William Byrd, 35, deaf actor

July 31, 1993|By Myrna Oliver | Myrna Oliver,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A headline on an obituary of actor William Byrd in yesterday's editions erroneously gave his age as 35. In fact, he was 27.

The Sun regrets the errors.

LOS ANGELES -- William Byrd, a deaf actor best known for his role as the disc jockey Danny in "Children of a Lesser God," died of heart failure July 21 in Inglewood, Calif., Paramount Pictures publicist Allison Jackson announced Thursday.

Despite his role in the highly acclaimed 1986 film about deaf youth, the 27-year-old actor had trouble finding work.

"In this business they are afraid to take risks, whether you are black or white," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. "And, of course, it's harder if you're black and deaf."


Mr. Byrd, who read lips, used sign language and spoke clearly, had small parts on such television series as "Houston Knights," "A Man Called Hawk" and "Beauty and the Beast."

The Kansas City native grew up in Inglewood, where he spent most of his time in his late grandmother's Golden Oldies record ** shop. Able to hear lower frequencies and vibrations of bass and drums, he fell in love with the music and became her sales clerk.

"I wanted to be an actor and a musician," he said. "I wanted to experiment, play all types of music -- rock, pop, funk, punk."

He had trouble in the Los Angeles public schools he attended and used marijuana for a time.

"I wanted to act, I wanted to play music," he repeated. "They kept saying 'You can't do that. You're deaf.' "

Mr. Byrd's life got on track when he attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, then earned a degree in drama at Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C.

He played the role of Jesus in a student production of "Godspell" that toured Europe.

Mr. Byrd is survived by his mother, Thelma; and his sister, Tabara.

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