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Rodriguez as Dr. Harry Miles in Peyton Place, 1968.
June 13, 1918
|Died||September 6, 2007 (aged 89)|
Percy Rodriguez (born Percy Rodrigues, June 13, 1918 – September 6, 2007) was a Canadian actor who appeared in many television shows and films from the 1950s to the 1980s. He was of Afro-Portuguese heritage and was born in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood of Montreal. Born with the surname "Rodrigues," he adopted the spelling "Rodriguez" after it was misspelled in a Broadway program early on in his career. Rodriguez was also known for his extensive voiceover work as the narrator of film trailers, television spots and documentaries.
Rodriguez was the oldest of three siblings and was of African and Portuguese descent. After his father left home while Percy was in his early teens, Percy began working to help provide for his family. He developed an interest in boxing and acting, becoming a professional boxer while simultaneously exploring acting jobs. He ended up joining Montreal’s Negro Theatre Guild and ultimately won the Canadian Drama Festival acting award in 1939. Despite the award, finding a legitimate acting job was difficult, which led to him working as a toolmaker and machinist for 10 years in order to survive.
Rodriguez began his acting career in the 1930s, appearing in stage plays and television series in his native country. He eventually moved to New York City, where he made his Broadway theatre debut in Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic in 1960. Appearing next in The Actors Studio Theatre production of James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie  (and, shortly thereafter, in an abbreviated television adaptation on CBS), Rodriguez subsequently became a life member of the Studio.
Known for his rich and distinctive voice, Rodriguez became one of the few black actors in the 1960s who were able to circumvent restrictive and negative stereotypes. He managed to avoid the stereotypical roles given to black actors at the time and was known for applying and projecting quiet authority and inner calm during his roles, as well as for the touch of grey in his hair. He went on to star on American television in programs such as The Nurses, Naked City, The Wild Wild West, Route 66 and Star Trek but first gained widespread notoriety in 1968 for his role as neurosurgeon Dr. Harry Miles in the prime time soap opera Peyton Place, seen as a breakthrough white-collar role for a black actor. He also appeared in the made-for-television films The Old Man Who Cried Wolf (1970), Ring of Passion (1978), Angel Dusted (1981), and the miniseries Roots: The Next Generations (1979). Through his depictions on television, Percy was seen as an excellent supporting character actor.
Rodriguez also had an extensive career on the stage and worked with several prominent African-American actors, such as Al Freeman Jr., Brock Peters, Moses Gunn, William Marshall, Raymond St. Jacques, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Rosetta LeNoire, Otis Young and Tony nominee Diana Sands. He also narrated numerous film trailers, TV spots and documentaries throughout his career, continuing to do voiceovers after retiring from acting in 1987, following his final on-camera role as a doctor in the TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit. He is famous for his eerie narration for trailers and TV spots for the film Jaws (1975), as well as the opening narration for Michael Jackson’s science fiction musical Captain EO (1986) for Disney theme parks. Rodriguez' final public appearance was in the 2012 documentary The Shark is Still Working, where he spoke of his narration of the trailer for the film Jaws.
Rodriguez played numerous roles, including detectives, lawyers, politicians, ambassadors, and doctors. According to Robert J. Thompson, "Television didn't have its equivalent of Jackie Robinson – there wasn't that one moment when the race barrier was broken. But Rodriguez was one of a very small group of actors who were in a relatively quiet way beginning to get these roles that television was very reluctant in the 1960s to give to black actors."
Rodriguez was seen as a symbol of intelligence, moral strength and leadership during his various roles in the 1960s and 1970s. His upsurge in Hollywood’s stature was due to a few of his earlier Broadway appearances. Rodriguez is well known for helping to break the racial barriers on television. He is a well distinguished-looking actor and went on to become a voice of great distinction behind the camera.
Rodriguez had a daughter, Hollis, and a son, Gerald, with his first wife, Alameda. Following Alameda's death, he married Karen Cook in 2003. On September 6, 2007, Rodriguez died of kidney problems at his Indio, California home at age 89.