We here at Nerdist never enjoy having to write one of these but, since death is a part of life, we find ourselves faced with the task every now and then when an actor or someone important to the pop culture world passes. We never want to re-hash the circumstances of the person’s death or appear to capitalize on tragedy–we simply wish to celebrate the career of a person who had an impact on our lives. This weekend saw the passing of actor Bill Nunn at the age of 62. He will be missed.
Nunn’s career is an impressive one that spans four decades and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention his involvement in a number of Spike Lee films that truly brought him to our attention. Most notably: his iconic role as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
For those unfamiliar with the 1989 film, Nunn’s character is initially introduced in what seems a sort of comedic tangent stopping to speak with Lee’s character about his new Love/Hate jewelry. However, his character is vital to the overall arc of the film, as it becomes clear that Nunn’s Raheem wants nothing more than to carve out his own identity in the community and stand up for what he believed in. When the instrument of that belief (a boombox playing Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”) is destroyed at the climax of the film by a prejudiced shop owner, he lashes out–which ultimately results in his tragic death at the hands of panicked law enforcement.
In recent years, Nunn was probably best known for his role as Joseph ‘Robbie’ Robertson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. While it can be seen by some as a mere supporting role in a campy comic-book movie franchise, the historical significance of that role was important, as Robertson’s first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #51 back in 1967 introduced him as one of the first serious supporting African-American characters that was unlike other such characters in comics at the time. Robertson was a kindhearted man who served as the voice of reason to the hot-headed J. Jonah Jameson, and the casting of Nunn opposite J. K. Simmons for that in the films was absolutely perfect.
Speaking personally, I’ll probably miss Nunn most for his final role of “Cash” on the short-lived USA Network series Sirens. While Sirens only ran for two seasons, the cast of that show seemed to have a real connection with each other and Nunn’s tough-but-lovable father figure Cash was one of my favorites. He played a man confidently set in his ways because he had truly seen it all and wasn’t afraid to share the no-nonsense wisdom he had gathered throughout his life. To me, it seems a fitting final role for an actor who had done so much.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Nunn.
What’s your favorite Bill Nunn role over the years? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Images: Columbia Pictures/ USA Network