May 21, 2022

The Tragic Tale of Sesame Street’s Northern Calloway

Northern Calloway was an American actor and singer, best known for his role as David Robinson on Sesame Street from 1971 to 1989. The 50th anniversary of the show came around in 2019 but unfortunately some of the original stars didn’t live to see the day, Northern Calloway was one of them.

Northern James Calloway was born on September 10th, 1948, in New York. He graduated from New York City’s High School of Performing Art in 1966 and joined the Lincoln Center Repertory Company just 2 days later. Northern performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Three Musketeers at the Stratford Festival in 1968. He also played the lead in the New Federal Theater production of The Louis Armstrong Story.

Northern started his Broadway career in that same year and featured in Tiger at the Gates in 1968 and The Me Nobody Knows in 1970. He didn’t give up his stage career when he landed his job on Sesame street and performed in six productions on Broadway from 1968 to 1980.

northern calloway sesame street

1971 was when Northern joined the Sesame Street cast. It was during the show’s 4th season and he came on as David Robinson, the boyfriend of the character Maria. Actor and fellow castmate Will Lee passed away in 1982 and after this, the series decided to make Northern’s character the new owner of what was Will’s character, Mr Hooper’s, store. Northern was one of very few human characters for 18 years. He appeared in 1268 episodes.

northern calloway sesame street

Northern Calloway was arrested on September 19th, 1980, in Nashville, Tenessee. He had been at Mary Stagaman’s home, the marketing director of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, after he performed there on the 13th of the same month. Something happened while he was there and Northern assaulted Mary with an iron and caused serious head and rib injuries to her. After this, he fled the scene and broke into two other homes, destroying some of their valuable property while he was at it.

Northern didn’t stop there, though. He proceeded to steal a first grader’s backpack, break a windshield with a rock, and steal a bag of herbicide from elderly Douglas Wright. He then spilled the herbicide on his body and began rolling on the ground and running around. Douglas tried to hold Northern at gunpoint and even fired a warning shot at him. He responded to this shot by diving to the ground and screaming that he had been shot, before jumping back up and washing his hands and face in Douglas’ bird bath. Northern then fled the scene. Witnesses at the time recall he was wearing nothing but a superman t-shirt.

Northern was arrested after being found hiding in a couple’s garage. He was screaming, “Help! I’m David from Sesame Street and they’re trying to kill me!” He was immediately taken to a mental hospital for an examination. This was all kept quiet from the public and Northern was allowed to continue appearing on Sesame Street while he received help.

Northern’s final years on Sesame Street were reportedly spotted with times of erratic behaviour and deteriorating health. He was said to have even bitten the music coordinator Danny Epstein during an on-set fight. Northern was also unable to participate in the filming of Follow That Bird since it took place in Canada and his criminal record meant he wasn’t allowed to enter the country. That is why he didn’t feature in the film.

By 1987, the executive producer, Dulcy Singer, had become concerned about the viability of Northern’s future with Sesame Street. This led to the show’s writers slowly ended David and Maria’s relationship in the storyline. In 1989, Northern Calloway was dismissed from Sesame Street after the biting incident. David was last seen on the 20th season finale that aired on May 12th, 1989. The 21st season started and David’s absence was explained away by saying that David had gone to live with his grandmother on a farm to look after her.

It wasn’t long after he was terminated from Sesame Street that Northern was placed into Stony Lodge Hospital, a mental institution, which was located in Westchester County, New York. He was being treated for bipolar disorder.

On January 9th, 1990, Northern and a staff member were involved in a serious altercation. He was transported to Phelps Memorial Hospital in North Tarrytown but there was nothing anyone could do. At the age of 41, Northern Calloway was pronounced dead. His cause of death was listed as exhaustive psychosis, which is now more commonly known as Excited Delirium Syndrome. It is described as a “controversial condition” that is mainly given to those who die while in restraints in custody. Northern was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery.

northern calloway

Jason Horton

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Jason Horton

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