Though he earned credits in dozens of television shows and movies, it was Reg. E. Cathey’s portrayal of Freddy Hayes in “House of Cards” that earned him three Emmy nominations and one win for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.
Reg E. Cathey, whose distinctive baritone and memorable roles on hugely popular television shows like “House of Cards” and “The Wire” won him legions of fans and an Emmy Award, died Friday at home in New York City. He was 59.
His death was announced by David Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” on Twitter late Friday. The cause was lung cancer, his talent agent, Sarah Fargo, said in an email Saturday.
Though he earned credits in dozens of television shows and movies, it was Mr. Cathey’s portrayal of Freddy Hayes — an empathetic, salt-of-the-earth barbecue-pit owner whose restaurant provides a respite for Francis Underwood, the scheming politician in “House of Cards” — that earned him three Emmy nominations and one win for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.
He played a somewhat similar role on “The Wire,” playing a beloved newspaper editor turned political operative whose honesty and integrity are often sought out by the man he works for, Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen).
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“That voice,” Simon said in a phone interview Saturday, “I think we all know that if God comes at you as a white guy, he’s going to sound like Johnny Cash. If God comes to you as a black guy, that’s Reg Cathey you’re hearing.”
He recalled attending a dinner several years ago with Mr. Cathey and other cast members of “The Wire” at which Mr. Cathey told a hilarious story while impersonating the other actors.
“And every voice was perfect,” Simon said. “By the end of 25 minutes, nobody could breathe.”
Actor Wendell Pierce, who played a detective on “The Wire,” said Mr. Cathey was not only a great raconteur but also a man who “made you have a viewpoint” and enjoyed a good debate.
“He always challenged you and provoked your thoughts,” Pierce said. “He was one of those people when you’re speaking with him, you felt like you were at the center of the world.”
Reginald Eurias Cathey was born on Aug. 18, 1958, in Huntsville, Alabama, to a father who was an Army officer and a mother who worked in the Defense Department. He grew up in Germany and traveled frequently before moving back to Alabama when he was a teenager. He studied at the University of Michigan — where, reports say, he befriended Madonna and future comedy star David Alan Grier — and later at the Yale School of Drama.
Over an acting career that spanned more than 35 years, Mr. Cathey also had a recurring role in the long-running television series “Oz” and made appearances in other widely viewed shows including “Law & Order,” “30 Rock” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
His many film credits included a role as Dr. Franklin Storm in the 2015 reboot of “Fantastic Four” and a part as a homeless man in “American Psycho.” In 2000, Mr. Cathey made his Broadway debut in “The Green Bird”; he had several other theater credits.
He is survived by his girlfriend, Linda Powell; a sister, Donza Cathey Friende; his stepmother, Maureen Davis Cathey; and two stepbrothers, Jerry Davis and Maurice Davis.
Though some might not know Mr. Cathey by name, his recent roles and commanding voice made him instantly recognizable in the latter part of his career.
“When I was on ‘Oz’ years ago, I did an interview and the guy said, ‘You’re one of the few actors who can make their living as an actor without being famous,’ ” he told The Detroit Free Press in 2015. “We both laughed. And it’s true. There’s a small club of us, actors and actresses, because it’s really difficult just to make a living as an actor without being famous. It used to be easier when I first started, but now it’s really, really difficult.”