Reg E. Cathey, actor on House of Cards and The Wire, and one of the “peak TV” era’s most welcome and warm presences, has died at age 59 following a battle with lung cancer.
Cathey was a consistent working actor through many of the new millennium’s most classic and iconic TV properties. He got his first role in 1988 and then would pop up as a supporting player in several notable films such as What About Bob? and Se7en. He would later appear as Dr. Franklin Storm in 2015’s Fantastic Four.
It was television, however, where Cathey would truly make his mark. He appeared in early “peak TV” era classics like ER and HBO’s first big dramatic hit Oz. Still it was a guest-starring role in Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon’s drama Homicide: Life on the Streets that would set up the big roles in the latter days of his career.
After Homicide, Simon, now a full-time TV writer, brought Cathey back for a much larger role in his crime drama magnum opus The Wire. Cathey played political operative Norman Wilson for prospective Baltimore mayor Tommy Carcetti. As embodied by Cathey, Norman Wilson was pragmatic yet empathetic. He was the rare political character realistic enough to be a back-room king-maker but also human enough to never come across as Machiavellian.
Cathey rode this supporting role to antoher supporting role in a modern TV classic. He portrayed Washington, D.C. barbecue store owner Freddy Hayes in Netflix’s House of Cards. Hayes, as embodied by Cathey, filled a crucial role for House of Cards – being one of the very few decent or human characters onscreen in any given episode. The show was and is primarily concerned with the lives of the elite and the powerful but Hayes operated as one of the few representations of the non-elite populace and did so beautifully.
Simon, House of Cards creator Beau Willimon and many more of Cathey’s peers took to Twitter to share their eulogies.
Cathey grew up in West Germany before moving to Alabama in his teens. He spoke eloquently on the various paradoxes of growing up simultaneously as an African-American yet still feel like an outisder in most situations.
“I was told I wasn’t black enough for certain jobs, because of the way I speak and carry myself and because I was raised in Europe. It’s why I left LA.”
Cathey was currently starring in Cinemax’s Outcast as Police Chief Byron Giles. There is still no weird on whether it will return for a third season.
R.I.P. Reg. E Cathey: Modern TV’s voice of political reason.