Thomas Jefferson Byrd

Thomas Jefferson Byrd was an American actor who appeared in several films directed by Spike Lee, best known for his roles in Clockers, Get on the Bus, Bamboozled, and Chi-Raq.
He was also a stage actor who won critical acclaim and awards for his work in August Wilson’s plays, earning a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the 2003 revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
He was known for his versatile and charismatic performances in a variety of roles, ranging from a drug addict in Clockers to a college professor in Bamboozled.
However, he was tragically killed in a shooting incident in Atlanta in 2020.

Basic information

Full NameThomas Jefferson Byrd
Date of BirthJune 25, 1950
Age at time of death70
Place of BirthGriffin, Georgia, U.S.
Zodiac signCancer

Past & Current Relationships

Thomas Jefferson Byrd was married to Debra Byrd, a singer and vocal coach who worked on American Idol and The Voice.
They had four children together: Thomas Jr., Shannon, Charlene, and Tamara.
They divorced in 2003 but remained friends and co-parents.
Byrd was also romantically linked to actress Viola Davis, who co-starred with him in the Broadway production of King Hedley II in 2001. They remained close friends until his death.

Early Life & Education

Thomas Jefferson Byrd was born on June 25, 1950, in Griffin, Georgia. He was the youngest of seven children of Annie Ruth Byrd and Thomas Jefferson Byrd Sr., a Baptist minister. He grew up in a religious and musical family, singing in the church choir and playing the trumpet. He attended Griffin High School, where he excelled in academics and athletics. He graduated as the valedictorian of his class in 1968. He then enrolled at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, where he majored in education. He graduated with honors in 1972. He later earned a master’s degree in dance from California Institute of the Arts in 1976.

Career Information

Years Active1992 – 2020

Byrd began his acting career in the 1980s, working with the New Federal Theatre and the National Black Theatre in New York.
He made his film debut in 1995, playing a drug addict named Errol Barnes in Lee’s crime drama Clockers.
He went on to collaborate with Lee on eight more films, including He Got Game, Red Hook Summer, and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. He also appeared in other films such as Ray, Lackawanna Blues, and Brooklyn’s Finest.
Byrd was also a prolific stage actor, appearing in numerous Off-Broadway and regional productions. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Toledo, a piano player in a 1920s blues band, in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance. He also starred in Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at the Signature Theatre and Two Trains Running at the Old Globe Theatre.

Net worth and Income

Net Worth (2022)$1 Million
Source of IncomeAs Television actor, stage actor

According to various sources, Byrd had an estimated net worth of $1 million at the time of his death. His main source of income was his acting career, both on screen and on stage. He also earned money from endorsements and appearances. His salary per film or play varied depending on the budget and the role.

Interesting facts and Trivia

  • Byrd was born on June 25, 1950, in Griffin, Georgia, and Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s life was tragically cut short. He passed away on October 3, 2020, at the age of 70, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
  • He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Morris Brown College and later received a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance from California Institute of the Arts.
  • Byrd was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Alpha Sigma chapter.
  • He was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in the 2003 Broadway revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
  • He was remembered by many including Spike Lee with whom he worked on several films.
  • Unfortunately, Byrd passed away on October 3, 2020, after being shot multiple times in the back near his southwest Atlanta home.
  • Byrd had a strong and enduring professional bond with the renowned director Spike Lee, leading to his appearances in multiple films helmed by Lee. Their collaborative efforts included notable movies such as “Clockers,” “Get on the Bus,” “Bamboozled,” “Red Hook Summer,” and “Chi-Raq.”
  • Theater Background: Byrd had a strong background in theater and worked extensively on stage before transitioning to film. He performed in various productions, including several plays by August Wilson, such as “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “King Hedley II.”
  • Tony Award Nomination: Byrd’s exceptional talent as a stage actor earned him a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the Broadway play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2003.
  • Range of Characters: Throughout his career, Byrd showcased his versatility by portraying a wide range of characters, from intense and dramatic roles to comedic and lighthearted ones.
  • Film and Television Appearances: In addition to his work with Spike Lee, Byrd appeared in other notable films and TV shows, including “Set It Off,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “He Got Game,” “NYPD Blue,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
  • Acting Mentor: Byrd had the opportunity to work with and learn from legendary actors such as Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, who became his mentors and influenced his craft.
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