Tap-Dancing Great Gregory Hines Dies

08/10/2003 at 01:56 PM EDT

The entertainment world took another hit over the weekend with the death of Gregory Hines, 57, the talented and affable star of stage, screen and TV who was considered his generation's greatest tap dancer.

Hines, a 1992 Tony winner for "Jelly's Last Jam," and a frequent guest star on "Will & Grace" (as Will's gruff legal boss), died of cancer late Saturday night on his way to a hospital from his home in Los Angeles, reports The New York Times.

It was not widely known that Hines had been sick.

"I don't remember not dancing," the New York-born Hines told the Associated Press in a 2001 interview. "When I realized I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance."

Actually, Hines was 3 when he began his formal training, and he made his professional debut at age 5 with his older brother, Maurice Jr., in an act originally called the Hines Kids. (Those with memories of TV's "The Ed Sullivan Show" will remember Maurice Sr. and Jr. and Gregory as Hines, Hines and Dad, which came into being in 1963.)

Gregory Hines broke with his father and brother in 1973 and formed a rock band called Severance in Venice, Calif. But he never strayed far from his dance roots.

In 1978 he came to Broadway in "Eubie!," a musical revue of the songs of overlooked African-American composer Eubie Blake (whose most famous song was "I'm Just Wild About Harry"). The production also starred Maurice -- though it was the ever-suave Gregory who took the reviews. He also received his first of an eventual four Tony nominations, which paved his way to movie roles.

He delivered Tony-nominated performances in "Comin' Uptown" (1980) and "Sophisticated Ladies" (1981), and had featured roles in two 1981 films, Mel Brooks's "History of the World -- Part I" and "Wolfen." He also had a role in Francis Ford Coppola's "Cotton Club." Last year he co-hosted the Tonys with Bernadette Peters.

While his best known film role was probably the one opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1985's "White Nights," about a pair of dancers -- one Russian, one American -- caught in the art and politics of defection, his greatest role in life was that as a role model to other dancers.

"I just love to tap-dance," he told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1992. "For me, it's the easiest way I can express myself as an artist. I don't mean it isn't challenging. It's just that when I have my tap shoes on, I feel very self-confident. I feel like I can speak from my heart. It's a way I've always been able to get in touch with many different emotions. I put my shoes on and I start to dance, and it's clear to me what I'm feeling."

Besides his father and brother, Hines is survived by his fiancee, Negrita Jayde; a daughter, Daria Hines; a son, Zach; a stepdaughter, Jessica Koslow; and a grandson. His two marriages, to Patricia Panella and Pamela Koslow, had ended in divorce

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