Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, President Bill Clinton and More Remember Meshach Taylor

Meshach Taylor © Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor © Lia Chang

More than 400 friends, family and fans of actor and activist Meshach Taylor, who lost his battle with cancer last month at the age of 67, honored his life and legacy at his homegoing memorial service in the Old North Church at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Taylor, whose career spanned over four decades on television, in films and on the Broadway and regional stage, became a household name with his Emmy-nominated turn as lovable ex-con turned law student Anthony Bouvier during seven seasons from 1986 – 1993, on the CBS sitcom “Designing Women,” and for his portrayal of Hollywood Montrose, a flamboyant window dresser in the 1987 box office hit and cult classic romantic comedy film Mannequin and the 1991 sequel Mannequin 2: On the Move.

Meshach Taylor at his 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, with his daughters Esme Taylor, Yasmine Taylor, Tamar Lashae Taylor, and his son Tariq Taylor. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor at his 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, with his daughters Esme Taylor, Yasmine Taylor, Tamar Lashae Taylor, and his son Tariq Taylor. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor with his wife Bianca Ferguson Taylor at his 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA, on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor with his wife Bianca Ferguson Taylor at his 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA, on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

The beloved actor, devoted husband and father, was surrounded by his wife Bianca Ferguson Taylor, his 100-year-old mother Hertha Ward Taylor, his daughters, Tamar Lashae Taylor, Yasmine Taylor, Esme Alana Taylor, and his son Tariq Taylor, when he passed away peacefully in hospice care at home in Altadena, CA. on June 28, 2014.

The Meshach Taylor Family Fund has been established to help defray ongoing medical and personal expenses the family has incurred during Meshach’s prolonged illness and passing. Checks can be made to

Meshach Taylor Family Fund/In care of J.M. Keen

and sent to Jackie Keehn
                    J.M. Keehn Accountancy Corp.
                    15300 Ventura Bl. #315
                    Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Taylor’s 2 1/2 hour service officiated by Reverend Queen Esther Thomas in the Old North Church, featured scripture readings from the Old Testament-Daniel 3:28 and the New Testament-John 14:1-3; Navajo Prayers for Peace;  two video tributes; solo performances of “Mary, Did You Know?” sung by Helen Baylor, Charlie Wilson’s “Without You”, sung by Leslie Smith and an impromptu rendition of “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”,  sung by Louis Price. Poetry readings included Maya Angelou’s “Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield,” read by Charlayne Woodard, and W.H. Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks,” read by Keith Szarabajka. The service ended with a releasing of the doves ceremony.

During the service, there were many who chose to share their remembrances of Meshach. Below are transcripts of tributes by Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney, in addition to letters from Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, executive producers of “Designing Women” and President Bill Clinton; a statement from GLAAD; and a resolution of tribute from Taylor’s alma mater FAMU.

Joe Mantegna shares memories of their 44 year friendship.

Gia Mantegna, Joe Mantegna, Mia Mantegna, Arlene Mantegna, Meshach Taylor. Photo by Lia Chang

Gia Mantegna, Joe Mantegna, Mia Mantegna, Arlene Mantegna, Meshach Taylor. Photo by Lia Chang

“44 years. That’s how long Meshach Taylor was a part of the lives of both my wife Arlene and myself. The year was 1970. Arlene and I had just gotten together as a couple a few months earlier after being cast in our first professional acting job in the play Hair in Chicago, IL. During that year in 1970, a production of Hair was due to open in Indianapolis, IN, and since their opening occurred on our show’s day off, they bussed our entire cast to Indianapolis for their opening. Playing the role of Hud in that production was the man we would go on to spend a lifetime with as Meshach Taylor. Of everyone in the cast, it was he that we gravitated to after the performance, and I remembered him introducing us to his new baby girl Tam.

We said our goodbyes and hoped to meet again. As fate would have it, within a year, both of our productions closed. The national tour was started with a variety of performers from various Hair companies. Arlene and I joined that company and to our delight, Meshach was a member of it. We toured the country for a while. My father died early in 1971 and Arlene and I decided it was time to move on, so we left the show and moved back to Chicago. We told Meshach we hoped to see him again before too long. And it wasn’t.

Meshach Taylor, Jose Martinez, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna in Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1973). Photo courtesy of Joe Mantegna

Meshach Taylor, Jose Martinez, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna in Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1973). Photo courtesy of Joe Mantegna

Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre's production of Huck Finn (c. 1976). Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archives

Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre’s production of Huck Finn (c. 1976). Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archives

That next year of 1972, the Hair tour ended and I finished a production of Godspell and a musical I’d written was about to be produced in Chicago. In that musical, was a part for Meshach to play. We contacted him. He agreed to come to Chicago for the play, and he wound up staying for the next five years. During that time, both he and I and Arlene became members of the Organic Theatre Company and spent the remaining years during a myriad of new and exciting productions, some of which we were able to perform in some of the major capitals of Europe, including Meshach’s award winning performance of Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

In 1977, Meshach headed west to California in a production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead along with his friend Lionel Smith. And now Los Angeles got of taste of the incredible acting talent that Meshach possessed.

