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Hinton Battle death: Dreamgirls star and Buffy’s tap-dancing demon actor dies, aged 67

Jennifer Hudson has paid tribute to co-star

Maanya Sachdeva
Thursday 01 February 2024 11:09 GMT
Actor Hinton Battle wins Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Dreamgirls actor Hinton Battle, the multiple Tony award winner who played The Scarecrow in Broadway’s The Wiz, has died aged 67.

The screen and stage actor died on Tuesday (30 January) at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

A representative for the family said he died after a lengthy illness, but declined to confirm Battle’s cause of death, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

Battle appeared in Dreamgirls as Wayne, a salesman at Curtis’ Cadillac dealership who becomes Rainbow Records’ first producer. His co-star Jennifer Hudson led the tributes to the actor, remembering him as a “Broadway icon” in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday (31 January).

Honouring Chita Rivera, another Broadway star who also died this week, Hudson wrote: “We lost two irreplaceable Broadway icons this week. Chita Rivera and Hinton Battle!

“I’ll always be grateful for their unique artistry and impact and the way our lives intersected! Rest well, legends!”

A trained ballet dancer, Battle was 18 when he made his Broadway debut in the original production of The Wiz in January 1975. While he had originally auditioned for the musical as a chorus member, Battle stepped in as Stu Gilliam’s replacement after he fell sick during a pre-Broadway tryout.

“All these people were screaming at me: ‘Hold your head up! Let me get this eyelash on here!’” Battle recalled his first performance as The Scarecrow in an interview with The Washington Post in 1981.

Ultimately, he got through the performance with help from Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy and was “pulling me by the straw”, Battle said.

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He went on to win three Tony awards, all for featured actor in a musical, for Sophisticated Ladies (1981), The Tap Dance Kid (1984), and Miss Saigon (1991).

Noted actor, dancer and choreographer, Hinton Battle has died (Getty)

No performer has won this gong more times than Battle.

He was also a SAG and Critics Choice nominee for his work in the 2007 film Dreamgirls, starring Beyoncé, Hudson, Jamie Fox, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover.

Mills also paid tribute to “my dear Scarecrow” in a heartfelt message shared on social media.

“My Dear Scarecrow, Mr Hinton Battle, words cannot express how I feel,” she wrote. “You’ve joined the heavenly cast. I will miss you forever. I loved you then, now, and forever.

“Rest babe, job well done. Until we meet again.”

Jamie Foxx and Hinton Battle in ‘Dreamgirls' (David James/Dreamworks/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The Tony Awards also honoured his legacy, sharing a video clip of his 1981 acceptance speech.

“In loving memory of iconic Tony Winner, Hinton Battle,” the caption read. “His unparalleled talent and infectious energy will be deeply missed, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of all who were touched by his brilliance.”

His other film and TV credits include Smash, These Old Broads, Quantum Leap, Touched by an Angel, as well as appearing as a tap-dancing demon on the hit Noughties show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Battle also choreographed the Outkast movie musical Idlewild, Bolden, and Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story.

“Choreographing is a whole different feeling,” he once told the Times. “You create it, you give it to the dancers and they have to bring it to life. And meanwhile, you’re standing backstage and thinking, ‘My life is in your hands; please make it work.’”

Born on 29 November 1956 in Germany, Battle’s talents were apparent from an early age. After moving to the US with his family, he attended the Jones Haywood School of Ballet in Washington, DC, and the School of American Ballet in New York.

He is survived by his sisters, Eddie and Lettie.

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