R.I.P. Bernie Casey of 'Brian's Song', Star Trek and the first black family drama on TV

The NFL star, painter and character actor passed away at 78.

Image: The Everett Collection

In the spring of 1979, NBC did what no other television network had done before, incredibly. It aired a drama centering around a black family. While sitcoms like Good Times and What's Happening!! had featured black casts, no network had shown a serious look at an African-American family. Harris and Company focused on a father raising his five kids after the death of his wife. The clan moves from Detroit to Los Angeles. To play the patriarch in the lead role, producers cast Bernie Casey, a former NFL wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.

Like former football star Jim Brown, Casey made the shift into acting after his athletic career. In fact, he worked alongside Brown in gritty action flicks ...tick...tick...tick... (1970) and Black Gunn (1972). In movies, he popped up in several cult classics of black cinema, from Cleopatra Jones and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.

His professional football experience was put to good use when he played the captain of the Chicago Bears in the classic "guy-cry" TV movie Brian's Song. A year later, in 1972, he played the Gargoyle in the cult TV horror film Gargoyles.

Unfortunately, Harris and Company lasted a mere handful of episodes. As the Historical Dictionary of African American Television points out, "Many TV critics had difficultly understanding this show was a drama and not an unfunny sitcom. Casey landed another lead role in a short-lived series in the 1983 baseball drama Bay City Blues, which was produced by MTM Enterprises for NBC.

From there, Casey settled into a wonderful career as a character actor, crafting notable characters in Revenge of the Nerds and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Sci-fi eventually became his forte, after Casey appeared as Commander Calvin Hudson in the two-part Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Maquis." He later landed guest roles on SeaQuest 2032Babylon 5 and Batman Beyond

On Tuesday, Casey died at the age of 78, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. He was even a painter, gaining luminary fans such as Maya Angelou, who noted, "His art makes my road less rocky, and my path less crooked."

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  • DINA MERRILL, THE BILLIONAIRE HEIRESS WHO PLAYED BATMAN VILLAIN CALAMITY JAN
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  • Don Rickles
  • RICHARD HATCH of 'BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'
  • MICHAEL PARKS OF 'THEN CAME BRONSON' AND 'TWIN PEAKS'
  • Chuck Barris, host of 'The Gong Show'
  • Roger Smith of '77 Sunset Strip'
  • ELENA VERDUGO OF 'MARCUS WELBY, M.D.'
  • CURT LOWENS, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, WAR HERO AND 'HOGAN'S HEROES' ACTOR
  • JUDGE JOSEPH WAPNER OF 'THE PEOPLE'S COURT'
  • FILM HISTORIAN ROBERT OSBORNE
  • Dick Gautier, Hymie the Robot from 'Get Smart'
  • LAWRENCE MONTAIGNE OF 'STAR TREK'
  • LOLA ALBRIGHT OF 'PETER GUNN'
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  • JUNE FORAY, THE VOICE OF ROCKY THE FLYING SQUIRREL
  • RED WEST, THE ELVIS PRESLEY BODYGUARD WHO PLAYED THE PERFECT TV TOUGH GUY
  • JOHN CYGAN OF 'THE COMMISH' AND 'BOB'
  • MIGUEL FERRER, SON OF JOSÉ FERRER AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY
  • Francine York, 'Batman' actress and 1960s star
  • BRUCE LANSBURY, BROTHER OF ANGELA, PRODUCER OF 'WONDER WOMAN' AND 'WILD WILD WEST'
  • JEFFREY HAYDEN, DIRECTOR OF ALL OF OUR FAVORITE TV EPISODES
  • ADAM WEST, TV'S BELOVED BATMAN
  • Mary Tyler Moore
  • BARBARA HALE OF 'PERRY MASON'
  • Roger Moore
  • ERIN MORAN OF 'HAPPY DAYS' AND 'JOANIE LOVES CHACHI'
  • DINA MERRILL, THE BILLIONAIRE HEIRESS WHO PLAYED BATMAN VILLAIN CALAMITY JAN
  • Mike Connors, star of 'Mannix'
  • Don Rickles
  • RICHARD HATCH of 'BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'
  • MICHAEL PARKS OF 'THEN CAME BRONSON' AND 'TWIN PEAKS'
  • Chuck Barris, host of 'The Gong Show'
  • Roger Smith of '77 Sunset Strip'
  • ELENA VERDUGO OF 'MARCUS WELBY, M.D.'
  • CURT LOWENS, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, WAR HERO AND 'HOGAN'S HEROES' ACTOR
  • JUDGE JOSEPH WAPNER OF 'THE PEOPLE'S COURT'
  • FILM HISTORIAN ROBERT OSBORNE
  • Dick Gautier, Hymie the Robot from 'Get Smart'
  • LAWRENCE MONTAIGNE OF 'STAR TREK'
  • LOLA ALBRIGHT OF 'PETER GUNN'
  • CHELSEA BROWN OF 'ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN'
  • QUINN O'HARA OF 'THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI'
  • PETER HANSEN OF 'GENERAL HOSPITAL' AND 'GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C.'
  • JUNE FORAY, THE VOICE OF ROCKY THE FLYING SQUIRREL
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