Arlene and I moved to Los Angeles that following year and from then until now, along with many of you people who are here today, collectively created the tapestry of our life here in California. Those years, as well as the years prior, were filled with a multitude of memories. Meshach found success on film and in television. He met Bianca, which begat Yamine, Tariq, Esme, granddaughter Zahra and papa’s boy Dylon. Shach became the godfather to my children; I to his.

Meshach Taylor and Joe Mantegna in Criminal Minds -

Meshach Taylor and Joe Mantegna in Criminal Minds – “The Fallen”. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS © 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Two years ago, I presented the producers of my series “Criminal Minds” with an idea for an episode where I would discover that my commanding sergeant from Vietnam (a man who saved my life), I would discover was now homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. My assistant Dan wrote a rough draft of the script, and the producers agreed to film the episode. My only requirement was that the only actor to be considered for the role of my sergeant had to be Meshach Taylor or no one. They agreed and Meshach turned in a performance of a lifetime. It was only weeks after shooting that episode that he was diagnosed with his disease.

The Criminal Minds Team: Joe Mantegna, Meshach Taylor and Dan Ramm at Taylor’s 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Dan Ramm co-wrote the first episode of Criminal Minds that Taylor appeared in on November, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang

The Criminal Minds Team: Joe Mantegna, Meshach Taylor and Dan Ramm at Taylor’s 67th birthday party in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Dan Ramm co-wrote the first episode of Criminal Minds that Taylor appeared in on November, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang

For the next year he fought that disease with a vigor and strength that was remarkable, so much so that when my series then asked me to direct an episode that following season, I again hit them with the idea that I would do it if they agreed to let me bring back Meshach’s character, as we all knew that the chance to work again would be the best medicine anyone could offer him. In the throes of his chemotherapy, he once again turned in a performance of a lifetime. How blessed am I that I was able to watch his first performance as a professional actor in 1970, and then be able to direct and act beside him in his last. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEH0zRtIQdI

Meshach Taylor, Les Smith and T-Connection. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor, Les Smith and T-Connection. Photo by Lia Chang

44 years. He was in my life 20 years longer than I knew my own father. I would have to stand here for days on end to recount all the memories. The times we all lived in the same building in Chicago and had our morning salons with all of us contributing whatever dishes we could, including the fried chicken I learned how to make from his mother Hertha. Or meeting his grandmother Minnie when she came to visit from Boston who was then in her 90’s and lived to be 114. The special events, the holidays.

This past April, B and the kids called and asked if we would throw him a birthday party because it was becoming clear that there may not be others. Arlene went into her full party mode and those of you who were present for it will recount, it was a birthday to remember. There were his favorite Jamaican foods, people flew in from all over the country, the Coakley brothers band played reggae on the stage in our backyard and in the midst of all this, Meshach walked on the stage and with tears in his eyes, thanked each and every one present for making this birthday, and these were his own words, “the happiest day of my life.”

Meshach with his son Tariq Taylor at Taylor's 67th birthday party at the home of Arlene and Joe Mantegna in Toluca Lake, CA. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach with his son Tariq Taylor at Taylor’s 67th birthday party at the home of Arlene and Joe Mantegna in Toluca Lake, CA. Photo by Lia Chang

Photos: Meshach Taylor Celebrates 67th Birthday with Arlene and Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, Jean Smart, Dennis Franz, Ernie Hudson, John Heard, Keith Szarabajka, Stuart Gordon, Shadoe Stevens and More

44 years of memories. One thing that came to my mind these past few days, was a time Shach and I were joking with one another and he asked me, “what did I think was the thinnest book in the world?” I thought for a minute and I answered, “Italian Americans Who Ever Were or Who Would Ever Be President of the United States”. Meshach smiled at me and said, “Notable Negroes in the Yachting World”. Now, I remember that. I remembered that at this moment because I would have a different response today for the world’s thinnest book. It would be titled, “People Who Have Met Meshach Taylor and Did Not Instantly Fall in Love with Him”. That book would win because it would have no pages.

