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'Mockingbird' Actor Brock Peters Dies

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'Mockingbird' Actor Brock Peters Dies

LOS ANGELES - Brock Peters, who began his Hollywood career in the landmark productions of "Carmen Jones" and "Porgy and Bess" and gave a heartbreaking performance as the black man falsely accused of rape in "To Kill a Mockingbird," has died at age 78.

Peters had been receiving chemotherapy after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January, according to Marilyn Darby, his longtime companion. His condition worsened in recent weeks and he died peacefully in bed Tuesday, surrounded by family, she said.

Peters was born George Fisher on July 2, 1927, in New York. His long film career began in the 1950s; he appeared in "Carmen Jones" (1954) and in "Porgy and Bess" (1959).

In recent years, he played Admiral Cartwright in two "Star Trek" films and appeared in numerous TV shows. Peters was often used for animated characters, including Jomo in 2002's "The Wild Thornberrys Movie."

He also sang background vocals on Harry Belafonte's hits "Banana Boat (Day-O)" and "Mama Look At Bubu."

But he was perhaps best known for portraying accused rapist Tom Robinson, defended by Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"He was such a dear friend and one of the most lovely human beings I knew in my life," said Mary Badham, who played Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in the film.

Peters paid tribute to Peck after he died in 2003.

"In art there is compassion, in compassion there is humanity, with humanity there is generosity and love," Peters said. "Gregory Peck gave us these attributes in full measure."

Peters recounted how, shortly before he was to start filming, he was awakened early on a Sunday morning by a phone call from Peck to welcome him to the production. He was so surprised, he recalled, that he dropped the telephone.

"I worked over the years in many, many productions, but no one ever again called me to welcome me aboard, except perhaps the director and the producer, but not my fellow actor-to-be."

In May, Peters was on hand as Harper Lee, the reclusive author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," made a rare step into the limelight to be honored by the Los Angeles Public Library.

In "Carmen Jones," Peters worked with Dorothy Dandridge and Belafonte. Otto Preminger's production of "Porgy" starred Sidney Poitier and Dandridge, and featured Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll as well as Peters.

Among Peters' other films were "Soylent Green," "The L-Shaped Room" and "The Pawnbroker."

His accolades include a National Film Society Award, a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and a Tony Award nomination for his performance on Broadway in "Lost in the Stars."

In a 1985 story by The Associated Press on blacks in the movies, Peters said there had been a string of recent hits involving blacks, but "I have been here a long time, and I have seen this cycle happen before. I'll wait awhile and see if this flurry of activity leads to anything permanent."

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Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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