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227 Actors You Might Not Know Passed Away

Christine Houston's debut play "Two Twenty Seven" dramatized her '50s childhood growing up in Chicago. She wrote the play to participate in a contest during college, which proved successful enough that the play eventually won numerous competitions and propelled Houston toward Hollywood. After several years, Houston collaborated with actor Marla Gibbs to bring her first play to the screen, according to an interview with Ted Williams III. The result was the sitcom "227," which ran for five seasons between 1985 and 1990 on NBC.

An updated version of the original play, "227" transposes the action from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and moves its story from the 1950s to the then-present of the 1980s. The tenants of 227 Lexington Place love to gossip and intrude on each other's personal affairs, tending to do so from the building's front porch and over cups of coffee. Gibbs starred in the series as Mary Jenkins and Hal Williams played her construction worker husband Lester. The series was notable for having an almost entirely Black cast and creative team.

Since the heyday of "227" more than 30 years ago, the actors naturally moved on to other projects, some with careers more high profile than others. However, in the decades since the show's end, several key actors have sadly passed away.

Alaina Reed Hall

Alaina Reed Hall played Rose Lee Holloway on "227." In the pilot episode, Rose unexpectedly becomes the owner of the titular apartment complex after the landlord dies. She settles into the position and exchanges rumors, advice, and one-liners with Mary Jenkins (Marla Gibbs) on the building's stoop. She also acts as the voice of reason amid the chaos her tenants tend to cause. In the show's final season, which aired in 1990, Rose meets and marries Warren Merriwether (Kevin Peter Hall) and relinquishes her title as the owner of 227. 

In real life, Reed Hall and Hall were married, which is what brought about the introduction of their marriage on the show, though the pair divorced in 1991. Reed Hall's other work included a 12-year run on "Sesame Street" as photographer Olivia Robinson. She reappeared as a special guest on "Sesame Street" a few times after leaving in 1988. She was also an accomplished singer and Broadway actor who starred in the original production of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road" in 1974, among other shows.

The actor passed away in 2009 at 63 years old from breast cancer after living with the disease for two years.

Helen Martin

Helen Martin's Pearl Shay is the older, sassy, eavesdropping neighbor in "227." If she isn't leaning out of her ground floor window to share apartment news with Mary and Rose, she's already on the stoop drinking coffee and gossiping with them. Her front row vantage point and retiree status give her the perfect circumstances to pick up on all the comings and goings of the other residents. Pearl's grandson Calvin (Curtis Baldwin) is also the love interest of Mary's daughter Brenda (Regina King in her first onscreen role). Both Martin and Baldwin started "227" as recurring cast members but were moved up to leads for all subsequent seasons.

Martin's career began on the stage and had groundbreaking implications for actors of color. According to her obituary in Playbill, she started acting during a time in theater when most women actors of color were forced into nanny-type roles. Despite these conditions, Martin debuted on Broadway in the Orson Welles-directed version of "Native Son" in 1941 and stuck around the stage long enough to push boundaries with leading parts in "Striver's Row" and "Deep Are the Roots." Martin transitioned into notable film and television roles, including a part in the original version of the landmark miniseries "Roots" in 1977 as Aunt Sukey.

Martin passed away at the age of 90 in 2000.

Paul Winfield

In the final season of "227," Paul Winfield joined the cast as Julian C. Barlow, who buys "227" but doesn't take to his owner duties as effortlessly as he initially hopes. At first, Barlow attempts to avoid interacting with the tenants. That approach inevitably fails, luckily for Barlow; he soon requires Mary's help to keep the deed for 227 out of the hands of his soon-to-be ex-wife. 

Winfield's career was aided by famed actor Sidney Poitier, who helped Winfield land a role in 1969's "The Lost Man," according to The Guardian. The actor went on to star in a number of high-profile projects throughout the decades. He appeared in classics like "The Terminator," "Presumed Innocent," and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." His work in television was just as high profile, including a part on the groundbreaking network sitcom "Julia." He also contributed voice work for "The Simpsons." 

Winfield's most notable role was that of Nathan Lee in the 1972 adaptation of "Sounder." The film was the debut of actor Cicely Tyson and earned both performers historic Oscar nominations in the leading acting categories. The film also scooped up nominations for best picture and adapted screenplay for its story of a family of sharecroppers faced with burning injustices in the Depression-era south.

The actor passed away from a heart attack at age 62 in 2004.

Kevin Peter Hall

Kevin Peter Hall didn't appear in "227" until the final season when he arrived in the form of Warren Merriwether and stole Rose Lee Holloway's heart. The two actors were actually married before Hall appeared on the show, but in "227" Warren and Rose get hitched about two-thirds of the way through the season during the two-part episode "Do Not Pass Go."

Hall's run as Warren Merriwether was short-lived but made a strong impact. At 6 feet 9 inches, his staggering height made him an ideal performer for monster roles in horror films. Luckily for audiences, one of those titles happened to be "Predator" in 1987. That same year, Hall portrayed the titular monster in the family comedy series "Harry and the Hendersons," which put him alongside John Lithgow and Melinda Dillon. Hall reprised his creature work in between those two projects with "Predator 2" in 1990.

Unfortunately, Hall was diagnosed with HIV and passed away from complications with pneumonia in 1991.