If there was ever a time when you knew Don Cheadle by his face, but not his name, I would hope that seeing him show up in Iron Man 2 as War Machine put an end to that. Yet, as any other Marvel movie star can surely relate to, the actor would spend a good deal of his career’s infancy as merely a face we couldn't quite put a name to.
Luckily, the 56-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, has become one of the most acclaimed stars of both the big and small screen, thanks to playing criminal technician Basher Tarr in Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, the lead of two financial dramas (formerly House of Lies, and, currently, Black Monday) on Showtime, and his Academy Award-nominated performance in Hotel Rwanda as a real-life savior to many African refugees. Not to mention, his most popular role to date, the MCU’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes, is getting his own Disney+ exclusive series called Armor Wars and he is reportedly playing the villain in LeBron James’ long-awaited sequel to Space Jam.
While that all sounds like a lot for an actor to handle at one time, it is exactly what Don Cheadle has been doing since the beginning. See for yourself with the following eight examples of his many early TV and movie roles that might have slipped your mind over the years, starting with a beloved series that most definitively explored what it means to be a struggling artist.
Fame (Henry Lee)
During a 2016 appearance on The Late Late Show, host James Corden got Don Cheadle to comment on his gig as backup dancer in Angela Winbush's music video for "It's the Real Thing" in the late 1980s. Cheadle then added how he found himself landing the job by accident after accompanying a friend to an audition for the video, where he bumped into the choreographer, his friend Debbie Allen. He had previously worked with the performer on two episodes of the hit series Fame, in the role of a dancing student from New York City High School for the Performing Arts in 1986.
Hill Street Blues (Darius Milton)
The following year, Don Cheadle landed a guest spot on a much darker staple of ’80s TV, the multi-Emmy Award-winning cop drama from producer Steven Bochco, Hill Street Blues. He plays a young man tried over allegations of abuse in Episode 19 of the series’ seventh and final season, which also happens to feature returning guest star and future Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr., as a gang member.
Night Court (Jack)
In 1988, the actor landed another dark role in an otherwise fondly-remembered, lighthearted staple of ‘80s TV shows about crime. On the fifth season of Night Court, a then-24-year-old Don Cheadle played a desperate teenager who, after fleeing the scene of a bank robbery, takes people hostage at an anger management seminar attended by bailiff Roz Russell (Marsha Warfield), who takes charge of the situation.
Jack on Night Court was just one of a few different young criminals whom Don Cheadle portrayed in 1988. He also starred in director Dennis Hopper’s underrated cop movie classic Colors (one of the actor’s first big screen roles) as a Crip leader who attempts to kill LAPD rookie Danny McGavin (Sean Penn), as he struggles to crack down on gang violence, with Robert Duvall as his his veteran partner, Bob Hodges.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (Ice Tray)
While not such a dangerous fellow, the actor’s role on the first season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which almost earned him his own spin-off) did pose a threat in the eyes of Uncle Phil (James Avery) and Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert). Don Cheadle is hilarious as Ice Tray, an old friend of Will Smith’s who pays a visit to the Banks’ household, where he sets his sights on Hilary (Karyn Parsons) and almost convinces her to elope with him to Philadelphia, if not for his offensive suggestion to fly coach.
The Golden Palace (Roland Wilson)
Speaking of spin-offs, one of Don Cheadle’s first starring roles on a TV series was on this continuation of The Golden Girls that lasted only one season in the early 1990s. After Dorothy (Bea Arthur) gets married, Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) decide to open up a hotel they call The Golden Palace and hire the young, but experienced, Roland Wilson (Cheadle) as their manager, and the goofy Chuy Castillos (Cheech Marin) as a cook.
The Meteor Man (Goldilocks)
Before Iron Man 2 made him a Marvel movie icon, Don Cheadle's first superhero movie was 1993's The Meteor Man, starring writer and director Robert Townsend as a high school teacher made superhuman by a powerful chunk of space rock. Cheadle's character, a member of a golden-haired gang from inner city Washington DC, actually helps Townsend's title hero discover he can fly, after he guns him down in a random drive-by and it proves not enough to kill him.
Rush Hour 2 (Kenny)
The Meteor Man would certainly not be the last of Don Cheadle's forays into action comedy territory, as his uncredited cameo in 2001's Rush Hour 2 would show. He appears in one hilarious, action-packed scene as Kenny - an owner of a Los Angeles Chinese restaurant and an old friend of Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker), who is surprised to see him rival even the martial arts mastery of Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) with his demonstration of the Twisting Tiger technique.
What do you think? Are you shocked that you would ever forget about an appearance as funny as Don Cheadle's brief role as Kenny in the hit sequel to Rush Hour, or are you shocked that anyone else would have ever forgotten about it, as you watch that scene on repeat all the time? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the talented MCU actor, as well as even more inside looks into the early careers of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.