Andre Braugher, an Emmy-winning actor who, for over 30 years, adapted his no-nonsense, unflappable persona to great success across genres on television, in film and onstage, died at 61 years old on Monday night after a brief illness. Most famous for his roles as police officers — early in his career in the procedural “Homicide: Life on the Street” and later in the sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — Braugher fell in love with acting while attending Stanford University, where he first performed in a student production of “Hamlet.” He went on to earn a Masters of Fine Arts from Juilliard School. “When I graduated from school, I felt like I had the tiger by the tail; I could do almost anything,” Braugher told Variety in 2020.
Here’s a look back at some of the moments that would go on to define Braugher’s career.
Braugher’s father was reluctant to support his acting career — Braugher remembered him saying, “Show me Black actors who are earning a living. What the hell are you going to do, juggle and travel the country?” — but landing a supporting role in “Glory” was a crucial early breakthrough. He played the studious, timid union Corporal Thomas Searles in the Civil War drama alongside Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
Making His Mark in Theater
Despite positive reviews for his first film performance, Braugher found little immediate opportunity in movies. He became a mainstay of the theater scenes in New York and New Jersey, where he relocated with his family in the 1990s. For his turn as Iago, in a 1990 production of “Othello” at the Rutgers Arts Center, Alvin Klein wrote in a review for The New York Times that Braugher “plays the smooth operator, who knows the power of his devilish smile, sinuous grace and considerable charm.”
Braugher won an Obie Award in 1996 for his portrayal of Henry V at Shakespeare in the Park, where the actor also performed in productions over two decades including “Measure for Measure,” “Twelfth Night” and “Hamlet.” He won a second Obie for his role in the 2011 Manhattan Theater Club production of “The Whipping Man.”
In one of his last stage roles, in “A Human Being, of a Sort” at Williamstown in 2019, Braugher delivered a formidable performance. The Times theater critic Jesse Green wrote: “Mr. Braugher is instantly convincing as a man whose apparently easygoing nature is at least partly a front for anxiety.”
“Homicide: Life on the Street”
As the Baltimore homicide detective Frank Pembleton in this lauded NBC police procedural, Braugher would in large part define what it looked like to be cop on a television drama in the modern era — particularly in interrogation scenes.
The show was based on the book “Homicide” by David Simon, who would go on to create the Baltimore HBO crime drama “The Wire.” On Tuesday, Simon posted on social media that Braugher’s death was “too damn soon.”
“I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful actors,” Simon wrote. “I’ll never work with one better.”
Earlier this year, in an interview with The Times, Braugher, reflecting on the show, thought back fondly to its early days: “When I think back to that initial group, that first- and second-year group, it was a wonderful cast and boy, were we quirky. Boy, were we misfits, and I loved it.”
“I looked with amusement at ‘NYPD Blue’ and all those other shows that began to incorporate all the techniques that we had, dare I say, pioneered for television,” he went on.
The role of Pembleton won Braugher an Emmy in 1998 for best lead actor in a drama. “This is for all the people in Baltimore,” he said in his acceptance speech. “This is a town that I love, we have finally made it.”
Braugher took home his second Emmy, for best lead actor in a miniseries, for his role as the coolheaded Nick Atwater, who leads a gang of criminals and ex-cons, in the six-part FX crime thriller “Thief.”
This moody show, about professional crooks and a heist gone sideways, set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, “reaches for the brutality and emotional complexity of ‘Oz’ and ‘The Sopranos,’” a Times critic wrote at the time.
It was Braugher, the critic wrote, who turned “Thief” into more than just a well-made crime drama. “Nick is scary, until he isn’t,” she wrote. “He is likable, until he is just the opposite. The character is hard to pin down but impossible to resist.”
Braugher earned four Emmy nominations, for best supporting actor in a comedy, for his role as Capt. Raymond Holt, the N.Y.P.D.’s first Black gay captain, a role that has been celebrated for shedding stereotypes. He played opposite Andy Samberg’s arrogant, sophomoric Detective Jake Peralta — imbuing the role of Holt with deadpan perfection.
In 2020, Samberg told Variety that Braugher “adds so much and takes so little — it’s really inspiring.” Referring to Holt’s traits of morality, earnestness, perfectionism, Samberg said of Braugher: “I think his approach and who he is as a person in real life is what makes him the perfect person to play Holt.”
Pivoting to comedy was akin to “a second act,” Braugher said. “I feel as though new life has been breathed into my career.”
After the first few episodes of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” aired on Fox (the show would later move to NBC), he told The Times that the comedy and “Homicide” weren’t as different as they might seem: “I think they’re both workplace comedies. In essence it’s taken 20 years to come full circle, but I think they’re in the same place.”
On Tuesday, Terry Crews, who starred on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” for its entire run, thanked Braugher for his wisdom, advice, kindness and friendship. “I’m honored to have known you, laughed with you, worked with you and shared 8 glorious years watching your irreplaceable talent,” Crews wrote on social media. “This hurts.”