Bill Cobbs, a veteran character actor who amassed almost 200 credits over a five-decade career – including roles in The Bodyguard and Night at the Museum – has died aged 90.

He died “peacefully” on Tuesday night at his home in Riverside, California, his brother Thomas G. Cobbs confirmed. His publicist Chuck I Jones told Associated Press that natural causes is the likely cause of death.

Cobbs’ brother remembered him as “a beloved partner, big brother, uncle, surrogate parent, godfather and friend”.

“Bill recently and happily celebrated his 90th birthday surrounded by cherished loved ones,” he wrote. “As a family we are comforted knowing Bill has found peace and eternal rest with his Heavenly Father. We ask for your prayers and encouragement during this time.”

A Cleveland native, Cobbs appeared films like the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy, as Whitney Houston’s manager in The Bodyguard, Martin Scorsese’s 1986 sports drama The Color of Money, Demolition Man, the coach in Air Bud and the security guard in Night at the Museum. He made his first big-screen appearance in a fleeting role in 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

“All our friends and neighbours went to see the movie, and everyone was waiting for my appearance,” Cobbs remembered in a 2013 interview. “I walk up to a policeman in the subway and say, ‘Hey, man. What’s goin’ on?’”

He became a lifelong actor with about 200 film and TV credits. The lion share of those came in his 50s, 60s, and 70s, as film-makers and TV producers turned to him again and again to imbue small but pivotal parts with a wizened and worn soulfulness.

In 2020, he won a Daytime Emmy for his role as Mr. Hendrickson on Dino Dana, a Canadian children’s educational show.

Cobbs appeared on TV shows including The Sopranos, The West Wing, The Equalizer, Six Feet Under, Sesame Street and Good Times.

Cobbs rarely got the kinds of major parts that stand out and win awards. Instead, Cobbs was a familiar and memorable everyman who left an impression on audiences, regardless of screen time. He won a Daytime Emmy award for outstanding limited performance in a daytime program for the series Dino Dana in 2020.

Wendell Pierce, who acted alongside Cobbs in I’ll Fly Away and The Gregory Hines Show, remembered Cobbs as “a father figure, a griot, an iconic artist that me by the way he led his life as an actor”, he wrote on Twitter/X.

Wilbert Francisco Cobbs, born 16 June 1934, served eight years in the US air force after graduating high school in Cleveland. In the years after his service, Cobbs sold cars. One day, a customer asked him if he wanted to act in a play. Cobbs first appeared on stage in 1969. He began to act in Cleveland theater and later moved to New York where he joined the Negro Ensemble Company, acting alongside Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

Cobbs later said acting resonated with him as a way to express the human condition, in particular during the civil rights movement in the late 60s.

“To be an artist, you have to have a sense of giving,” Cobbs said in a 2004 interview. “Art is somewhat of a prayer, isn’t it? We respond to what we see around us and what we feel and how things affect us mentally and spiritually.”

Associated Press contributed to this report

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