American stage, television, and film actor Howard Ellsworth Rollins Jr., also known as Howard Rollins, was best known for the American television miniseries Roots: The Next Generation (George Haley), American television miniseries King (Andrew Young), American drama film Ragtime (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), American mystery drama movie A Soldier's Story (Captain Davenport), and most prominently for American procedural police drama series In The Heat Of The Night ( black detective Virgil Tibbs), loosely adapted from the self-titled movie and novel. 

The year 1996 became the last year of life and acting. He was diagnosed with AIDS. Six weeks later, he suffered an untimely death on December 8, 1996. 

The Baltimore native also led a secretive double life. While Rollins lived a man's life in front of the audience, he also dressed up as a sassy woman whenever possible. The revelation of his transformation into a woman only surfaced after he wore a spangled dress and a wig at the time of his death.

More so, his friends and neighbors went on to give explicit information on his transformation, revealing that he could have been a closeted gay all along.

When was Howard Rollins Jr. born?

Rollins was born on 8 December 1966 in Baltimore Maryland, U.S., to domestic worker mother Ruth Rollins and steelworker Howard Ellsworth Rollins Sr. as the youngest of four children. Howard's father died in 1980. 

Death Cause: How did Howard Rollins die?

Rollins was only 46 when he died on 8 December 1996 at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. As he was battling incurable HIV/AIDS, he suffered from lymphoma-related complications that ensued from a bacterial infection which led to his untimely demise. His grave lies in Woodlawn Cemetry, Lochearn, Maryland. 

In his life, he had also battled crack cocaine and alcohol addiction and was even arrested for cocaine possession and driving under influence. 

Was Howard Rollins ever married?

Rolling never married in his lifetime and had no children.

American actress Anne-Marie Johnson, who portrayed Rollins’s wife in the detective series In The Heat Of The Night, described Howard to People magazine as a "sensitive artist" and tortured soul" after retrospecting a scene in the series which involved him revealing to the mother that he took the life of her son.

“Something in the scene really touched Howard. He just broke down,” she remembered.

Dressing Up As a Woman Gave Howard Rollins "Relief"

Howard Rollins was a secret keeper — he mainly kept his personal life and sexual orientation close to his heart. But, after Rollins passed away, the secrets were unveiled through his best friends' and neighbors' revelation in an interview with the GLOBE on December 24, 1996.

One of the late actor's pals confessed that dressing up as a woman provided relief to Rollins. So, he used to wear sparkling gowns, costly wigs, high heels, and murmur, "I'm a lady. I'm a lady.” Also, he dressed in drag, put his hands on his hip, and identified as a woman named Tooraloora Goldfarb. If people called him Howard while he was in that get-up, he would reply, "Excuuuse me! I'm Tooraloora Goldfarb."

Howard Rollins in Heat of the night

Howard Rollins in the movie 'In the Heat of the Night.' (Source: IMDb)

Rollins’ other pal, who was also his neighbor for 18 years, named Bright told GLOBE that the actor's favorite thing was to show off his new feminine-like outfits to his friends. He also revealed that Rollins would dress up in woman’s gear and go straight toward transvestite clubs to look for male lovers.

His favorite thing in the whole world was showing off a new outfit to a friend -- especially winter ensembles like a ladies coat over skirt and stockings. When he was feeling well, he loved to dress in a spectacular woman's outfit and go to transvestite clubs looking for male lovers.

Moreover, the stage actor's friends stated that the late actor would stand in front of his mirror in his gowns, fixing his fake bosoms and arranging his seams. His friend Franco even remarked that he had a collection of six wigs—four blondes, a brunette, and a redhead.

Was Howard Rollins Gay?

Though a secret to the public, Rollins wasn't keeping his choice of dressing as a woman away from the people he knew. He had let his neighbor named Marcie Hirsch witness him in a feminine outfit while dropping his groceries. He was eating Haagen-Daz and watching his show's reruns while wearing a dress and a blonde wig at the time.

Also, the Ragtime star had asked his best friends to bury his body as a female. He precisely requested to be buried in a black and gold-beaded cocktail dress, with makeup and fake eyelashes. A mere co-incidence but, after some weeks of such demands, Rollins died. He was found unconscious in his apartment with a spangled dress and wig.

Though the paramedics took him to the St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center and tried their best to save him, he succumbed to AIDS-related lymphoma complications. His body was later sent to his hometown, Baltimore, and handed over to his family. They cremated him.

All in all, Rollins' actions of transforming into a woman, his friends' statements, and the fact he died in feminine clothing signify that he could have been a gay or an LGBTIQ+ person.