At 53 years old, Cleavon Little has this physical status:
Little made his professional debut in February 1967, appearing off-Broadway at the Village Gate as the Muslim Witch in the original production of Barbara Garson's MacBird. This was followed by the role of Foxtrot in the original production of Bruce Jay Friedman's long-running play Scuba Duba which premiered in October 1967. While portraying Foxtrot at night, he portrayed Hamlet during the days at schools and parks on behalf of the New York Shakespeare Festival.
The following year, he made his first film appearance in a small uncredited role in What's So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968), and his first television appearance as a guest star on two episodes of Felony Squad. A series of small roles followed in films such as John and Mary (1969) and Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970).
Little made his Broadway debut in 1969 as Lee Haines in John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical Jimmy Shine with Dustin Hoffman in the title role. In 1970, he returned to Broadway to portray the title role in Ossie Davis's musical Purlie, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
A year later, Little was hired as an ensemble player on the syndicated TV variety weekly The David Frost Revue and he portrayed Shogo in Narrow Road to the Deep North on Broadway. In 1971, Little was chosen to portray the blind radio personality Super Soul in the car-chase movie Vanishing Point. The same year, he played Hawthorne Dooley in the pilot for The Waltons called "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story," helping John-Boy Walton search for his father; then appeared again in season four, in an episode called "The Fighter," about a prizefighter who desires to build a church and be a preacher. He also played a burglar in a 1971 episode of All in the Family titled "Edith Writes a Song."
He then starred on the ABC sitcom Temperatures Rising, which aired in three different iterations from 1972 to 1974, with Little's character of Dr. Jerry Noland as the only common element. In 1974, he starred in the television disaster film The Day the Earth Moved, opposite Jackie Cooper and Stella Stevens. Little made a minor appearance in the Six Million Dollar Man episode, "Population: Zero", as one of the NASA deliveryman handing Colonel Steve Austin his space suit.
In 1974 he was cast as Sheriff Bart in Brooks' comedy western Blazing Saddles (1974), after the studio rejected Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script. Studio executives were apparently concerned about Pryor's reliability, given his reputation for drug use and unpredictable behavior, and thought Little would be a safer choice. This role earned him a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles.
In 1975, Little returned to Broadway to portray the role of Lewis in the original production of Murray Schisgal's All Over Town under the direction of Dustin Hoffman. The following year, he appeared as Willy Stepp in the original production of Ronald Ribman's The Poison Tree at the Ambassador Theatre.
Over the years he made guest appearances on The Mod Squad, All in the Family, The Rookies, Police Story, The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, ABC Afterschool Specials, The Fall Guy, MacGyver, and a special Christmas episode of ALF.
Little played a supporting role to Pryor in the racing movie Greased Lightning (1977), based on the true life story of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car racing winner in America. Other films included FM (1978), Scavenger Hunt (1979), The Salamander (1981), High Risk (1981), Jimmy the Kid (1982), Surf II (1984), Toy Soldiers (1984), Once Bitten (1985), The Gig (1985) and Fletch Lives (1989).
Little returned to the New York stage in 1981 in the off-Broadway production The Resurrection of Lady Lester, a "poetic mood song" by OyamO, playing the legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young.
In December 1985, Little opened at Broadway's Booth Theatre as Midge in Herb Gardner's play I'm Not Rappaport with Judd Hirsch, who won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. Little had originated the role of Midge in the Seattle Repertory Theatre production.
In 1989 he appeared as a closeted gay man in Hirsch's sitcom Dear John in the episode "Stand by Your Man," for which Little won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, defeating Robert Picardo, Jack Gilford, Leslie Nielsen, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Little was slated to star on the television series Mr. Dugan, where he was to play a black congressman, but that series was poorly received by real black congressmen and was cancelled before making it to air. In 1991, he replaced Frankie Faison as Ronald Freeman, a black dentist married to a white housewife, on the Fox sitcom True Colors. The same year, he also had a supporting role on the television series Bagdad Cafe, appearing in 12 episodes. Later that year, he was cast as a civil-rights lawyer in the docudrama, Separate but Equal, starring Sidney Poitier, who portrayed the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, NAACP lead attorney in the 1954 Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools. He also appeared in the television series MacGyver as Frank Colton, one half of a bounty hunter brother duo.
Little's last appearance as an actor was in a guest role on a 1992 episode of the television series Tales from the Crypt entitled "This'll Kill Ya". Eleven years after his death, he appeared in the music video for "Show Me How to Live" by Audioslave, through archive footage from Vanishing Point.