The world lost a radiant and singular talent with the passing of 61-year-old actor, Andre Braugher, who played Captain Holt on the beloved sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We at The Take wish to celebrate his decorated acting career, which spanned over 30 years.
Born on July 1, 1962, the actor was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His mother was a postal worker and his father worked as an equipment operator, instilling a hard work ethic in Braugher, which would later earn him a scholarship to Stanford University. After graduating from Stanford, Braugher was accepted into the prestigious MFA acting program at the Juilliard School in New York City. Only a year after graduating from Julliard, Braugher appeared in the Oscar-winning 1989 film Glory starring alongside Denzel Washington, where he played Thomas Searles, a free educated Black man from the North who joined the first Black regiment in the Union Army.
That same year, Braugher booked his first series regular role on the TV movie revival of Kojak, where he played Kojak’s assistant, Detective Winston Blake. This opened the door for Braugher to play broody detectives for decades, but there was one performance that catapulted his career to new heights, which was NBC’s crime procedural, Homicide: Life on the Street. Braugher played Detective Frank Pembleton, a brilliant cop with a strong moral compass, but who also grappled with personal demons. Braugher’s portrayal showcased the inner turmoil and pressures of being a Black police officer in the city of Baltimore, (a precursor to The Wire), making Pembleton one of the most compelling characters in television history. His performance as Pembleton earned him three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor, which he won during his last season in 1998.
A Television and Theater Veteran
Following his success on Homicide, Braugher continued to impress both critics and audiences with a diverse range of roles. In 1996, he starred in the Peabody-winning HBO miniseries The Tuskegee Airmen, a historical drama based on the true story of the first African-American pilots in the United States Military during World War II. Braugher’s portrayal of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the leader of the Tuskegee Airmen, showcased his ability to embody real-life figures with authenticity and gravitas, which earned him another Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor.
Braugher was a recurring star on many television shows, often playing a character of authority. He was Chief of Medicine on Gideon’s Crossing (2000); a police detective on Hack (2002); a court judge on The Jury (2004); a psychologist on House (2009); a defense attorney on Law & Order: SVU (2011); a Navy captain on Last Resort (2012). Perhaps tired of playing authority figures, Braugher’s performance as Nick Atwater, a master criminal in FX’s miniseries Thief (2006) won him his second Emmy.
Braugher’s talent was not limited to television; he also made significant contributions to the world of theater. In 2000, he received a Tony Award nomination for his role as Troy Maxson in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences. His performance in this emotionally charged drama about race, family, and ambition demonstrated his mastery of the stage and solidified his reputation as a versatile actor. He also won an Obie Award in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Henry V in 1996, where he played the titular character. And won his second Obie Award for his performance in Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Whipping Man in 2011.
In the realm of film, Braugher was involved in several notable projects, such as Salt (2010), in which he played the Secretary of Defense opposite Angelina Jolie. He also starred in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist (2007). In addition, he lent his rich and distinctive voice to animated films, like Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), where he voiced the character of Kuzco’s nemesis, Pacha. He also voiced the fictional Governor of California, Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz, in the adult animated series BoJack Horseman.
Throughout his career, Braugher consistently took on roles that challenged him as an actor and human being. In 2002, he starred in 10,000 Black Men Named George, which was based on the true story of A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a pioneering African-American labor union. Braugher played Randolph, a civil rights leader and labor activist. More recently, he starred in She Said (2022) and played The New York Times journalist Dean Bacquet, who helped spearhead the investigation into Harvey Weinstein that launched the #MeToo Movement.
Another cultural milestone in Braugher’s career was his involvement in the critically acclaimed sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In the show, which ran from 2013 to 2021, he played Captain Raymond Holt, the no-nonsense and hilariously deadpan leader of the fictional 99th precinct of the New York City Police Department. Braugher’s performance as Holt, a gay Black police captain who only smiles when his pet corgi Cheddar is near, turned the grumpy police captain trope on its head. Braugher’s Capt. Holt is full of feeling and iconic one-liners, often aimed at the show’s lead detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) making him a legend among his colleagues and an instant fan-favorite.
Before Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Braugher exercised his comedy chops in the TNT series, Men of a Certain Age, opposite Ray Romano and Scott Bakula.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine was lauded for its humor, diverse cast, and progressive storytelling, and Braugher’s performance was a standout element of the series. His deadpan delivery and comedic timing earned him praise and a new generation of fans. The show also explored important social issues, including LGBTQ+ rights and racial profiling, and Braugher’s involvement as Captain Holt and decades of playing cops added much-needed depth to these storylines.
Beyond the Screen
Braugher was an advocate for more inclusive and socially conscious storytelling. In a cover story with Variety in 2020, he openly called for Hollywood to re-examine its relationship with cop shows. He criticized the “mythology” of hero cop narratives without nuance, and also how police officers on television are often shown “breaking the law to defend the law,” giving cops in real life a license to do the same. As an actor who played cops for almost his entire career, Braugher admitted that he also “fell prey to the mythology that’s been built up” and asked the writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to tell a different story.
Andre Braugher’s career was a testament to his extraordinary talent, versatility, and commitment to his craft. From his breakthrough role as Detective Frank Pembleton to his Tony-nominated stage performances and his groundbreaking role as Captain Raymond Holt, Braugher gave powerful and memorable performances that will be cherished for years to come. His work on both stage and screen has contributed to important conversations about race, representation, and social justice in the entertainment industry. Andre Braugher’s impact on the world of acting and entertainment is undeniable, and he will remain an inspiration and beloved figure among audiences worldwide.
Schneider, Michael. “Andre Braugher Reexamines His Cop Roles and Urges ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ to Rise to the Moment.” Variety, 16, Sep 2020.