Geoffrey Holder – the actor, dancer and director whose "Uncola" spot for 7UP proved one of the best ads of the 20th century died on Sunday of complications from pneumonia. Trinidadian-born Mr. Holder was of 84.
In the 1970s, Mr. Holder had already acted on Broadway, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and danced as a principal with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet when 7UP cast him as the planter in its "Uncola" ad. In it, he compared small, dried cola nuts with the "uncola nuts" (aka lemons and limes) that go into 7UP.
His precise-but-luxurious baritone delivered phrases like "absolutely marvelous," "je ne sais quoi" and "wild," successfully helping 7UP shine as an alternative to competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The spot landed at No. 61 in Ad Age's list of the best spots of the 20th century.
But Mr. Holder did more than help the company reposition itself. He broke barriers. At the time, 7UP prohibited African-Americans from appearing in its TV ads, according to Charlie Martell, the J. Walter Thompson creative director who wrote the ad. Mr. Holder's casting turned that around and helped pushed the industry forward.
In 1975, the 6-foot-6-inch Mr. Holder won two Tonys -- as director and costume designer for "The Wiz," the all-black adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz." In addition, he appeared as the James Bond villain Baron Samedi in 1973's "Live and Let Die" and as the kindly Punjab in the 1982 film adaptation of "Annie." He also choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and was the author of a Caribbean cookbook.
"The commercial is an art form unto itself," Mr. Holder told People magazine about his work in the 7UP spots. "After all, you are seducing people."