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'Roots' Actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka Dies At 77

| by Michael Doherty

Actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka died at the age of 77 on July 4 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cumbuka was known for performances in TV and film including "Roots," "Harlem Nights," "Volunteers," and "Brewster's Millions," as well as roles in "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "A Man Called Sloane," "In The Heat of Night," and "Walker, Texas Ranger," reports the New York Daily News.

Cumbuka was born in Alabama on March 4, 1940, and his name was given to him by his grandmother, according to the Daily Mail. In Swahili, "Ji-Tu" translates to giant.

"I [talked] to my Uncle Ji-Tu last week after he spoke to his doctor and he told me [he] wasn't going to be here much longer [than] a week," said Cumbuka's niece, Amber Holifield in a Facebook post.

"Once it registered what he was telling me, I ask him if he leaves then what do I do??" added Holifield. "He said (as he would) ‘Deal with it... I'm dealing with it’ ... so l laugh and said you iiiss right!"

Cumbuka published his autobiography, "A Giant to Remember: The Black Actor in Hollywood," in 2011.

"Most people know my Uncle from all the movies and TV shows he's played on... I mainly just knew him as Uncle Ji-Tu or Unc," wrote Holifield on Facebook, according to the Mirror. "My Uncle has taught me soo much over the last few weeks alone about strength and dealing with things."

"After having his both legs amputated ... I can't can't remember him complaining once," continued Cumbuka's niece. "I'd be so scared for him until I spoke to him only to find out he wasn't scared at all. That always helped."

According to Holifield, the actor was surrounded by loved ones in his last days.

"In my Uncle Ji-Tu's final days until his final moments he was surrounded with love and support," she wrote. "It was a blessing for all of us to be together in his final hour, and not to mention we pretty much stayed at the hospital with him, and boy did he enjoy our company."

"He stayed strong and just as sweet as he wanted to be the entire time and ... I will never forget that," added Holifield. "I am so proud and blessed to be able to say that he is my uncle. Rest In Peace Uncle Ji-Tu you will always be loved and remembered!"

Actor LeVar Burton also paid tribute to his former co-star, tweeting, "He played the Wrestler in the original ROOTS, one of Kunta's primary mentors; as he was for me on my first gig!"

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