Lights on Broadway dim to honor ‘The Lion King’ star from Jacksonville following death at 47

It was a heartfelt show of remembrance for a Broadway star who’s originally from Jacksonville.

Clifton Oliver, who graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, died last week at the age of 47.

On Tuesday, Broadway in New York City dimmed its lights to honor him.

The family of Oliver said they always knew he would do something great from when he was a young child growing up here on Jacksonville’s Eastside and Northside.

From humble beginnings, Oliver was determined to make it to Broadway. He didn’t know anyone in New York when he went in 2010 and didn’t have a wealthy background, but he had a dream and he achieved it.

“He was always artistic, he was ready to coordinate and make something happen. He’d get that with his siblings and friends and he sang in the little church choir,” said mother Jeannette Holmes.

His mother and brother said they learned he was becoming a star as the years went by. His mom learned in person when he invited her to Broadway and she sat to watch him star as adult Simba in “The Lion King.”

“The very first time I saw The Lion King I saw it alone,” Holmes said. “He paid my way, brought me there and paid the way. But I didn’t have anybody to sit with me and share it when I was there and when he came out, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” oh God it sounded wonderful and I looked around and looked around. Everybody around me was of a different persuasion and fully invested in the show. I said, ‘Y’all that’s my son.’ All of us in that little group from then on, we enjoyed the thing together.”

While many consider starring in “The Lion King” as his biggest role, Oliver’s brother said he had an even bigger role.

“His biggest role was he provided for our family. With my mother being older in age and being from Jacksonville and her upbringing, we all have had different stories, but his biggest role is opening up possibilities for our family,” Johnathan Oliver said.

And Clifton Oliver did a lot beyond Broadway, including appearing on the shows of Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman and Jay Leno.

“One of the ladies who had gone through something with her children, they said ‘We have a surprise for you, we have Simba from The Lion King,” Johnathan Oliver said of his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “So then he comes out with his whole garb on and he sings “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and she was crying. To be honest, in that moment we was like, ‘He’s officially made it.’”

His family said Clifton Oliver had been sick for a long time with a blood disorder and other medical issues but they only became aware of their severity in the months prior to his passing.

He died early Wednesday, according to Roxy Hall, his sister.

“His partner Richard, was singing to him the song Psalm 23 as he took his last breath this morning at 3:20 AM,” Hall wrote on Facebook, NBC News reported. “He had a gorgeous smile on his beautiful face!! He went twirling into the afterlife ready to make his grand appearance as the star of his homecoming celebration!”

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