Nathan E. Cook, 38, Actor On Tv's 'Hotel'

Posted: June 19, 1988

Nathan Earl Cook, 38, who starred as the good-natured chief of security in the television series Hotel, died June 11 in Santa Monica Hospital in California after an allergic reaction to penicillin, family members said.

An autopsy was conducted by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, but results will not be known until tomorrow.

Born and reared in West Philadelphia, Mr. Cook was known to millions as Billy Griffin, the security guard who was a friend and confidant to other workers at the St. Gregory Hotel.

He had filled the role since the 1983 premiere of the ABC-TV show, which was canceled this year. The show starred James Brolin as hotel general manager Peter McDermott and Connie Sellecca as his assistant, Christine Francis.

Mr. Cook had been featured on the television show White Shadow from 1978 to 1980, portraying a strong, sensitive basketball player, Milton Reese, on a predominantly black team that had a white coach, portrayed by actor Ken Howard.

His role on White Shadow was his first in a television series - and it was an opportunity that didn't come without hurdles.

Mr. Cook told a TV Guide interviewer in 1984 that when he auditioned for the show, the producers asked him whether he could play basketball.

He replied: "Hey, are you kidding? I'm 6-foot-2, I'm black and I went to Overbrook High - you know, where Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Hazzard started."

After he left the audition, Mr. Cook raced to a store to "get a basketball and practice before they saw me on the court. I'd never played as a kid

because of asthma."

Even though producers later learned he couldn't play basketball, they said it didn't matter - in the interim, they had become aware of Mr. Cook's acting talent.

The son of a retired firefighter, Mr. Cook hadn't decided on a career in Hollywood until after high school, said his mother, Dorothy Cook.

One day before he headed to college at Pennsylvania State University, she said, he was taken to a play. And after seeing The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones, "he came back from the play and said he wanted to be an actor," she said.

In West Philadelphia, Mr. Cook lived first in the 100th block of Millick Street and then in the 5900 block of Summer Street. The neighborhood was rough, his mother said. "I was proud that he was here when the gangs were flourishing and he got past that."

Mr. Cook was a collector of hats from childhood. With his father, Edward, he shared an interest in reading and music - Billie Holiday and jazz. He attended Sunday school at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, in West Philadelphia, where the family still lives, and previously had attended Bethel Pentecostal Church.

Mr. Cook spent four years at Penn State and then left for Louisville, Ky., where he spent two seasons with the Actors Theater of Louisville performing in such plays as The Pirates of Penzance.

Before getting into television, he spent three years on the West Coast with the Improvisational Theater Project at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The theater company toured schools and performed original plays.

His feature film debut was in 1974's Abby. Not knowing what her son's role would entail, his mother told no one that her son would appear on the screen and crept off quietly to a movie theater early one morning.

"I was in shock to really see him on the screen," she recalled.

In recent years, Mr. Cook was on the screen once a week - or more. Besides Hotel and White Shadow, he appeared numerous times on such game shows as Password and Win, Lose or Draw.

A resident of Malibu, Mr. Cook often spent free hours in California with his two sons, Cameron and Jordon, or playing golf or tennis. He also enjoyed writing songs.

"He was a great guy. Kind. And he loved peace, and he loved family life," Dorothy Cook said. "He did lots of hugging and he never failed to tell his mother and father he loved them."

In addition to his parents and sons, surviving are his wife, Cara; sister, Alice A. Whittington; brother, Peter H.; an aunt, several nieces and nephews and cousins.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St., in West Philadelphia.

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