Meshach Taylor, Joe Mantegna and Arlene Mantegna. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor, Joe Mantegna and Arlene Mantegna. Photo by Lia Chang

As that 50’s song said, “To know him is to love him.” He was liked the Pied Piper, men, women, children, animals, one and all, they would flock around him because he exuded joy, because he was the world’s best storyteller, and he would always make you feel you were the only person in the world he was talking to. And if you know his children, you know he was the best father anyone could have ever had.

Meshach Taylor and his family at his 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach Taylor and his family at his 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

I remember explaining to someone who I had just met, who Meshach was and they said, “Oh yes, I know who he is. He’s that wonderful black actor.” And I remember I had to stop myself from correcting him because I realized at that moment I never thought of Meshach as having a color. His list of friends was like the role call at the UN. He was a proud black man, yes, but the color doesn’t exist that could define who he was. And in a world of black and white and brown and yellow and red, isn’t that the essence of how mankind should be defined? He was the son of educators, the grandson of college graduates, the great-grandson of a man who was the child of a slaveowner, the great-great-grandson of a man who was on the last slave ship to arrive in this country. His 100-year-old mother Hertha told me that information just a few days ago. The same 100-year-old mother who sat by his side with his wife and children, and rested her hand on his head and sang to him as he took his last breath. No one chooses to pass with their mother at their side. But is there not something spiritual about being surrounded by your family and having their hands, as well as the woman who gave you life, pass you off to eternity?

Let me leave you with this. Because in this moment of sorrow and reflection, of sadness and mourning, I did find a ray of sunshine and hope, and maybe even joy, that I want to share with you. When my family and I visited Meshach this Thursday past, we knew the end was near. We said our goodbyes and then on Friday, took off to a house we rented on the California coastline to spend the week to refresh, repair and to await the inevitable. On Saturday night we got the call. The Great One had passed. Early last Sunday morning, I sat out by myself on our deck overlooking the Pacific. It was a typical June gloom day with a heavy overcast and a cool breeze coming over the ocean. It made me reflect on another time, another day, just like this one.

Over 40 years ago, when my father passed, I visited his graveside to say one last personal goodbye after they had installed his headstone. Now anyone that knows me well, knows that I am not the most religious person in dodge, but I do like to think I’m spiritual. I do believe there is someone or something behind all of this, I’m just not sure what his or her name is. So I did something that day at my father’s gravesite that I had never done before. I lay flat on it like a bed. And with my eyes closed I said something to the effect of, “Dad I don’t know if you or your soul or your life force can hear me, but if you can, just send me a sign and I’ll know that you are with me and at peace.” Within a few moments, an intense heat radiated on my face and a red glow shown through my eyelids. I almost levitated from the shock of that moment but with my heart racing, I opened my eyes and realized at that very moment, that totally gray and overcast day had decided to open up for a moment and shine this blinding ray of light on me. Without question I felt I had my sign.

Joe Mantegna gave his brother Meshach Taylor a 67th birthday party at his home in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Joe Mantegna gave his brother Meshach Taylor a 67th birthday party at his home in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Now here I was on a deck on the same kind of day. I did what I had done only once before, 40 years prior. I looked to the sea and sky and said, “Shach, if you can here me, just send me a sign, and I’ll know you’re with me and at peace. I waited. The clouds did not part. The sun did not shine, but I did feel the message had been sent.

Later that day, two dear friends came to visit and sure enough the June gloom dissipated, and it turned out to be a picture perfect day at the seaside, blue sky, sun and surf. Arlene, and I, our friends took a moment to look out at this incredible vista, when we all noticed something bobbing in the water. We had seen dolphins earlier in the week, so we thought it might be them. No it was just a solitary figure, it never moved below the surface. Then we thought maybe it was sea lion, because we had also seen one of them earlier in the week following the surfers. But there was not a surfer, nor a soul in sight. It continued it’s journey from God knows where, slowly but surely made its way closer and closer to the shore, right in front of us. Each wave brought it a little closer until finally it became apparent that it was heading towards this little rock covered with moss that Arlene had declared was her favorite thing on the beach below us as it was such a unique formation. And because my wife leaves no mystery unexplored, she hurried down the stairs to retrieve the object which was indeed intent on coming ashore to that rock. We all smiled and took pictures of her and the object that took that moment in time, that place on the largest body of water on the planet, to arrive at that precise moment that we would be there to see it and retrieve it. The beach and the horizon were empty. We know not from where it came. And this is what she pulled from out of the water (a mylar happy birthday balloon). “The Happiest Day of My Life.” I had gotten my sign. Now we’ve all gotten our sign. He lives around us. He lives within us. I loved him like a brother in every sense of the word, because one should love their brother unconditionally and completely. Rest well my brother. Until we meet again.”

Delta Burke, Taylor’s co-star on “Designing Women,” talks about her best friend and brother, Meshach.

