Joe Seneca
Joe Seneca.jpg
Seneca during filming of 1986's Crossroads
Joel McGhee Jr.

(1919-01-14)January 14, 1919
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedAugust 15, 1996(1996-08-15) (aged 77)
OccupationActor, singer, songwriter
Years active1940s–1996

Joe Seneca (January 14, 1919 – August 15, 1996)[1] was an American actor, singer, and songwriter. He is best known for Willie Brown in Crossroads (1986), Dr. Meadows in The Blob (1988), and Dr. Hanes in The Cosby Show.

Life and career

Seneca was born Joel Seneca McGhee, Jr. in Cleveland, Ohio. Before his acting career, he belonged to the R&B singing group The Three Riffs, which was active from the late 1940s and performed at upscale supper clubs in New York City.[2] He was also a songwriter and had big hits with "Talk to Me", sung by Little Willie John, and "Break It to Me Gently," which was a smash hit by Brenda Lee in 1962 and by Juice Newton in 1982.

In the 1982 film, The Verdict, Seneca plays the supporting role of Dr. Thompson, a small-town women's hospital physician brought in by attorney Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) to support his belief that two famous doctors' incompetence left his client alive but in a coma. Arguably his most well-known roles are that of bluesman Willie Brown in Crossroads (1986) and Dr. Meddows in The Blob (1988), the evil head of a government team sent to contain the title creature.

Seneca also made multiple appearances on The Cosby Show as Hillman President Dr. Zachariah J. Hanes. He also played Alvin Newcastle, a man suffering from Alzheimer's disease, on an episode of The Golden Girls titled "Old Friends".[3] Seneca appeared in Spike Lee's School Daze as Mission College President McPherson.

Seneca played Eddie Haynes on Matlock in the May 9, 1989 episode "The Blues Singer." He later played a murder witness in the October 13, 1993 Law & Order episode "Profile."

Seneca appeared in Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" music video in 1987.

Seneca played "Blind Otis Lemon", based on Muddy Waters,[4] a homeless blues legend who gets one last chance to sing and play in a club the night before an operation that may leave him deaf, on Doogie Howser, M.D., season 2 episode 6, "Doogie Sings the Blues", October 17, 1990.

He died from coronary arrest or asthma August 15, 1996 at the age of 77. He was married to his wife, Betty Seneca, until his death. [5]


Year Title Role Notes
1974 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Police Sergeant
1979 The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh Mr. Sweets
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer Partygoer #6
1982 The Verdict Dr. Thompson
1984 The Evil That Men Do Santiago
1985 Heart of the Garden
1985 Silverado Ezra
1986 Crossroads Willie Brown
1987 Big Shots Ferryman
1987 Moments Without Proper Names
1988 School Daze President McPherson
1988 The Blob Dr. Meddows
1989 Matlock "The Blues Singer"
1990 Mo' Better Blues Big Stop's Friend
1991 Mississippi Masala Williben Williams
1992 Malcolm X Toomer
1993 The Saint of Fort Washington Spits
1996 A Time to Kill Reverend Isaiah Street


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 255. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ "The Three Riffs ", Vocal Group Harmony. Retrieved 25 October 2016
  3. ^ The Golden Girls Season 3 episode 52; air date September 19, 1987
  4. ^ "Muddy Waters", Rock and Roll Paradise
  5. ^ Crocker, Catherine (August 17, 1996). "Obituaries | Joe Seneca, Singer, Composer, Actor". The Seattle Times. Associated Press.