Lawrence Clayton Dies: Broadway’s ‘The Color Purple’, ‘Dreamgirls’ Actor Was 64

Greg Evans
·2 min read

Lawrence Clayton, who made his Broadway debut in Dreamgirls and most recently starred in the 2015 revival of The Color Purple, died November 2 after a two-year battle with glioblastoma cancer. He was 64.

His death was confirmed by the Buchwald talent agency.

Born in North Carolina and educated at North Carolina Central University in Durham, Clayton moved to New York and would become a consistent presence on the Broadway stage for nearly 35 years, beginning when he became part of the replacement cast of the hit Dreamgirls in 1981, taking over the role of Effie’s songwriting brother C.C. White.

Between Dreamgirls and 2015’s The Color Purple, in which he played Celie’s cruel husband Old Mister, Clayton appeared in such musicals as The High Rollers Social and Pleasure Club (1992), Once Upon a Mattress (1996), The Civil War (1999), It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues (1999) and Bells Are Ringing (2001).

In addition to numerous touring productions — including Dreamgirls, Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables — Clayton appeared in such TV shows as The Big C, The Equalizer, Elementary and Homeland. In a memorable 2019 episode of Pose, Clayton portrayed the stepfather of an ailing Pray Tell (Billy Porter).

Some of Clayton’s castmates shared memories on social media. Read them below.

Christin Byrdsong, who co-starred with Clayton in Seattle Rep’s 2019 production of Shout Sister Shout!, posted this tribute on Instagram:

Every. Single. Day. You are a walking masterclass. I had the great honor of not only sharing the stage with you, but learning from you. Technique, acting, manhood. All of it. I can’t believe you are gone. You told me to call you Lawrence, but I insisted on calling you MR. Lawrence because I have such respect and admiration for your legacy. You are a Broadway legend. I honestly don’t know how to form the right sentences to encompass what you mean to me and so many other black men in theater. I just want to say thank you, Mr. Lawrence. I love you. I’m grateful I get to be alive in a time where I got to experience your magnificence firsthand.

Clayton is survived by wife Linda and son Matthew. A service was held in Orange, NJ.

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