Delta Burke with her best friend and brother Meshach Taylor at Taylor's 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA, on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Delta Burke with her best friend and brother Meshach Taylor at Taylor’s 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA, on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

“Hi, I’m Delta Burke, I had the honor of working with Meshach Taylor on “Designing Women”. He came on for just one guest episode and he was so brilliant, he stayed for seven years. He was there longer than I was. I want to say that I never had such a great acting partner. We were sorta like cops, you know, we had each other’s back. Meshach always had my back, onstage and off stage.

During “Designing Women,” I went through a very bad time, and suffered great depression and had very debilitating panic attacks, which was very humiliating and frightening to me, and confusing to everyone involved. But Meshach, when it would hit me, and I would start to fall, he would catch me and he would take me back to my room, and he would comfort me.

Meshach was there for me in a way no one has ever been there for me, aside from my husband. He was my best friend. Meshach was everyone’s best friend. He was more than that, he was a brother to me. And I just want to tell Meshach that I love him, and he was the finest man who ever lived on this earth. Now that he’s passed from this world, I miss that I will never hear his voice again or see his face. But I know that he is up there, he will always be with all of us. And I thank you Bianca, for bringing me into your family. You have the most loving, wonderful family, that Meshach of course, would have such a great family. Thank you and all my prayers are with you.”

Bianca Ferguson Taylor, Meshach Taylor, Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney. Photo by Lia Chang

Bianca Ferguson Taylor, Meshach Taylor, Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney. Photo by Lia Chang

Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, 'Designing Women,' c. 1987. Clockwise from bottom left: Jean Smart, Alice Ghostley, Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Meshach Taylor. (Photo by Fotos International/Courtesy Getty Images)

Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, ‘Designing Women,’ c. 1987. Clockwise from bottom left: Jean Smart, Alice Ghostley, Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Meshach Taylor. (Photo by Fotos International/Courtesy Getty Images)

Burke’s husband, Gerald McRaney said, “To me, Meshach was and is the definition of a man. He was and is gentle, kind, loving and strong, and only when need be, tough as nails. I am reminded of a line in Hamlet, “Take him for all and all, he was a man. I shall not look upon his like again.”

McRaney then shared this letter from Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, executive producers of “Designing Women”.

Meshach, We are thinking of you and wishing you so much peace and strength right now. Thank you for sharing your many gifts. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for being so damned talented. You are and were a whirling dervish of a comedian and actor…always making every painstakingly right choice.

And like Lucy and all the greats, making the audience afraid to breathe because they might miss the next genius thing you do. And yes, you gave four of the greatest actresses to ever grace a television screen, a colossal run for their money. And thank you for breaking the mold for African American men on television, especially Southern African American men. Thank you for bringing what was originally a lightly sketched character to full and blazing glory. Thank you for sharing your humanity, your irrepressible spirit and blazing talent with all of us. You not only won our respect and admiration, but you have forever enriched the landscape of American comedy.

With love and gratitude,

Linda and Harry

Taylor’s son Tariq praised his father, and read the letter below from President Clinton, sharing that his father was a huge part of the campaigning force for Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 elections, and even hosted the 1996 Inaugural Ball in President Clinton’s home state of Arkansas.

Dear Bianca, Tamar, Yasmine, Esme-Alana and Tariq,

I was saddened to hear that Meshach passed away, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to you and your loved ones. Meshach will long be remembered for his big talent-and even bigger heart-both onscreen and off. I will always be grateful for the kindness and support he showed Hilary and me, and how much fun we had on our campaigns. I’ll never forget Meshach and Hilary dancing at the Arkansas inaugural ball. He excelled on the stage, in movies, and television.

For me, of course, he’ll always be “the man” in “Designing Women”. Hilary and I join all of you in celebrating his wonderful life and homegoing. Our prayers are with you.

Sincerely,

President Bill Clinton

The day after Meshach’s homegoing service, President Bill Clinton called the family personally to offer his condolences.

Meshach Taylor was born in Boston, MA on April 11, 1947, to Joseph Thomas Taylor and Hertha Ward Taylor. He was raised in New Orleans, LA and Indianapolis, IN. His parents Hertha Ward Taylor and Joseph T. Taylor were educators. Meshach was raised on Historical Black college campuses which included Dillard, Fisk and Florida A&M. The flickering images that entranced Meshach himself into an acting career came from the movie screens on the college campuses where his father was an administrator at Indiana University, Florida A&M, Auburn State, and Dillard University in New Orleans, LA. In 1967, Meshach’s father became the first black dean of Indiana University’s downtown campus, and after the merger that created University-Purdue University Indianapolis in 1969, he became the dean of the new institution’s school of liberal arts. His childhood was spent in New Orleans, LA., which imprinted on him a life time love of Cajun and Zydeco Music, and the International culture of New Orleans. After many years he returned triumphantly to his favorite city, New Orleans, as a professional actor, staying at his favorite hotel “The Windsor”, to promote “Designing Women” into syndication.

indystar: Longtime IPS Teacher Celebrates 100th Birthday

Meshach became interested in acting in earnest while attending  Florida A&M. His most precious memories there was his participation with the “Verse Choir” directed by Mom’s Edmonds and his major role in “The Day of Absence”. While attending Florida A&M, Meshach married and became the father of his first daughter, Tamar Lashae.

Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre's 1978 production of Native Son. Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archive

Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre’s 1978 production of Native Son. Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archive

Lionel Smith and Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre's production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead. Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archives

Lionel Smith and Meshach Taylor in the Goodman Theatre’s production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead. Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre Archives

Caleb Szarabajka, Meshach Taylor and Keith Szarabajka. Photo by Lia Chang

Caleb Szarabajka, Meshach Taylor and Keith Szarabajka. Photo by Lia Chang

A few credits short of completing his studies, Meshach returned to Indianapolis to take care of his family, and found work at a local radio station as a State House political correspondent. It was during this time that Meshach read about an audition for the musical Hair. He auditioned with the song “Aquarius” and was the only voice chosen that day. Taylor’s first professional job was touring for two years in the musical Hair. It was with the touring company Hair that he first met his friends, Joe Mantegna, and Arlene. They performed in national theaters in Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, England and Hawaii to name a few.

The final stop for Hair was Chicago. When the run concluded, Meshach stayed and honed his craft in Repertory Theater for eight years. According to an article written by Richard K. Shaull which appeared in the Indianapolis News in 1981, entitled, “In Fiery Furnace Called Hollywood” “Mainstreaming” “Then it occurred to him that he was isolating himself by staying with the purely ethnic groups. With this revelation, he forced himself into the theatrical mainstream of Chicago turning out to audition for major plays. Meshach was indeed a good actor and soon he was taking plum roles in major productions there.”

His buddy, Joe Mantegna, persuaded Meshach to stay in Chicago to do Ely. After that, he never stopped working on stage. As a member of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, he appeared in Streamers, Native Son (1979 Joseph Jefferson Award Nomination for Actor in a Principal Role in a Play), The Island, and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, for which he garnered the 1977 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Principal Role in a Play. He also performed as Jim in the production Huckleberry Finn, and was interviewed on opening night by Ted Koppel critiquing Mark Twain. He received a Chicago Emmy Award for his role as Jim in the WTTV production of Huckleberry Finn. He created and starred in many productions of the Organic Theatre with his friends Joe Mantegna, Tommy Toles, Dennis Franz, John Heard, Keith Szarabajka, Jack Wallace, Ian Patrick Williams, and director Stuart and Carolyn Gordon, before traveling to California in the production of Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead, directed by Greg Mosher.

goodmantheatre.com: Goodman Theatre Remembers Meshach Taylor (July 1, 2014)

An Organic Theater Reunion at Meshach Taylor's 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. From left to right: Joe Mantegna, Ina Jaffe, Arlene Mantegna, Jack Wallace, Meshach Taylor, Carolyn Gordon, John Heard, Lenny Kleinfeld, Keith Szarabajka, Josephine Paoletti, Vinny Guastaferro, Stuart Gordon, Dennis Franz, Roberta Custer. Photo by Lia Chang

An Organic Theater Reunion at Meshach Taylor’s 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. From left to right: Joe Mantegna, Ina Jaffe, Arlene Mantegna, Jack Wallace, Meshach Taylor, Carolyn Gordon, John Heard, Lenny Kleinfeld, Keith Szarabajka, Josephine Paoletti, Vinny Guastaferro, Stuart Gordon, Dennis Franz, Roberta Custer. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach crafted a gallery of memorable characters in film and on television, including his Emmy nominated turn as Anthony Bouvier in the CBS sitcom “Designing Women” for seven seasons from 1986 – 1993. In 1989, he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. From 1993 – 1997, he portrayed plastic surgeon Sheldon Baylor on the CBS sitcom “Dave’s World” with Harry Anderson and Shadoe Stevens. From 2004-2007, Taylor played Alastair Wright, the history teacher turned school principal, and appeared on Nickelodeon’s “Ned’s Declassified School Guide”.

