Taurean Blacque, the actor best known for his Emmy-nominated performance as a detective on the critically acclaimed NBC drama series “Hill Street Blues,” died on Thursday in Atlanta. He was 82.
His family announced the death in a statement. It did not specify a cause, saying only that he died after a brief illness.
Mr. Blacque, who began his career as a stage actor in New York, had several television appearances under his belt when, in 1981, he landed his breakthrough role: the street-smart Detective Neal Washington on “Hill Street Blues,” which drew praise for its realistic portrayal of the day-to-day reality of police work and was nominated for 98 Emmy Awards in its seven seasons, winning 26.
The part of Washington, Mr. Blacque later recalled, was sketchily written, and it was his choice to play the character as quiet and reflective. “I think the original concept was that hip, jive Black man, you know,” he told TV Guide. “But I wanted to turn it around a little, give him some depth, not get into that stereotype.”
Mr. Blacque was nominated for a 1982 Primetime Emmy for best supporting actor in a drama series, but he lost to his fellow cast member Michael Conrad. (All the nominees in the category that year — the others were Charles Haid, Michael Warren and Bruce Weitz — were members of the “Hill Street Blues” cast.)
“Hill Street Blues” ended its run in 1987, and two years later Mr. Blacque starred with Vivica A. Fox and others on the NBC soap opera “Generations.” Probably the most racially diverse daytime drama of its era, “Generations” dealt with the relationship over the years between two Chicago families, one white and one Black. Mr. Blacque played the owner of a chain of ice cream parlors.
He later moved to Atlanta, where he was active on the local theater scene, appearing in productions of August Wilson’s “Jitney,” James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner” and other plays. He was also involved in the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Taurean Blacque was born Herbert Middleton Jr. on May 10, 1940, in Newark. His father was a dry cleaner, his mother a nurse.
He graduated from Arts High School in Newark but did not decide to pursue an acting career until he was almost 30 and working as a mail carrier. He enrolled at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York in 1969 and, he told USA Today, “Once I found out that acting was my niche, I poured all my energies into it.”
He said he chose the stage name Taurean Blacque (Taurus was his astrological sign) in part as a way to get casting directors’ attention. Eventually, after several years of paying dues, he did.
Work in community theater in New York led to roles with the Negro Ensemble Company and eventually to Hollywood, where he landed guest roles on “Sanford and Son,” “Taxi,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and other TV series before being cast on “Hill Street Blues.”
In addition to being an actor, Mr. Blacque, who had two biological sons and adopted 11 other children, was an adoption advocate. He was the spokesman for the Los Angeles County adoption service. In 1989, President George Bush appointed him the national spokesman for adoption.
Mr. Blacque’s survivors include 12 children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.