Madge Sinclair (28 April 1938 – 20 December 1995; age 57) was an Emmy Award-winning Jamaican-born American actress. She made two appearances in the Star Trek franchise. She first portrayed the captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Although she did not receive on-screen credit for this role, she was the first female captain to be seen in the history of Star Trek. She later played Captain Silva La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Interface".
Outside of Star Trek, Sinclair is perhaps best remembered for her six-year, three-time Emmy Award-nominated role as Nurse Ernestine Shoop on the CBS television drama series Trapper John, M.D. She is also known for her Emmy-nominated portrayal of Bell Reynolds in the ground-breaking mini-series Roots, for her roles in the films Conrack (1974), Convoy (1978), and Coming to America (1988), and for voicing Queen Sarabi in Disney's The Lion King (1994). She is noted for her frequent collaboration with Academy Award-nominated actor James Earl Jones (which includes the aforementioned Coming to America and The Lion King, in which they played king and queen), though she has also had a long professional history with her on-screen TNG son, LeVar Burton.
Sinclair was born Madge Dorita Walters in Kingston, Jamaica. She was first married to Royston Sinclair, a policeman, with whom she had two children. She was a teacher in Jamaica until 1968, when she left for New York to become an actress, leaving her sons with their father. She was divorced from Sinclair the following year.
In the early 1980s, while working on Trapper John, M.D., Sinclair was diagnosed with leukemia, but she continued working regardless. In 1982, she married an actor named Dean Compton. They remained married until December 1995, when Sinclair died from leukemia in Los Angeles, California at the age of 57.
Sinclair made her film debut in the 1974 drama Conrack, opposite Paul Winfield. Like Sinclair, Winfield later appeared in a Star Trek film (namely, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) and guest-starred in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (She would later work with Winfield on the 1993 mini-series Queen, directed by John Erman.)
Sinclair's next film was 1975's Cornbread, Earl and Me, which co-starred fellow Star Trek alumni Bernie Casey, Stefan Gierasch, Logan Ramsey, and Thalmus Rasulala. The following year, Sinclair appeared in I Will, I Will... for Now, with Paul Sorvino, and played the female lead in Leadbelly, co-starring Albert Hall. Her subsequent film credits were Convoy (1978, with Seymour Cassel) and Uncle Joe Shannon (1978, with Bert Remsen).
Perhaps Sinclair's best known film role is that of Queen Aoleon, wife of James Earl Jones' King Joffe Joffer and mother of Eddie Murphy's Prince Akeem, in the 1988 Paramount Pictures comedy Coming to America. Sinclair and Jones again played King and Queen in Disney's animated 1994 hit The Lion King, in which she voiced Queen Sarabi opposite Jones' King Mufasa. Whoopi Goldberg also worked on The Lion King, supplying the voice of Shenzi the Hyena.
With LeVar Burton and Ben Vereen
Sinclair's character in "Interface" was the mother of LeVar Burton's Geordi La Forge. Sinclair had in fact played Burton's mother in three prior television projects. She first worked with Burton in the 1976 PBS short Almos' a Man, with Burton playing a boy and Sinclair his mother. (This movie also starred Robert DoQui.)
Sinclair and Burton reunited the following year for the ground-breaking mini-series Roots, although they did not play mother and son; in fact, they didn't share any scenes together. In the series, Burton played the young Kunte Kinte while Sinclair played Bell Reynolds, the wife of the older Kinte, played by actor John Amos.
The following year, however, Sinclair and Burton were back to playing mother and son when they co-starred together in the telefilm One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story. She again worked with Burton and again portrayed his mother in the 1980 TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, which also featured Brad Dourif, Meg Foster, and Ed Lauter.
Interestingly, Sinclair's character on TNG was also the wife of Edward M. La Forge, played by Ben Vereen. Vereen was an actor on Roots, as well, where he played the grandson of Sinclair's character, Bell.
Regular television roles and Emmy Awards
Sinclair was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for her performance in Roots. Afterward, she was given the role of Madge on the NBC sitcom Grandpa Goes to Washington. This series, however, only lasted for eleven episodes, from September 1978 through January 1979.
In 1980, Sinclair joined the cast of the CBS medical drama Trapper John, M.D., in which she played Nurse Ernestine Shoop. She received three consecutive Emmy Award nominations for her work on this series from 1983 through 1985. She remained with the show until it ended its run in 1986. Afterward, she became a regular on the ABC series Ohara, which ran for two seasons from January 1987 through May 1988.
During the 1990-1991 television season, Sinclair starred as "Empress Josephine" opposite James Earl Jones' "Gabriel Bird" in the ABC series Gabriel's Fire. For her performance on this series, Sinclair won the 1991 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. The series was renewed for a second season and renamed Pros and Cons, but the series was canceled shortly thereafter.
In 1994, Sinclair was cast as Mary Tower, the live-in mother-in-law of Steve Harvey's Steve Tower, in the ABC situation comedy series Me and the Boys. This series only lasted for 19 episodes before it was canceled; the last episode aired in February 1995. This show proved to be Sinclair's final screen work.
Sinclair has worked with other Star Trek performers as a guest-star on the following television series.
- Executive Suite (1 episode, 1976) with Scott Marlowe and Amanda McBroom
- The White Shadow (1 episode, 1979) with Phil Rubenstein
- Starman (1 episode, 1987) with Michael Cavanaugh, Robert DoQui, Richard Fancy, and Jerry Hardin
- Midnight Caller (1 episode, 1989) with Scott Lawrence
- Gideon Oliver (1 episode, 1989) with William Sadler
- Roseanne (1 episode, 1989) with Tom Wright
- L.A. Law (1 episode, 1992) with Corbin Bernsen, Michael Cumpsty, Larry Drake, Jennifer Savidge, Concetta Tomei, and William Windom
Star Trek: The Next Generation was Sinclair's final work as a guest star.