Billy Dee Williams is releasing a memoir called What Have We Here?, looking back at his glittering, almost eight-decade career in showbiz.
The 86-year-old is beloved by Star Wars fans for his role as the silver-tongued Lando Calrissian, head of the airborne settlement Cloud City.
On the newly unveiled cover of What Have We Here?, Billy Dee twirls around in a cape strikingly reminiscent of the one he wore in the sci-fi franchise.
‘I saw how many times throughout my life I wanted to go right and some force in the universe caused me to turn left instead, and things worked out,’ he told People.
In a new interview, he reflected that in writing the autobiography he ‘saw how absurd my life has been at times. And how fortunate it’s been. I had fun reliving those memories. I hope it brings back memories for readers, too.’
Retrospective: Billy Dee Williams is releasing a memoir called What Have We Here?, looking back at his glittering, almost eight-decade career in showbiz; pictured 2019
Legend: The 86-year-old is beloved by Star Wars fans for his role as the silver-tongued Lando Calrissian, head of the airborne settlement Cloud City
Incoming: On the newly unveiled cover of What Have We Here?, Billy Dee twirls around in a cape strikingly reminiscent of the one he wore in the sci-fi franchise
Knopf, the publishers, said the book will examine a career ‘unchecked by the racism and typecasting so rife in the mostly all-white industry in which he triumphed.’
Due out next year the day before Valentine’s Day, What Have We Here? is also said to offer a glimpse at Billy Dee’s personal life.
‘So many people over the years have let me into their life. Now it’s my turn to let people into mine,’ he remarked to People.
Fans will no doubt be wondering if the memoir addresses his abuse allegations from the 1990s, which Billy Dee has strenuously denied.
Born in Harlem in 1937, Billy Dee had an upbringing suffused with the arts thanks to his mother Loretta, who trained to sing opera and worked as an elevator operator at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
By the time Billy Dee turned eight he had already made his Broadway debut in the Kurt Weill operetta The Firebrand Of Florence, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
Although the show itself flopped and then drifted into obscurity, it marked the start of Billy Dee’s varied career on both stage and screen.
As a teen he went to LaGuardia, the Manhattan performing arts high school that formed the basis for the movie Fame and continues to churn out such boldface names as Ansel Elgort and Timothee Chalamet.
Throwback: In 1959 Billy Dee landed his first movie The Last Angry Man, which also marked the final film appearance of the Old Hollywood stalwart Paul Muni, who is pictured in the feature
Unmistakable: However the most fondly remembered role of he career came in 1980 when he played Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
He also trained at the Harlem Actors Workshop, taught by Sidney Poitier – who ultimately wound up being his competitor for acting jobs.
At that time, there were scant plum roles for black actors, a phenomenon Billy Dee has since told Rolling Stone ‘goes under the heading of bigotry.’
In 1959 he landed his first movie The Last Angry Man, which also marked the final film appearance of the Old Hollywood stalwart Paul Muni.
Paul offered encouragement to young Billy Dee, assuring him he could play any role ‘no matter the way you look or the color of your skin,’ Billy Dee told People.
By the 1970s he had firmly established himself as an irresistibly charismatic screen presence, for instance as Billie Holiday’s last husband in the biopic Lady Sings The Blues starring Diana Ross as the heroin-addicted torch singer.
However the most fondly remembered role of he career came in 1980 when he played Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
A smooth-talking ladies’ man with an insalubrious past, Lando starts off as a slick double-dealer who knifes the heroes in the back, but eventually becomes a loyal general in the Rebel Alliance against the villainous Galactic Empire.
Three years after The Empire Strikes Back, Billy Dee returned to the role in the original trilogy’s final instalment Return Of The Jedi.
Old pals: A smooth-talking ladies’ man with an insalubrious past, Lando is a longtime friend of Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo (right)
Mainstay: Three years after The Empire Strikes Back, Billy Dee returned to the role in the original trilogy’s final instalment Return Of The Jedi
Then, more than three decades later, he was coaxed back into the part for the 2019 movie Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker.
Billy Dee, who regards himself racially as ‘an everything,’ delighted in the ethnic ambiguity of Lando, who was not conceived for an actor of any specific background.
‘I met with George Lucas,’ Billy Dee once recalled: ‘and he explained he had gotten flak about Darth Vader, the big dark figure, being a villain, and all he [had been] thinking was, a guy in a white hat, a guy in a black hat. He wasn’t thinking racially.’
Upon receiving a copy of the screenplay, Billy Dee marveled: ‘”This guy wears a cape? And Calrissian – what is that? Italian?” I looked it up – Armenian! What an opportunity to move outside of the box.’
On the personal front, Billy Dee whirled through two failed marriages early in his career, but in 1972 he tied the knot with Teruko Nakagami, his wife to this day.
During the 1990s, however, Billy Dee and Teruko split up for a few years – and it was in that gap that the battery scandal unfolded in the headlines.
Billy Dee was arrested in 1996 and charged with assaulting his girlfriend, whom he was living with at the time in Los Angeles.
The girlfriend told the New York Daily News she was to blame, insisting: ‘I slapped him first and he reacted to that action.’
Eventually, the charges were dismissed in a plea bargain that saw Billy Dee court-ordered into a year’s worth of weekly counseling.
‘I’ve never slapped a woman,’ he said a few years ago when an interviewer brought up a famous Chris Rock bit about the case. ‘I’ve never abused women.’
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