Actor David McKnight, best known for his lead role in the 1976 blaxploitation horror movie J.D.’s Revenge, as well as brief parts in TV hits such as The Commish and Boston Legal, has died. He was 87.
According to his friend and publicist Cynthia Busby, per The Hollywood Reporter, McKnight passed away on Sunday (December 3) in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a battle with cancer.
Born on July 2, 1936, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, McKnight served in the U.S. Army and worked as a police officer before he began his acting career. One of his first on-screen roles came in 1970 when he starred on WTTW Chicago’s Birds of the Iron Feather, the first all-Black TV soap opera.
His career took off from there, appearing in films such as The Candidate (1972) and Lifeguard (1976) before landing the lead role of J.D. Walker in Arthur Marks’ cult favorite J.D.’s Revenge in 1976.
Throughout the 1980s, McKnight featured in various TV series, including The Incredible Hulk, Dynasty, Cutter to Houston, Benson, Moonlighting, and Hill Street Blues.
His film work also continued, starring as Uncle Ray in Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle in 1987. He would work with Townsend again in the director’s 1991 movie The Five Heartbeats and the 90s sitcom The Parent ‘Hood.
McKnight mostly appeared in small TV roles throughout the 1990s, though he did play Flicker in the Steven Seagal action classic Under Siege in 1992.
More recently, the actor starred alongside Vivica A. Fox in the holiday TV movie A Husband for Christmas and its sequel A Christmas for Mary. He also had a regular role as Benjamin on the 2019-2023 web series A House Divided.
“Mr. McKnight was a very skilled and adroit character actor whose contributions as a standout African American thespian were unsung throughout his career, like many during his era,” Prof. Rel Dowdell, director of film studies at Hampton University, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement.
He is survived by his brother, James, and a daughter.