Reg E. Cathey, actor on House Of Cards and The Wire, dies at 59

Cathey winning the award for guest actor in a drama for House Of Cards in the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
Cathey winning the award for guest actor in a drama for House Of Cards in the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Reg E. Cathey, whose distinctive baritone and memorable roles on hugely popular television shows like House Of Cards and The Wire won him legions of fans and an Emmy Award, died on Friday (Feb 9) at his home in New York City. He was 59.

His death was announced by David Simon, the creator of The Wire, on Twitter on Friday night. The cause was lung cancer, his talent agent, Sarah Fargo, said in an email on Saturday.

Though he earned credits in dozens of television shows and movies, it was Cathey's portrayal of Freddy Hayes - an empathetic, salt-of-the-earth barbecue pit owner whose restaurant provides a respite for Francis Underwood, the scheming politician in House Of Cards - that earned him three Emmy nominations and one win for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.

Cathey assumed a somewhat similar role on The Wire, playing a beloved newspaper editor turned political operative whose honesty and integrity are often sought out by the man he works for, Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen).

"That voice," Simon said in a phone interview Saturday, "I think we all know that if God comes at you as a white guy, he's going to sound like Johnny Cash. If God comes to you as a black guy, that's Reg Cathey you're hearing."

He recalled attending a dinner several years ago with Cathey and other cast members of The Wire at which Cathey told a hilarious story while impersonating the other actors.

"And every voice was perfect," Simon said. "By the end of 25 minutes, nobody could breathe."

Reginald Eurias Cathey was born on Aug 18, 1958, in Huntsville, Alabama, to a father who was an Army officer and a mother who worked in the Defence Department. Cathey grew up in Germany and travelled frequently before moving back to Alabama when he was a teenager.

He studied at the University of Michigan - where, reports say, he befriended Madonna and the future comedy star David Alan Grier - and later at the Yale School of Drama.

Over an acting career that spanned more than 35 years, Cathey also had a recurring role in the long-running television series Oz and made appearances in other widely viewed shows like Law & Order, 30 Rock and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

His many film credits included a role as Dr Franklin Storm in the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four and a part as a homeless man in American Psycho.

In 2000, Cathey made his Broadway debut in The Green Bird; he had several other theatre credits.

He is survived by his girlfriend, Linda Powell; a sister, Donza Cathey Friende; his stepmother, Maureen Davis Cathey; and two stepbrothers, Jerry Davis and Maurice Davis.

Though some might not know Cathey by name, his recent roles and commanding voice made him instantly recognisable in the latter part of his career.

"When I was on Oz years ago, I did an interview and the guy said, 'You're one of the few actors who can make their living as an actor without being famous,'" he told The Detroit Free Press in 2015.

"We both laughed. And it's true. There's a small club of us, actors and actresses, because it's really difficult just to make a living as an actor without being famous. It used to be easier when I first started, but now it's really, really difficult."