William December “Billy Dee” Williams, Jr. (born April 6, 1937) is an American actor, artist, singer, and writer known for his work as a leading man in 1970s African-American cinema, in movies including Mahogany and Lady Sings the Blues, and for playing the character of Lando Calrissian in the movies Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and The Lego Movie.
He made his film debut in 1959 in the Academy Award-nominated The Last Angry Man, opposite Paul Muni, in which he portrayed a delinquent young man. He rose to stardom after starring in the critically lauded blockbuster biographical television movie, Brian’s Song (1971), in which he played Chicago Bears star football player Gale Sayers, who stood by his friend Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), during his struggle with terminal cancer. The film became so popular that it was given a theatrical release. Both Williams and Caan were nominated for Emmy Awards for best actor for their performances.
Having broken through, Williams became one of America’s most well-known black film actors of the 1970s, after starring in a string of critically acclaimed and popular movies. In 1972, starred as Billie Holiday’s husband Louis McKay in Motown Productions’ Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. The film was a box office blockbuster, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year and received five Academy Award nominations. Diana Ross starred in Lady Sings the Blues opposite Williams; Motown paired the two of them again three years later in the successful follow-up project Mahogany.
The early 1980s brought Williams the role of Lando Calrissian, which he played in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Calrissian’s charm proved to be popular with audiences and Williams now had a substantial fanbase within the science fiction genre as well. He reprised this role when he lent his voice for the character in the 2002 video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, as well as the audio dramatization of Dark Empire, the National Public Radio adaptation of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and two productions for the Star Wars: Battlefront series: Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron.
Between his appearances in the Star Wars films, he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone as a cop in the critically acclaimed film Nighthawks. He co-starred in 1989′s Batman as district attorney Harvey Dent, a role that was planned to develop into Dent’s alter-ego, the villain Two-Face, in sequels. Unfortunately for Williams, that never came to pass; he was set to reprise the role in a more villainous light in the sequel Batman Returns, but his character was deleted and replaced with original villain Max Shreck.
In his many television roles, Williams was paired with actress Marla Gibbs in three sitcoms: The Jeffersons, 227, and The Hughleys. In the 1990′s, Williams appeared in The Jacksons: An American Dream and in The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, along with a special appearance in sketch comedy In Living Color. Later, in the 2000′s, he appeared as himself in Season 5 of hit medical sitcom Scrubs and in General Hospital from 2007-2009. He also appeared as himself in Season 3 of hit ABC mystery series LOST. In the early 2010s, Williams has had roles in Adult Swim series Titan Maximum and Robot Chicken. He has also recently had voice roles in The Boondocks, The Cleveland Show, and appeared in NCIS, Key & Peele, and Modern Family.
He most recently reprised his role as the voice of Lando Calrissian in The LEGO Movie. In March 2014, he was added to the list of contestants on the upcoming 18th season of Dancing With The Stars.