Hello dolly ... Andrew McCarthy and Meshach Taylor in Mannequin Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox/Sportsphoto

Hello dolly … Andrew McCarthy and Meshach Taylor in Mannequin Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox/Sportsphoto

GLAAD’s Statement on Meshach Taylor

Back when too many people were fearful of supporting the gay and lesbian community, or silent about the HIV/AIDS crisis, Meshach made his voice loud and clear. He was an ardent supporter of the community even before it was acceptable to be an ally, because Meshach only cared about what was right-and so he spoke out about the fact that we should all be accepted and loved for who we are. He showed his support through both advocacy work such as hosting AIDS walks in California, and of course, through his art. Who could ever forget Hollywood Montrose from Mannequin. Most people will never forget him because Hollywood was likely one of the first gay men they ever saw on film. Thanks to Meshach who bravely took on the character, Hollywood was lovable, caring and fiercely fabulous. At a time when gay and lesbian people were nearly invisible, there was Hollywood Montrose. Out and proud. But to the gay and lesbian community, Meshach was more than the fiercely fabulous Hollywood-he was a friend. And we will deeply miss him.

Taylor also appeared in the feature films Damien: Omen II, The Howling, Jacks or Better, Kid ‘N Play’s Class Act, How to Murder a Millionaire, David Mamet’s House of Games, Stoney Island, The Allnighter, The Last Innocent Man with Ed Harris, Explorers, Friends and Family, The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, One More Saturday Night, Warning Sign,Wigger, and Inside Out with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason. Taylor had the opportunity to indulge two of his passions – gardening and travel – hosting his own series on HGTV, “The Urban Gardener with Meshach Taylor” in 1996, and on the Travel Channel, “Meshach Taylor’s Hidden Caribbean” in 1998. He was a regular panelist on the 2000 revival of the television game show ”To Tell the Truth”. He co-hosted “Living Live! with Florence Henderson” on Retirement Living TV; in 2008, the program was revamped as “The Florence Henderson Show”.

Meshach Taylor and Toni Braxton in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre in New York (1998). Photo courtesy of Playbill.com vault

Meshach Taylor and Toni Braxton in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre in New York (1998). Photo courtesy of Playbill.com vault

James Barbour, Toni Braxton and Meshach Taylor in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo courtesy of Playbill.com

James Barbour, Toni Braxton and Meshach Taylor in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo courtesy of Playbill.com

In 1998, he made his Broadway debut as the first and only African American “Lumiere” in Beauty and the Beast, where he starred alongside James Barbour as the “Beast” and Toni Braxton as “Belle”. He gave a luminous performance. He finished his theatrical career with Flight by Charlayne Woodard at the Kirk Douglas Theatre at CTG in 2010 and The Year of the Rabbit, 2012, at ESTLA.

Taylor’s last TV guest-starring appearances included two episodes of “Criminal Minds” (CBS) opposite Joe Mantegna (Rossi) as Harrison Scott, Rossi’s former Marine sergeant with whom he served in Vietnam on the episode, “The Fallen,” which aired in November, 2012. He reprised this role in the episode “The Road Home,” in series star Joe Mantegna’s directorial debut, which aired in January, 2014.

Taylor would return 20 years later to Florida A&M to complete his remaining requirements, and graduate on May 1, 1993. In 2011, Taylor was enshrined into the College of Arts and Sciences’ Thomas DeSaille Tucker Hall’s Gallery of Distinction at FAMU. It is one of the highest honors the university bestows upon one of its graduates, and specifically honors the contributions alumni have made to their disciplines, organizations, and communities at the local, national, or international level.

FAMU’s Resolution of tribute to the life of the late Meshach Taylor (July 6, 2014)                            

He will live in the hearts of the friends he made                              

And be known always for the Foundation he laid,                                  

Because Goodness and Fairness never                                  

They go shining on like sun in the sky,                                  

 Just as Honor and Truth endure forever,                                    

Death is powerless to destroy or to sever…                                      

So his gallant soul has taken flight                                        

Into a land where there is no night,                                        

He is not dead, he has only gone on                                    

 To a brighter, more wonderful dawn                                                    

-Helen Steiner Rice

WHEREAS, God, the Creator of all, in His infinite wisdom has called home an outstanding alumnus of Florida A&M University (FAMU), Meshach Taylor;

and WHEREAS, Meshach Taylor was a graduate of FAMU who earned international acclaim for his talent and life’s work;

and WHEREAS, Meshach Taylor was an award winning actor who appeared in numerous productions from Broadway to Hollywood. Among his most celebrated performances included roles in the CBS sitcom “Designing Women” and the box office hit “Mannequin”;

and WHEREAS, Meshach Taylor will be remembered by those who knew him best as a loving father, husband, son and friend;

and WHEREAS, his life displayed the virtues of a true community servant, Meshach Taylor lived his life as an example of service and inspiration to millions of adoring fans who admired his craft.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the administration, faculty, students and staff of Florida A&M University express deepest sympathy for the great loss of Meshach Taylor. The good works of his life will continue to live on in the hearts of those he so graciously touched. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be submitted to the family and that a copy be retained for the University’s files. Humbly Submitted, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY Elmira Mangum, Ph.D. President

