in the Time of Corona.

Robinson also enjoyed a lauded stage career. He won an Ovation Award for Best Actor for playing Troy in Fences and an NAACP Theatre Award for playing Simon in The Whipping Man.

His widow, Dolorita Noonan-Robinson, paid tribute to the actor today:

“Once referred to by Martin Landau as ‘the greatest, underestimated actor in Hollywood,’ Charlie Robinson was the love of my life, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He was truly the working actor’s actor, and of all his passions, his craft took center stage, with his family being the wind beneath his wings, so he could soar to unbelievable heights! On behalf of my husband and family, I thank you for being part of the audience.”

His reps at Artists & Representatives also issued a remembrance today.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our dear friend and longtime client, Charlie Robinson. Charlie was an inspiration to all who knew him. His beautiful spirit defined his life and guided his prolific artistic journey. Our hearts go out to his loved ones in their time of grief.”

Along with his wife, Robinson is survived by children Luca, Charlie, Christian and Byron; and grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Funeral plans were incomplete.

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