Friends, relatives bid farewell to "Bear'

Published May 19, 2006|Updated May 19, 2006

(ran East edition of Pasco Times)

The man they called Bear is coming home to Brooksville for good.

Today, friends and loved ones will gather at Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to Michael Taliferro. They will reminisce about his antics as a youthful prankster and celebrate his talents as a film actor and pro athlete.

And they will shake their heads at how it all came to an end much too soon.

Taliferro died May 4, days after he suffered a stroke near his home in Los Angeles. He was 45, and as close friends will attest, in the prime of a promising acting career that saw him land notable roles in more than a dozen movies and television shows.

To most people, Taliferro is perhaps best known as the gargantuan, baby-faced tough guy Goldmouth who punched out Eddie Murphy in the 1999 prison movie Life, or the intimidatingly large offensive lineman named Andre Jackson in The Replacements.

Yet to the people who knew him well, Taliferro, who stood 6-feet-6 and weighed 350 pounds, was

nothing like the imposing characters he frequently portrayed on- screen.

"Michael was a big teddy bear," said his brother, James, who flew in from New Jersey this week to attend services. "He was lovable and he made people laugh."

Taliferro spent much of his early life in Brooksville and attended Hernando High School before moving to West Palm Beach in his sophomore year to join his mother and sister.

After graduating, Taliferro was recruited by Texas Christian University, where he made his mark as a punishing defensive tackle. Despite his size, he was surprisingly agile, earning the nickname "Turbo," according to his cousin Andy Williams.

"He could really turn on the speed and that impressed a lot of coaches," Williams said.

Stories abound about Taliferro's nature as a cutup, including a tale related this week on TCU's Web site detailing how, to get a couple of days off from practice, he fibbed to coaches that his grandmother had died.

However, when coaches called his mother to offer their condolences, they were met with a weeping voice who apparently had not heard the news of her mother's alleged passing. Taliferro received a suspension for the prank.

After college, Taliferro went on to play pro ball, first for the Washington Redskins in 1984 and 1985, and later in the United States Football League for the Denver Gold and Arizona Outlaws.

After his pro career, Taliferro moved to southern California, where by chance he was spotted on the street by film director Tony Scott, who offered him a bit role in his movie The Last Boy Scout.

Over the next two decades, Taliferro became something of fixture in Hollywood, earning the nickname "Bear" from his Hollywood associates. Though cast frequently in minor black films such as Rude Boy, Blue Hill Avenue and Hustle and Heat, mainstream directors began to take note of his deeper talents in recent years.

"Michael was not just another typecast black bad-guy actor," said Taliferro's publicist, Lynn Jeter. "He was extremely versatile and loved doing comedy. He was looking forward to branching out more and more."

Though Taliferro's choice of an acting career came as a bit of a surprise to some in his family, his ambition to excel in his craft was not. Two years ago, Taliferro began putting together ideas for an independent film titled Steppin', a romantic comedy featuring a cast of unknown young actors, which he directed and produced.

In February, friends and family members traveled to Tallahassee for its unveiling. The film, which has yet to find a distributor, was a proud achievement for Taliferro.

"Michael was very happy with it," said Williams, his cousin. "I think it would have led to some great things for him down the road."

From time to time Taliferro would drop in for family visits in Brooksville, which frequently culminated in neighborhood gatherings at his cousin Carrie Martin's home.

"Michael liked the attention he got here," Martin said. "I think he always felt that this was his real home."

According to family members, it was Taliferro's wish to be buried near his mother, Ethel, at Brooksville Cemetery.

That will occur shortly after the funeral, which will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethel Baptist Church. A viewing will be from 6 to 9 p.m. today.

Taliferro is survived by a brother, James of Trenton, N.J.; and two sisters, Olga of West Palm Beach and Cheryl Herd of Opa-locka.