25 October 1935 – 21 November 2010
By: Rashid Bahati
Willis Burks, II throughout his distinguished professional career was a widely beloved, highly accomplished actor of stage, TV and movies as well as being a highly devoted family man-has died at the age of 75.
Burks, of Los Angeles, California, passed away November 21, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was an actor/thespian for over 30 years. He was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Actors League and a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Burks, the fourth oldest of eight children grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He left home at an early age. His career as a professional actor began in the 1980’s in Minnesota. He had the opportunity to appear in numerous television programs, films, and theatrical productions. “Burks used his God given talent to spread human understanding and joy through acting. He was part of arguably the most celebrated American drama at the turn of century. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson delighted in his work, as did his fellow cast members,” said Stephen McKinley Henderson friend and acting colleague. Burks appeared on stage in over 25 plays, 10 movies, and 40 TV series over his career. His big-screen works include King of California (2007), Everythings Jake (2000), Equinox (1992), Preacher’s Wife(1996), Row Your Boat(1999), Fan Addict(2010) and three August Wilson plays-from Jitney, Piano Lesson and Fences.
Burks has performed at many regional theatres in the US and abroad including the Guthrie, Pittsburg, Public, Crossroad, Hartford Stage, Missouri Rep., Baltimore Centre Stage and Syracuse to name a few. His other Theatre credits include Two Trains Running, Driving Miss Daisy, Messiah Dance, Tradition (BBC Radio Play w/Felicia Rashad), Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Eight Ball, East Texas Hotlinks, No Place To Be Somebody, To Be Young Gifted and Black, Simply Heavenly, Great White Hope, Saint Lucy’s Eyes (with Ruby Dee), Huckleberry Finn, Blood Knot and I Just Stopped by to See The Man. Burks television appearances include rolls in The Shield, New York Undercover, NYPD Blues, ER, With Out a Trace, Law and Order, Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Everybody Hates Chris, As the World Turns and Criminal Intent. His other film credits include Row Your Boat, Greasy Money, the Gift of Love, Art School Confidential, and Sunday. Voice – over credits includes Chronicles of Riddick, Voice of Ray Charles, and Celebrity Death Match.
“We both shared a passion for acting. While he never achieved the level of success he rightfully deserved, to me, he remains one of the most intelligent and intuitive actors I have ever met. Indeed, some of the most memorable moments of my career were the times I spent on stage with Willis,” indicated longtime friend and actor Ernie Hudson. Burk’s ultimate acting job is to be able to do one of the best plays ever written. Burks admired the classic movie “Stormy Weather” with Lena Horne. The movie has served as an inspiration throughout his career. Burks did not choose to view himself as better than others. “There are numerous actors that are good at what they do, but Burks’ states, his strongest quality is truth.” “Burks was a tremendously talented actor who captured the essence of acting through his life experiences. He was a family man with a big heart. In fact, I admired his connection with his family…every city we traveled together, Burks always had family that he stayed in touch with,” commented friend and fellow actor, Anthony Chisholm.
Burks has received the following awards: Audelco (Best Actor – Saint Lucy’s Eyes); Desk (Jitney); Obie (Jitney); Audelco (Jitney). Burks studied at Columbia Liberal Arts College and University of Minnesota.
He is survived by his children, Willis Burks, III of Minneapolis, MN, Amy Burks-Jones of Fairfield, AL, Europe A. Burks of Minneapolis, MN and Jessiah C. Styles of Camden, NJ; sisters, Shirley A. Hood of Maricopa, AZ, Delois W. Rudolph and Barbara J. Davis of Long Beach, CA; brothers, Terry Hayes of Birmingham, AL and Isaac Daniels of Chicago, IL; grandchildren, Nashique, Korion, Jasauna, Paige, Tru, Emmanuel, Adonai, Alonzo and Jacodi; and great-grandchildren, Arianna and Alijah; a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, family and friends. The first of two memorial services was held this past Saturday, December 4, 2010 at Greater New Macedonia Ministries in Burks’ home town Birmingham, Alabama.
A special Memorial service will be held Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 3pm at the Matrix Theater Company 7657 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, California 90046. For more information call (323) 852-1445.