On Monday, December 11, 2023, the world lost a wondrous and inspiring talent in one Andre Braugher. The man who brought to life iconic characters like Detective Frank Pembleton and Captain Raymond Holt. A star of both the stage and screen who breathed life and humanity into the roles he took. And judging by the outpouring of love from his past costars and those who have worked with him, an amazing friend. Let’s take a look at the life and career of one of the greatest unsung actors of our time, Andre Braugher.
Andre was born on July 1, 1962, on the West Side of Chicago to mother Sally Braugher and father Floyd Braugher. He was the youngest of four for the couple. He attended St. Ignatius Prep School during his high school years and earned a scholarship to attend the prestigious Stanford University. He initially majored in engineering but, after discovering his love for acting, switched majors. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in theater in 1984. He then attended the highly prestigious Julliard arts school, where he graduated in 1988.
As far as first roles go, Braugher hit a home run. He starred in the 1989 war film Glory, in which he played Thomas Searles. Searles joined the first Black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War. He then went on to star in the ABC revival of Kojak as young detective Winston Blake, who’s assigned under the guidance of the titular inspector. It was after these roles that Braugher would snag the role that would define his career for years to come.
In January 1993, Andre Braugher became known to the world as Detective Frank Pembleton when he started his stint on Homicide: Life on the Street. The role was one in which Braugher tapped into his amazing talent for bringing humanity and realism to his characters. In the 2011 PBS docuseries America In Primetime, Braugher said of his role as Pembleton: “Somehow I’m an instrument of his [God’s] will. Well, I’m too fragile an instrument for that.”
Frank Pembleton’s driving need is to speak for the dead, to be the instrument of justice, and to be someone who can keep crime down. It’s that search for justice and his pursuit for meaning that drives him to ultimately leave Chicago PD. And in the end, what Pembleton meant and continues to mean to audiences is a character whose absolute empathy makes him both enthralling and heartbreakingly tragic. It’s this role that gave Andre two Primetime Emmy nominations: one in 1996 and the other in 1998. He won the award in ’98.
Braugher spent the aughts taking on many roles and even doing some theater work, as when he starred in Shakespeare in the Park’s Henry V, in which he played the title role. This role landed him an Obie Award. He did some guest roles in popular shows like Law & Order and House, in which he took on the role of House’s therapist Dr. Darryl Nolan. For that role, he held his own with Hugh Laurie, whose character of House can devour a scene without a strong enough partner. Braugher’s Dr. Nolan handled that intensity beautifully. In an arc where House is at his most vulnerable, Dr. Nolan challenges House in a way that not many can, cutting through the sarcastic and cynical outer layer to make House confront his humanity.
The role that introduced Braugher to an entirely new audience (and really to a new generation) is his nuanced and hilarious role as Captain Raymond Holt on FOX-turned-NBC workplace comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Holt starts on the show as a no-nonsense captain who wants to bring out the best in his detectives and cares enough to stay on them to make sure that they reach their full potential. It’s in this role that we once again see Braugher’s talent at bringing out the humanity and nuance of characters that can easily be seen as one note.
Holt and Jake’s relationship morphs and changes as the series progresses. Jake goes from resenting Holt’s serious disposition to appreciating how Holt pushes him and holds him to task, even seeking out his approval and seeing him as a father figure. On Holt’s side, he learns to bend a little and sees his detectives as more than just work colleagues and subordinates. He sees them as family and allows each of them to play to their strengths, using his role as captain to foster a nurturing and empathetic precinct.
Holt being an out gay man in the NYPD is something that could have been used mockingly, but the show doesn’t lean on tired stereotypes or offensive jokes. Braugher’s comedic timing and portrayal of Holt in both humorous and serious scenes showed his dedication to finding the humor in places that are truthful and not mocking. Braugher was nominated for four Primetime Emmys for his role as Raymond Holt. He has won 2 Emmys: one for FX’s Thief and NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street.
Sadly on December 11, 2023, Andre Braugher passed away. The public would not learn of this until December 12. Following his death, an outpouring of love from fans and his co-stars were painted across social media. These overwhelming gestures showed that not only was Braugher talented, but that he was beloved by pretty much everyone who worked with him. You can tell a lot about a person by what people say when they’re gone. Based on the posts that have come out since he passed, Andre Braugher was an exceptional actor and an exceptional man.
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Gamer, anime fan, and lover of TV and movies. I've been a writer since 2017.