Gia Mantegna, Joe Mantegna, Mia Mantegna, Arlene Mantegna, Esme Taylor, Meshach Taylor, Don,Yasmine Taylor, Tariq Taylor, Tamar Taylor at Taylor's 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Gia Mantegna, Joe Mantegna, Mia Mantegna, Arlene Mantegna, Esme Taylor, Meshach Taylor, Don,Yasmine Taylor, Tariq Taylor, Tamar Taylor at Taylor’s 67th birthday in Toluca Lake, CA on April 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Meshach is survived by his devoted loving wife, partner and colleague of 31 years, Bianca Ferguson Taylor, his three daughters Tamar Lashae Taylor, Yasmine Taylor, Esme-Alana Taylor, his treasured and only son Tariq Anwar Joseph Thomas Taylor, mother Hertha Ward Taylor, Indianapolis, IN, sister Judith Taylor, Indianapolis, IN, brother Hussain Taylor, Indianapolis, IN, grandchildren Briana, Kobie, Deriq, Dylon and Zahra Jae Marie Taylor, who lived with him all of her life, parents-in-love James and Queen Thomas, Gary, IN; nieces Renette, Tivonna, Chavonne, LaShae, grand-niece Maraya, nephews James and Shaun, grand-aunts Mary Lucille Jordan, Gary, IN, and Elease Stanton, Three Rivers, MI, cousins, family and friends. He was honored to be the Godfather of Mia, Gia, Shane, Caleb and Jack, precious sister friends, Arlene, Josephine, Leona, Delta.

The Meshach Taylor Family Fund has been established to help defray ongoing medical and personal expenses the family has incurred during Meshach’s prolonged illness and passing. Checks can be made to

Meshach Taylor Family Fund/In care of J.M. Keen

and sent to Jackie Keehn
                    J.M. Keehn Accountancy Corp.
                    15300 Ventura Bl. #315
                    Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Click here for Meshach Taylor’s tribute page.

Click below to see the memorial tribute for Meshach commissioned by Wigger filmmaker Omowale Akintunde and produced by Victoria White. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLYyeNWlRHE

Lia Chang, Meshach Taylor and Tami Chang. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia Chang, Meshach Taylor and Tami Chang. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

