11 famous actors you forgot were in 'Roots'

No one could have guessed how massive the miniseries would become by the last episode.

Image: The Everett Collection

Roots was an eight-part series that garnered strong ratings from the get-go, but no one could have guessed how massive it would become by the last episode.

One hundred million people watched Part VIII, meaning more than 50 percent of America tuned in to watch the conclusion of the epic series. The episode even outdrew the Super Bowl for that year, an unthinkable feat for a miniseries about slavery and the African American experience. 

Roots revolved around the stories of Kunta Kinte, portrayed by John Amos, and Kizzy, portrayed by Leslie Uggams. In addition to the impressive performances of the main characters, there were plenty of minor roles that stood out. The cast was a who's who of celebrity appearances, cleverly disguised beneath layers of makeup and period costume.

Here are 11 notable actors and performers who had a part in the series. Do you remember seeing them?

1. Ed Asner


The same year The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air, Asner portrayed slave ship captain Thomas Davies. He won the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series, Single Appearance.

Image: Warner Bros.

2. Lorne Greene


The Bonanza patriarch played a consequential role in the groundbreaking miniseries. Greene portrays John Reynolds, the slave owner who changes Kunta Kinte's name to Toby.

Image: Warner Bros.

3. Robert Reed


After a weak tobacco harvest in 1776, John Reynolds sells Kunta to a new slave owner, local physician Dr. William Reynolds. Reed played the new slave owner a few years after The Brady Bunch went off the air. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama or Comedy Series for the role.

Image: Warner Bros.

4. Chuck Connors


The Rifleman actor took a dark turn as Tom Moore, the slave owner who rapes and impregnates Kizzy on his North Carolina plantation.

Image: Warner Bros.

5. Todd Bridges


A little more than a year before landing the role of Willis Jackson on Diff'rent Strokes, Bridges appeared as Bud Harvey. We must say, he looked a lot like his fictional younger brother in his earlier years.

Image: Warner Bros.

6. Burl Ives


Even the talking snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer appeared in Roots! Everyone's favorite narrator took the role on Senator Arthur Justin in Part VI. It was one of his last television roles.

Image: Warner Bros.

7. George Hamilton


Hamilton appeared in two episodes of the miniseries as Stephen Bennett, an unusually small role for the famous actor.

Image: AP Photo/Handschuh 

8. O.J. Simpson


Simpson had been acting for about a decade when he scored the part of Kadi Touray in Part I of Roots.

Image: Warner Bros.

9. Maya Angelou


This is perhaps the only place in the world you'll see Simpson's name next to Angelou's. Although the famous author and poet had performed as a calypso dancer in her earlier years, Roots was her first credited television appearance. She played Nyo Boto in Part II.

Image: Warner Bros.

10. Cicely Tyson


The legendary dramatic actress has a key part in Roots, playing the mother of Kunta Kinte in The Gambia. Tyson was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series for her role.

Image: Warner Bros.

11. Sandy Duncan


She was Peter Pan on Broadway and appeared in two productions of The Sound of Music, but in 1977, Duncan was Missy Reynolds in Roots. Growing Pains star Tracey Gold portrayed a young version of the character.

Image: Warner Bros.

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