Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Known for Co-Starring in Several Spike Lee Films, Fatally Shot in Atlanta [Updated]

Thomas Jefferson Byrd attends the “Spike Lee...Ya Dig!” celebration during the 2014 American Black Film Festival on June 21, 2014, in New York City.
Thomas Jefferson Byrd attends the “Spike Lee...Ya Dig!” celebration during the 2014 American Black Film Festival on June 21, 2014, in New York City.
Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images (Getty Images)

We are saddened to report that actor Thomas Jefferson Byrd was shot and killed over the weekend in southwest Atlanta. He was 70 years old.

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Spike Lee announced the tragic news via his Instagram page on Sunday.

“I’m so sad to announce the tragic murder of our beloved brother Thomas Jefferson Byrd last night in Atlanta, Georgia, Lee wrote. “Tom is my guy, here below you see him as the frightening character Errol Barnes in Clockers. Brother Byrd also did his thang in my joints—Chi-Raq, Sweet Blood of Jesus, Red Hook Summer, Bamboozled, He Got Game, Get On The Bus, Girl 6, and Clockers. May we all wish condolences and blessings to his family. Rest in peace Brother Byrd.”

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Details on the shooting, per The Hollywood Reporter:

The Atlanta Police Department told The Hollywood Reporter that officers were dispatched around 1:45 a.m. on Saturday to 2257 Belvedere Avenue on a report of a person injured. “Upon arrival, units located a male lying unresponsive at the location. Grady EMS responded to the scene and pronounced the male deceased from multiple gunshot wounds to the back. The victim was later identified as Thomas Byrd,” the department stated.

Byrd’s death is currently under investigation with homicide detectives working to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident, the Atlanta Police Department tells THR. Officials also say that information is preliminary in nature and could change as the investigation progresses.

Byrd was born June 25, 1950, in Griffin, Georgia. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree at Morris Brown College, he went on to study dance at the California Institute of the Arts. If you didn’t know Byrd’s name, you surely knew his face and the memorable way he delivered his lines. Along with the movies Lee listed, Byrd’s acting resume was quite robust including Set It Off, Ray, Lackawanna Blues, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Living Single, In the Heat of the Night, and more. In 2003, he was nominated for a Tony Award in the Best Featured Actor category for his work in Ma Rainey’s Bottom on Broadway.

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Other peers joined Lee to honor Byrd and reminisce on the good times they had with the late actor.

“Rest in peace to the legendary Thomas Jefferson Byrd seen here with me and the iconic Spike Lee,” actor-comedian Jay Washington wrote on Twitter. “I had the honor of working with Mr. Byrd in Chi-Raq but enjoyed much of his work She’s Gotta Have It, Set It Off, ‘Niggas is a beautiful thing’ in Bamboozled and so much more.”

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“Thomas Jefferson Byrd was an actor in the unofficial repertory company of Spike Lee movies,” actor Wendell Pierce wrote. “What Joseph Cotton was to Orson Welles, Byrd was for Spike. The “everyman” character actor. He was a part of the Black Arts Renaissance of Fort Greene in the 80s.”

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Rest in power, Thomas Jefferson Byrd.

Update: 10/9/2020, 2:27 p.m. ET: We have been informed that Spike Lee has created a GoFundMe to raise funds for the children of Thomas Jefferson Byrd. The goal is 100,000 and over $39,000 has been raised at the time of this post update.

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“Due to the very sudden and tragic death of my brother Thomas Jefferson Byrd, I’ve set up a GoFundMe to help his children, any wake/memorial and Funeral expense,” Lee wrote on his Instagram page on Thursday.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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