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He also succeeded Al Pacino in ‘Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?’ and played a cop opposite Robert Blake on ‘Baretta.’
By Mike Barnes
Senior Editor
Ron Thompson, the unheralded actor who starred on Broadway for Charles Gordone in the Pulitzer Prize-winning No Place to Be Somebody and played father and son musicians for Ralph Bakshi in the animated cult classic American Pop, has died. He was 83.
Filmmaker Joe Black told The Hollywood Reporter that he found Thompson in his Van Nuys apartment on Saturday afternoon. The two had worked together in eight features, including Hate Horses (2017), Chicks, Man (2018) and Suffrage (2023), and Black visited him a couple times a week to help him out.

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“For a man of his age, he was so full of life, he had such a presence,” Black said. He called Thompson “the Sam Jackson to my Tarantino.”
In 1969, Thompson originated off-Broadway the role of Shanty Mulligan in the Joseph Papp-produced No Place to Be Somebody, starring Ron O’Neal, then accompanied the drama to Broadway and on a tour around the country.
In his review for The New York Times, Mel Gussow wrote that Thompson was “splendid” in his turn as a “hip-talking, drum-playing white Uncle Tom who desperately want to be Black.”
Robert Hooks, the Negro Ensemble Company co-founder who knew Thompson from their days as New York actors, told THR that his good friend “stole that play from everybody.” He said he felt compelled to go backstage to meet Thompson after seeing No Place to Be Somebody for the first time.
“It might seem odd, but Ronnie Thompson is the only white actor I have ever known who deserves to be included in Black Theatre History,” Hooks wrote on Facebook. “I have never known a white actor absolutely unafraid to go to the emotionally naked places that expose white jungle-fever delusion and turn it into heartbreaking pathos and high art.”
In American Pop (1981), Thompson portrayed the two lead characters, Tony Belinsky and his son, Pete. He and the other actors were filmed for animators, who then would create cartoon characters out of them in a process called Rotoscoping, similar to motion capture today.
“Live animators were still working. They would blow up the photograph, they would then trace the actor, his physical appearance, his movement, his expression, everything, then draw in the background,” Thompson recalled in 2012. “It’s not just the actor’s voice, you’re seeing the actor’s physical likeness and total performance, facial expression, everything!”

Born on Jan. 31, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky, Phillip Thompson moved with his family to Miami in 1945. Inspired to be an actor after seeing Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, he appeared as an extra in Jerry LewisThe Bellboy (1960), relocated to New York when he was 19 and appeared on episodes of CBS’ Armstrong Circle Theater in 1962.
He also recorded singles under the guidance of rockabilly performer Ersel Hickey (“Bluebirds Over the Mountain”) and portrayed a rock singer in Brown Eye, Evil Eye (1968).
After No Place to Be Somebody, Thompson acted onstage alongside Henry Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss and Gloria Grahame in a 1972 revival of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life in Los Angeles.
A year later, he received an L.A. Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of Bickham in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? (A young Al Pacino had won a Tony for playing the part in 1969.)
Thompson also recurred in 1975-76 as a rookie undercover cop named Nopke on the ABC crime series Baretta, starring Robert Blake, and he guest-starred on such other shows as Mannix, Ironside, Amy Prentiss, The Streets of San Francisco, Bronk, Quincy, M.E., The Waltons and Cagney & Lacey.
His film résumé included The White Buffalo (1977), American Me (1992) and Deep Cover (1992).
Thompson was romantically involved with late actress Diane Sommerfield (Days of Our Lives, The Black Godfather) in the 1970s. He has no known survivors.
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