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25 Years Later: The Cast of “The Five Heart Beats” Where Are They Now?


If you’re a millennial, go ask your Mom about the movie the Five Heartbeats…or just keep reading.

In 1991, director, actor, comedian Robert Townsend gave us a musical drama that followed the rise and subsequent fall of a Motown-inspired quintet. Townsend co-wrote the script with Keenen Ivory Wayans and was loosely based on several real life soul groups including the obvious choice The Temptations, the Four Tops and the Dells.

The movie starred Townsend as the group’s creator and driving force Donald “Duck” Matthews. He and his brother J.T. Matthews, played by Leon Robinson assembled the group and started entering singing contests which eventually opens the door to a record contract, fame, and all the inherent problems that fame seeming brings.

THE FIVE HEARTBEATS, Robert Townsend (l.), Tico Wells (r.), 1991, TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.THE FIVE HEARTBEATS, Robert Townsend (l.), Tico Wells (r.), 1991, 

“The Five Heart Beats” grossed almost nine million dollars(hey, that was a pretty decent box office back in the day) and to mixed reviews.  Film critic Roger Ebert who was with the Chicago Sun-Times said the movie and specifically Townsend, “shows a real talent, and, not surprisingly, an ability to avoid cliches, to for the human truth in his characters….by the end, we really care about these guys.” Ebert also mentioned what is the cliche and obligatory scene of dealing with prejudice and racism in the industry.

So after some limited success and becoming a cult classic of sorts, whatever happened to the actors who played “The Five Heart Beat” and where are they now?

robert townsendRobert Townsend ,Donald “Duck” Matthews”  Of all the cast members is perhaps the best known thanks to his other films  like “The Might Quinn” alongside Denzel Washington, “Hollywood Shuffle” and his hit TV show  “The Parent ‘Hood”.  Townsend says, “People come up to me all the time and say that’s their favorite film and they quote lines…Then they go ‘Will there be a sequel?’ Well, I couldn’t do a sequel but I said the journey behind how I made the movie is almost as exciting as the movie.”  The filmmaker is currently working on reprising “The Five Heart Beats” as a documentary which he has been laboring over for almost two years and expects to unveil in the fall.

Leon Then NowLeon Robinson as J.T. Matthews the older brother who had a sometimes turbulent relationship with Townsend’s character was also the casanova of the group. After the movie, Robinson’s talent would take him far and land him some sweet roles in some major films like “Cool Runnings” based on the real life Jamaican bobsled team that made it to the Winter Olympics.  He was also cast alongside Tom Cruise in 1983’s “All the Right Moves”, with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall in the gang focused film “Colors” and with Whitney Houston in “Waiting to Exhale”.  Robinson would also go on to portray singing legends David Ruffin in the 1998 NBC miniseries “The Temptations” and the title role of Little Richard in the self-titled biopic. Both roles brought him critical acclaim and the latter even landed him an Emmy nomination. Maybe he does so well with those singing roles because he is an accomplished vocalist and songwriter who’s won international awards for both his talent and humanitarian efforts.

Michael Wright then NowMichael Wright as Eddie King His role was based on former Temptations singer David Ruffin who came from a poor family and a father who never believed he would amount to anything. Like the real life Ruffin, Eddie was the lead singer whose downfall came at the hand of drug dealers which lead to him being kicked out the group. Like so many of his co-stars, Wright made the right move in pairing with Townsend and soon found doors opening for major TV and film roles.  His body of work includes roles in “Miami Vice”, the HBO series “Oz” and “The Interpreter” and alongside Wesley Snipes in the movie “Sugar Hill”

tico wells then nowTico Wells as Anthony “Choir Boy” Stone was the kid who grew up in the choir at the church where his father was pastor. He gets caught up in the wild ride of fame as a womanizer, but eventually faces a turning point and returns back to the church.  Townsend’s movie was a nice launch for Wells’ career which included TV roles  like “The Cosby Show, “Martin”, “Law and Order” and most recently “Bones”. He’s also stayed busy on the big screen with roles in “Forgiveness” and Love and Other Four Letter Words”.

Harry Lennix then nowHarry J. Lennix as Terrence “Dresser” Williams Every group had to have that one person who could sing and dance and act as choreographer. Dresser was good, but not as good as Ernest “Sarge” Johnson who outdances Dresser and eventually replaces him. Lennix has stayed busy since his singing and dancing days with  in TV series like “The Dollhouse” and currently a regular on NBC’s  hit drama “The Blacklist”. Lennix has also had a pretty profitable movie career with roles in “Get on the Bus'(1996), “Love and Basketball”(2000) and “The Matrix” franchise.


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