Geoffrey Holder, a multi-talented artist who was a dancer, choreographer, painter and actor, a Tony Award-winning director and designer, a memorable James Bond villain and a longtime TV commercial pitchman for 7Up, died Oct. 5 at a hospital in New York. He was 84.
The cause was complications from pneumonia, said his attorney and spokesman, Charles M. Mirotznik.
The 6-foot-6 Mr. Holder gained early renown as a dancer, leading a folk-dance troupe in his native Trinidad before moving to New York in the 1950s. He soon became a fixture in the city’s theatrical and artistic worlds, known for his rich, Caribbean-accented voice and the almost limitless range of his cultural interests.
He acted on Broadway and wrote a cookbook. He choreographed works for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He won Tony Awards as director and costume designer for the 1975 Broadway play “The Wiz,” an all-black musical based on “The Wizard of Oz.”
Mr. Holder’s paintings were displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and other museums, and in 1973 he played a top-hatted voodoo villain in “Live and Let Die,” a Bond movie starring Roger Moore.
“When people ask me, ‘What are you?’ ” he told Time magazine in 1975, “I have to say I don’t know.”
Despite the wide array of his achievements, Mr. Holder may have gained his widest renown for a series of commercials he made in the 1970s and 1980s for 7Up. Usually dressed in a white suit, he would pour a glass of the clear soft drink for the camera, laud it as “the Uncola” and burst into his characteristic booming laugh.
“Marvelous,” he would declare in his lilting baritone. “The smell of success is never too sweet.”
In 1959, Mr. Holder published a book about Caribbean folklore, “Black Gods, Green Islands,” written with Tom Harshman. He would draw on island folk traditions as thematic material for much of his choreography, painting and acting.
“They’re all the same thing,” Mr. Holder told the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., in 2005. “You choreograph what you paint. You paint what you choreograph. I don’t talk about it; I just create it.”
One of his recurring characters was Baron Samedi, a lusty underworld spirit from Haitian voodoo traditions. Mr. Holder based his dance work “Banda” on the character, usually depicted in a top hat, tails and painted face. His menacing portrayal of the maniacally laughing Baron Samedi in “Live and Let Die” gave the formulaic Bond film a much-needed dramatic jolt.
In the 1970s, Mr. Holder had been the original director and choreographer of “The Wiz” before being replaced. When an out-of-town tryout faltered, the show’s producers called on Mr. Holder to bring it back to life.
Practicing his own version of spiritual revival, he brought the cast and crew together on stage and burned incense from Trinidad while performing an exorcism rite. He restored some of the dances and costumes that had been cut from the play, including the “tornado dance,” in which 100 yards of black silk unwinds from the head of a dancer. Mr. Holder’s vision was rewarded with Tony Awards for best director and best costume design.
He received another Tony nomination for costume design in 1978 for “Timbuktu!,” a reworking of “Kismet.” He also directed and choreographed “Timbuktu!”
“Mr. Holder is a great showman,” New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote in 1982. “At his best, he dazzles.”
Geoffrey Lamont Holder was born Aug. 1, 1930, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He described his father as a “salesman with brains” who encouraged his children’s artistic interests.
Mr. Holder was 7 when he began dancing in a local troupe organized by his brother, and he was painting and designing costumes at an early age.
“At Carnival,” he said in 1975, “every Trinidadian is a costume designer. I just grew up believing everybody could do everything.”
Mr. Holder was leading a folk-dance troupe in the Virgin Islands in 1952 when choreographer Agnes DeMille met him and encouraged him to move to New York.
He appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical “House of Flowers,” where he met dancer Carmen de Lavallade. He proposed four days after they met, and they were married in 1955. She and a son, Leo Holder of New York, survive him.
Mr. Holder became a principal dancer in the ballet of the Metropolitan Opera in 1956, the same year he received a Guggenheim fellowship for painting. A year later, he acted in an all-black Broadway production of “Waiting for Godot” while also choreographing a revival of the George and Ira Gershwin musical “Rosalie.”
“You can’t put a label on me, like a can of soup,” Mr. Holder told the newspaper Newsday in 2007. “I know . . . I’m overwhelming.”
Besides “Live and Let Die,” he had film roles in “Doctor Dolittle” (1967), Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask” (1972), “Annie” (1982) and the 1992 Eddie Murphy film “Boomerang,” in which he played a director of TV commercials.
“I’m no snob,” Mr. Holder said about the dozens of commercials in which he appeared for 7Up and other products. “The commercial is an art form unto itself. After all, you are seducing people.”
“Carmen & Geoffrey,” a documentary about Mr. Holder and his wife, who is still performing, was released in 2005.
“I walk through doors,’’ Mr. Holder says in the film. “If I’m not wanted in a place, there’s something wrong with the place, not with me.”