Leo D. Sullivan, Pioneering Black Animator, Dies at 82
Leo D. Sullivan, the groundbreaking Black animator who contributed to the iconic opening for Soul Train and to cartoons featuring Fat Albert, Transformers and My Little Pony during his 50-year-plus career, has died. He was 82.
Sullivan died Saturday of heart failure at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, his wife, Ethelyn, told The Hollywood Reporter.
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The Emmy-winning Sullivan also was a writer, producer, director, layout artist and storyboard artist at studios including Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., Filmation, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, DIC Entertainment and Marvel Productions.
He and onetime Disney animator Floyd Norman were among the co-founders of Vignette Films in the 1960s. Their company produced educational films about such Black heroes as George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington and was behind a 1969 Bill Cosby special, Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert, for NBC.
The duo also teamed on AfroKids.com, whose mission it is to build self-esteem and reconnect children to their cultural heritage by teaching life lessons, family values, respect and responsibility. (Sullivan was featured prominently in the 2016 documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.)
A native of Lockhart, Texas, Leo Dan Sullivan settled in Los Angeles in 1952. His father was in the military, and his family moved around a lot. He began his career running errands for Bob Clampett in the ’50s before becoming an animation cel polisher on the producer’s Beany and Cecil cartoons.
Sullivan helped animate the original locomotive and graphics that were used to open each episode of the Don Cornelius-hosted music show Soul Train, which premiered in syndication in 1971.
Sullivan also worked on I Am the Greatest!: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali, The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle, BraveStarr, The Flintstones, Flash Gordon, Pac-Man, Scooby-Doo, SuperFriends, The Incredible Hulk and Tiny Toons.
Twice honored by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Sullivan produced commercials for Jamaican ad agencies; managed supervisors for animation studios in Asia; published a video game that honored the heroic Tuskegee Airmen; developed and animated a character named Walt for the California Science Center exhibit BodyWorks; and taught classes in 2D and digital animation at the Art Institute of California-Orange County in Santa Ana.
He recently launched a multimedia foundation to train underserved youth in new media technology, with an emphasis on animation and games.
In addition to his wife, survivors include son Leo Jr. and daughter Tina.
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