Duane L. Jones (April 11, 1937 – July 22, 1988) was an American actor and theatre director, best known for his lead role as Ben in the 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead.[1][2] He was later director of the Maguire Theater at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, and the artistic director of the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art in Manhattan.

Duane Jones
Duane Jones NLD.jpg
Jones in Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Born(1937-04-11)April 11, 1937
New York City, U.S.
DiedJuly 22, 1988(1988-07-22) (aged 51)
Other namesDuane L. Jones
Alma materUniversity of Pittsburgh (B.A.)
New York University (M.A.)
OccupationActor, theatre director, teacher
Years active1968–1988

Early life and educationEdit

Jones was born in New York City to Mildred Jones (née Gordon). He had a sister, Marva (later Marva Brooks), and a brother, Henry.[3] He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A. and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, before training as an actor in New York City. He later completed an M.A. in Communications at New York University in between shooting Night of the Living Dead.

Early careerEdit

Prior to becoming an actor, Jones was a Phelps-Stokes exchange scholar in Niger and taught literature at Long Island University. He created English-language training programs for the Peace Corps and helped design Harlem Preparatory School, where he headed the English department.[3]


Jones alongside Judith O'Dea in Night of the Living Dead.

His role in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead marked the first time an African-American actor was cast as the star and hero of a horror film, and one of the first times in American cinema where an important role was given to a black actor when the script did not explicitly call for one. While some saw the casting as significant, director George A. Romero stated that "Jones was the best actor we met to play Ben."[4]

He continued working in film after Night of the Living Dead in Ganja & Hess (1973), Losing Ground (1982), and Beat Street (1984), among others.[3] Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.[5]

From 1972 to 1976, Jones oversaw the literature department at Antioch College. He was subsequently executive director of the Black Theater Alliance, a federation of theater companies, from 1976 through 1981[3] and continued working as a theater actor and director, until his death in 1988. As executive director of the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art (RACCA), he promoted African-American theater. He also taught acting styles at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. After leaving the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he taught a select group of students privately in Manhattan, by invitation only. His hand-selected students were of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The students were picked from his Acting Styles classes at American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Jones died of cardiopulmonary arrest at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, Long Island, New York, on July 22, 1988, aged 51.[3] He was cremated and his ashes given to his family.[6]



Year Title Role Notes
1968 Night of the Living Dead Ben
1973 Ganja and Hess Doctor Hess Green Also released as "Blood Couple"
1982 Losing Ground Duke
1984 Beat Street Robert
1986 Vampires Charles Harmon
1988 To Die For Simon Little Posthumously released
Negatives Charles Harmon archive footage from Vampires
1989 Fright House Charles Harmon archive footage from Vampires, (segment "Abadon"), (final film role)


  1. ^ Maçek III, J.C. (June 15, 2012). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  2. ^ "Interview: George Romero - Film director". Scotsman. Johnston Publishing Ltd. March 6, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Fraser, C. Gerald (July 28, 1988). "Duane L. Jones, 51, Actor and Director of Stage Works, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  4. ^ Kane, Joe. "How Casting a Black Actor Changed 'Night of the Living Dead'". The Wrap.
  5. ^ Jones, Duane (2002). Bonus interviews (DVD). Night of the Living Dead. Millennium Edition. Elite Entertainment.
  6. ^ Wilson, Scott (September 26, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland Publishing. p. 384. ISBN 9781476625997.
  7. ^ Davis, Brandon (September 6, 2017). "Robert Kirkman Writes Tribute To 'Walking Dead' Inspiration George Romero". Comic Book. GameSpot. Retrieved August 4, 2018.

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