A tall, handsome and light-complected African-American player of stage and screen, Ron O'Neal first gained some measure of prominence with his portrayal of Youngblood Priest, the cool, resourceful and stylishly dressed cocaine dealer protagonist of "Superfly" (1972). Dismissed by some as just more "blaxploitation" fodder and damned by others for its supposed glorification of criminal behavior, "Superfly" was embraced by audiences and became a surprise hit. The success of this story of an outlaw's last big score generated the inevitable sequel, "Super Fly T.N.T." (1973), but surprisingly, O'Neal now occupied the director's chair and provided the politically-themed story. The film was generally deemed a disaster. The promising actor's nascent film career never recovered from this early setback.
O'Neal finished out the decade with substantial roles in such unremarkable genre fare as the 1975 Western "The Master Gunfighter" (paired with Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin), a thriller "When a Stranger Calls" and the Chuck Norris actioner "A Force of One" (both 1979).
O'Neal began popping up on TV with some regularity beginning with the historical miniseries "Freedom Road" (NBC, 1979). His other miniseries assignments included "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones" (CBS, 1980), the Melvin Van Peebles-scripted "The Sophisticated Gents" (NBC, 1981) and an uncredited part in "North and South" (ABC, 1985). With his days of playing young rebellious leads behind him, the mature O'Neal was generally cast as detectives, politicians and other authority figures. He had a recurring role as Jasmine Guy's strict father on the NBC sitcom "A Different World" and a cop on the CBS crime drama "The Equalizer".
O'Neal continued to appear in films throughout the 80s; "Red Dawn" (1984) and "Hero and the Terror" (1988) were his more memorable credits. He directed and acted in the well-intentioned misfire "Up Against the Wall" (1991), a teen drama about a black youth making the transition from living in the urban projects to the suburbs, before taking a five year hiatus from the movies. O'Neal returned as part of the all-"star" blaxploitation tribute "Original Gangstas" (1996), as a comrade-in-arms of the similarly iconic Fred Williamson.