Charles Weldon had a life that was bigger than life
DCPA News Center
By John Moore
December 9, 2018
The accidental actor went from a cotton field to the No. 1 song in America to a long life on the road and on stages including the Denver Center
Where do you even start to recount the life of actor, director and producer Charles Weldon?
He worked in a California cotton field until he was 17 – and a year later sang on the No. 1 hit song in America. He appeared on “The Dick Clark Show” and toured with James Brown and Fats Domino. He made his Broadway debut at 19 – less than a year after he took up acting – in a 1969 musical that starred none other than Muhammad Ali. In the 1970s, he was a self-described flower child who partied with Richard Pryor. Over the years he worked with Denzel Washington, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Alfre Woodard. Out of economic necessity, he had two long stints as a cross-country truck driver, tales from which became the basis for the DCPA Theatre Company’s world-premiere Mama Hated Diesels in 2010.
Charles Weldon Weldon never went to college. He liked to say “I studied life … at the College of Life.” The man known as much for his laugh as his long list of professional credits died of lung cancer on Friday night in New York. He was 78.
“He had a commitment to the arts, and he was adored by many for his hard work as an actor,” Lisa Mapps-Weldon, his daughter-in-law, said Saturday in announcing Weldon’s death. “The only way to describe his life is, ‘Well done.’ ”
Weldon, who called himself “the accidental actor” because all he wanted to be was a cabinet-maker, appeared in 12 DCPA Theatre Company productions over 20 years. He won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s 2006 Henry Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work in Gem of the Ocean.
“Charles was an indispensable part of the maturation of the Denver Center Theatre Company,” former Artistic Director Donovan Marley said. “As he did with so many others, Charles changed my life. I cherish him as an artist and as a dear friend.”
When the Denver Center’s Israel Hicks made history as the first director to complete the entire August Wilson canon for one theatre company in 2009, Weldon had been in six of the 10 plays. Weldon often proclaimed Hicks, who died in 2010, to be the best theatre director in America. “You can get somebody who generally knows the plays,” Weldon said. “But you really want to get someone in the trenches who can get his actors to deliver what the words truly mean. That’s what Israel does with August Wilson.”
And Hicks loved Weldon right back, longtime Denver Center Stage Manager Lyle Raper said. “What a team.”
Marley said it stuns him to think that both Hicks and are now gone. “They changed Denver— especially Denver theater — forever,” he said.
Weldon eventually completed the Wilson cycle himself at various theatres across the country. When he finally got to meet Wilson, called by many “The Black Shakespeare,” Weldon said he told him: “Thank you for my house.”
Born: 6/1/1940, Wetumka, Oklahoma, U.S.A.
Died: 12/7/2018, New York, U.S.A.
Charles Weldon’s western – actor:
Rooster Cogburn – 1975 (baliff)