Other Articles about Meshach Taylor:
Photos: Joe Mantegna and Danny Ramm Talk about ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode Honoring Veterans and the late Meshach Taylor
Jan. 21: Joe Mantegna Helmed ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode to Honor the late Meshach Taylor
Q & A with Danny Ramm, Co-writer of Joe Mantegna Helmed ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode to Honor the late Meshach Taylor; Airs January 21, 2015
Joe Mantegna to Helm ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode to Honor the late Meshach Taylor
July 6: Memorial Service for ‘Designing Women’ Star Meshach Taylor at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills ‘Designing Women’ Star Meshach Taylor, Veteran of Stage, Screen and TV, Dies at 67 Reports of Designing Women star Meshach Taylor’s Death are Premature
Photos: Meshach Taylor Celebrates 67th Birthday with Arlene and Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, Jean Smart, Dennis Franz, Ernie Hudson, John Heard, Keith Szarabajka, Stuart Gordon, Shadoe Stevens and More
Click here for more articles on Meshach.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Geoffrey Holder, Artist, Actor, Dancer, Choreographer, Two-Time Tony Award-winning Director and Costume Designer for The Wiz, Dies at 84; Son Pens Intimate Account of Last Days
Celebrating my Mom – AN ACTIVE VISION: BEVERLY UMEHARA…LABOR ACTIVIST…1945-1999
Golden Globe Winner James Shigeta, Veteran of Film and TV, Dies at 85; Excerpts of 2007 A/P/A Institute Q & A with Sukhdev Sandhu 
Remembering Civil Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama, 1921-2014
Ruby Dee, Actress and Activist, 1922 – 2014
Fred Korematsu, American Hero and Civil Rights Activist Dies at 86
Behind the Scenes of the Asian American Film Lab’s 72 Hour Shootout with Lia Chang, Garth Kravits, Evan Daves and Alicia Manns in HIDE AND SEEK
Photos: The 11th Annual 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Launch Party at The Korea Society; TWO FACES is this year’s theme 
Photos: Garth Kravits, Michael Keyloun, Klea Blackhurst, Eloise Kropp, Maxine Linehan, and Aaron Ramey in GROUNDED FOR LIFE at The York
Photos: Jennifer Phang, Jeanne Sakata, Freya Adams and More at Advantageous in NY; CAAMfest to co-host Q&A at 9pm Big Roxie screening in SF on June 28
Jose Llana and Hoon Lee to play King of Siam in Tony Award-winning production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I
FILM LAB PRESENTS “Focus on the Philippines” featuring John Day’s Matud Nila, narrated by Raul Aranas
Photos: Traveling through the mouth of the Dragon with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s James Hong, Peter Kwong, Lia Chang, Gerald Okamura, George Cheung, Al Leong, Jeff Imada, James Lew, Gary Goldman, Eric Lee
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Anthony Ramos, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff and more set for HAMILTON; Previews begin July 13
The King and I wins 4 Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Kelli O’Hara (Best Leading Actress in a Musical), Ruthie Ann Miles (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Catherine Zuber (Best Costume Design)
The King and I’s Ruthie Ann Miles Wins #TonyAwards for Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Photos: 2015 Tony Award Winners and Performances
Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang’s Commencement Speech at SUNY Purchase
Cultural Interplay between the East and West in “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met
Photos: Anna May Wong as Fashion Muse in “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met
Photos: Inside “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met with Wong Kar-Wai, Vivienne Tam, Wendi Murdoch, Anna Wintour and More
Dr. Leroy Chiao honored with 2015 Blue Cloud Award at China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala
Photos: Dr. Leroy Chiao, The Hon. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Shirley and Walter Wang Honored at China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala 
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
Michael K. Lee, Christopheren Nomura, Greg Watanabe and More Join George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung in Broadway’s ALLEGIANCE; Full Cast Announced
Photos: Edie Falco, Bryce Pinkham, Stephanie McKay, Lena Hall, Nick Blaemire, Jacob Ming-Trent, Matthew Saldívar at The 52nd Street Project’s Gala FANCY THAT
Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon on view at the National Portrait Gallery in London, July 2 – October 18, 2015
Original Cast of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE including Jose Llana, Derrick Baskin, Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler, Lisa Howard, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jay Reiss, and Sarah Saltzberg, to Reunite for 10th Anniversary Benefit Concert on July 6
ABC Renews “Fresh Off the Boat” and Picks up Ken Jeong’s “Dr. Ken”
An Intimate Evening with Author Amy Tan at the New-York Historical Society 
World Premiere Musical HAMILTON Transfers to Broadway; Previews begin July 13
Bill Cobbs, Nate Jacobs, Erich McMillan-McCall, Katori Hall, Clinton Turner Davis, ESOSA, A. Peter Bailey, Maurice Hines, Robert Hooks, Grace Jones, Hattie Winston, Karamu House & More among 2015 National Black Theatre Festival Honorees; Gala on August 3
Crafting a Career

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

5 comments on “Lia Chang: Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, President Bill Clinton and More Remember Meshach Taylor

  1. Mike Sermel
    July 9, 2014

    One of the Great Persons in the world has been taken to soon, Meshach Taylor, Was a Great Person, Who cared about a Lot of different People and Causes, The First Time I Met him, he was very Personable, and Funny. When We Worked together on Manniquinn 1 & More Closely, on Manniquinn on the Move. , At the Time I Was a Police Officer in Charge of all the Equipment on the set. We Had some great times doing that Movie, even thought it was difficult at times moving all the equipment from one place to another.But the thing I remember most was the way he stayed after filming long hours and would Sign Autographs for the Crowds. R.I.P. Meshach, It was an honor to Know and Work with You. Your were One Of A Kind.!!!!!!.

  2. Cysco X. Drayton
    July 9, 2014

    I am just overwhelmed by all of the wonderful things that were said about Meshach….His legacy will obviously be around for many years to come. …I didn’t know him personally, but I know others who have had the pleasure of knowing him….I have read some of the love letters of Meshach by Joe Montagna, Delta Burke and President Clinton. …He must have touched many people in profound ways….To the Family….Thank you for sharing such a gifted and talented man…..He will be forever etched in the hearts of many….God Bless!

  3. Josette Byrd
    July 10, 2014

    This was Beautiful and Heart warming Tribute to Meshach and he will be sadly missed.!!! God Bless and RIP.

  4. Lana Ciacchi Russo
    July 13, 2014

    This was a very nice tribute to such a great man !

  5. Leslie
    October 8, 2014

    I am a fan from Mr. Taylor’s Designing Women days. He was such a great comedian and had wonderful timing. I was so sorry to hear of his passing earlier this year. It is wonderful that his friends and family provided him with love and support during his illness. RIP

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