Gregory Hines, tap legend and actor, dies at 57 -- An award-winning star of both stage and screen, he succumbs to cancer

By Gary Susman
Updated August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Gregory Hines, universally acclaimed as the best tap dancer of his generation, and a performer who was equally at ease on Broadway, TV, or the big screen, died Saturday in Los Angeles of cancer, his publicist announced. It was not clear what type of cancer Hines, 57, suffered from, or how long he had been battling the disease.

Hines first found fame as a tap dancer when he was just 5 and dancing in an act with his older brother, Maurice. He was nominated for three consecutive Tonys, from 1979 to 1981, for his performances in ”Eubie!” ”Comin’ Uptown,” and ”Sophisticated Ladies.” He would ultimately win one for his performance as jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton in 1992’s ”Jelly’s Last Jam.” (He was also nominated for his choreography of that show.)

Hines crossed over into movies as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Richard Pryor in the comic role of a Roman slave in Mel Brooks’ ”History of the World Part I” in 1981. While he danced on screen in ”The Cotton Club” (1984), ”White Nights” (1985, with Mikhail Baryshnikov), and ”Tap” (1989), he proved himself as well in non-dancing, straight dramatic roles in hits like ”Running Scared” (1986) and ”Waiting to Exhale” (1995).

On TV, he starred in ”The Gregory Hines Show,” a sitcom about a widowed dad that lasted less than a season on CBS in 1997-98. More recently, he had an extended run as a boyfriend of Grace’s on NBC’s ”Will & Grace” and was a regular cast member of the spring 2003 ABC sitcom ”Lost at Home.” He won a daytime Emmy this year for his voice work as the father on Nickelodeon’s cartoon ”Little Bill.”

Hines made a point of keeping the continuity of the tap tradition alive. He paid homage to the art form’s pioneers (he and Maurice played the Nicholas Brothers in ”The Cotton Club,” and he portrayed Bill ”Bojangles” Robinson in the 2001 Showtime movie ”Bojangles”) and gave his blessings to successors like Savion Glover. In 1997, he told Entertainment Weekly about a planned sequence for an upcoming episode of ”The Gregory Hines Show,” saying, ”Actually, in one episode, I’m going to dream that I’m a dancer and I challenge Savion Glover to a tap duel. And then I beat him, which is really dreaming.”