March 29th is a special day in Black history. It’s the day we were introduced to the fictional R&B group The Five Heartbeats 25 years ago. Written by Keenen Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend, the film told the story of the rise and fall of a ‘60s R&B quintet.
The film won audiences over with its realistic portrayal of the racial discrimination that ran rampant in the music industry. It also gave us a visual account of just how severe industry rule # 4080 was and still is. Leon’s comment about black artists having to struggle to crossover while white artists exercise the privilege to not have to even think about crossing over to urban audiences still rings true.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film’s catchphrases and heart, take a look at what the cast is doing these days.
Robert Townsend as Duck Matthews
Since co-writing, directing, and starring as nerdy, but talented songwriter Duck Matthews, Robert Townsend has had a successful writing and directing career in Hollywood. He’s also been behind a wide range of films and TV shows as a producer. However, the same man who brought many millennial men’s first crush in Reagan Gomez-Preston as Zaria Peterson on the WB sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood” also gave us The Meteor Man and MTV’s “Carmen: A Hip Hopera.” You win some and you lose some. His daughter Skye Townsend is a good singer with great sense of humor though.
Leon Robinson as J.T. Matthews
After making his mark as the womanizing heartthrob singer who was never too proud to cry to get the draws, Leon made a career of playing cheaters and singers. Leon starred as David Ruffin in the Temptations biopic and he caught the wrath of women everywhere as the low-down dog Russell in the movie adaptation of Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale. These days he runs a recording studio in New York City in between acting gigs and occasional appearances on “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” He’s Cynthia Bailey’s baby daddy.
Michael Wright as Eddie King Jr.
Michael Wright had been banking acting roles since 1979. However, The Five Heartbeats was his breakout role as the passionate singer led astray by personal demons degraded by drugs and alcohol. After The Five Heartbeats Michael Wright made a career playing seedy characters like the ones in Sugar Hill and New York Undercover. Today, the actor still participates in indie films and has been spotted on subways just chilling.
Tico Wells as Choirboy
Tico Wells played the preacher’s son with a perfect falsetto and a head big enough to get hit with bottles any time the group performed terribly. Wells has kept his name in Hollywood circles by taking one episode roles in some of your favorite ‘90s sitcoms like “Martin” and “The Drew Carey Show.” Most recently, he landed a role in the independent church drama Forgiveness.
Harry J. Lennix as Dresser
Lennix might have the most diverse post-Heartbeats resume. He’s appeared in everything from Mo’ Money and The Matrix:Revolutions to Spike Lee’s Million Man March drama Get On the Bus. Currently, you can see Harry J. Lennix as the Director of Counterterrorism on “The Blacklist” as well as the Secretary of Defense in the new Batman vs. Superman flick.
Chuck Patterson as Jimmy Potter
As Jimmy Potter the Memphis born Patterson was the manager every new artist hopes they find. This role was one of his best known as he didn’t do much more acting after the film. He landed one-off parts on shows like “Law and Order” and Disney’s “The Famous Jett Jackson.” His last appearance on Broadway was in the 1997 show “Proposals” and he passed away in 2013 at age 68.
Hawthorne James as Big Red
James caused nightmares as the dubious record label owner who was way too strict about his office hours. Hawthorne James took lighter roles after his searing performance as Big Red. He wound up on tons of ’90s shows like “Frasier” and “Stargate SG-1.” His latest role is in a film called Lucky Girl. From the synopsis on IMDB, it’s one of those black romantic comedies you scroll past on Netflix when searching for The Best Man or something.
Diahann Carroll as Eleanor Potter
Diahann Carroll was a trailblazer in Hollywood for people of color decades before participating in Robert Townsend’s musical drama as Jimmy’s loving but skeptical wife. Although Carroll has received Oscar and Emmy nominations, she’s probably most famous to your parents as tough as nails shade queen with impeccable fashion tastes on the 80s primetime soap “Dynasty.” You might recognize her for the character June Ellington on USA’s “White Collar,” which ended its six season run in 2014.
John Canada Terrell as Flash
Next to his work as the moderately skilled, fame-hungry singer who wanted Eddie’s spot, Terrell is most known for his character Greer Childs in Spike Lee’s debut film She’s Gotta Have It. Though his career hasn’t taken off like some of his castmates’, the actor has kept busy with independent projects like his upcoming film Rebirth of Crowning Glory which is set for a 2017 release.
Roy Fegan as Bird
Townsend fans first saw Fegan play a slave and a zombie in Hollywood Shuffle before playing rival singer Bird, the leader of Bird and The Midnight Falcons. After The Five Heartbeats he played Simon, the leader of the blonde-haired gang The Golden Lords in 1993’s The Meteor Man. After learning the importance of conducting business between nine and five, Fegan found roles in television shows and video games— and Jidenna memes.
Harold Nicholas as Sarge
If you don’t know who Harold Nicholas is you need to brush up on your Black history. Nicholas was one half of the greatest dancing duos ever, The Nicholas Brothers. The tap dancer helped inspire everyone from James Brown to Michael Jackson and beyond. So the part as the cigarette smoking, ass kicking, military veteran choreographer was perfect for him. The Five Heartbeats was one of Harold Nicholas’ last roles before retiring from show business in 1995. He died in 2000 at the age of 79 due to heart failure.
Tressa Thomas as Duck’s Singing Little Sister
Thomas made the absolute most of her one scene in The Five Heartbeats when she gave Patti LaBelle a run for her money singing “We Haven’t Finished Yet.” Tressa Thomas’ acting credits were mostly Robert Townsend productions. Her last credited role was 2000 playing Ruth Brown in the Townsend directed Little Richard TV biopic that starred Leon. She does more singing these days with her band Soul People, and has toured with Royal Caribbean.
The core cast of The Five Heartbeats reunited on the Monique Show in 2011. You can watch the video here.