(written from a Production point of view)
Rasulala was born Jack Crowder in Miami, Florida. He went by his birth name when he first began his career, but took the name of Thalmus Rasulala when he began starring in films in the 1970s.
He was an alum of the University of Redlands in California.
Rasulala died of a heart attack due to complications from leukemia in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was 51 years old.
Rasulala began appearing on television in the 1960s, landing small roles on such programs as Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone. He appeared in two segments of the NBC anthology series Kraft Suspense Theatre, the first of which was written by Robert Hamner and featured Star Trek: The Original Series guest stars James Gregory and Warren Stevens. His second episode also featured TOS regular Leonard Nimoy, as well as Morgan Jones, Garry Walberg, and Jason Wingreen.
In 1968, Rasulala was part of the original cast of the daytime soap opera One Life to Life, portraying the character of Lt. Jack Neal. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock actor Allan Miller was also part of the show's inaugural cast. Rasulala left the series in 1970 and made his film debut that same year, playing a police officer in the comedy The Out of Towners. Graham Jarvis and comedy team Paul Dooley and Richard Libertini also had roles in this film.
During the 1970s, Rasulala starred in several blaxploitation films. His first was 1972's Cool Breeze, in which he played the leader of a group of bank robbers. That same year, he co-starred opposite TOS guest star William Marshall in Blacula, playing Dr. Gordon Thomas. Elisha Cook appeared in this film, as well. Rasulala's subsequent blaxploitation credits included Willie Dynamite (with Robert DoQui, Albert Hall, and George Murdock) and Mr. Ricco (with Eugene Roche and Jason Wingreen). He also co-starred opposite Fred Williamson in 1975's Bucktown and 1976's Adiós Amigo, the latter of which was written and directed by Williamson.
Rasulala's other film credits during the 1970s included Cornbread, Earl and Me (with Hal Baylor, Bernie Casey, Stefan Gierasch, Logan Ramsey, and Madge Sinclair), The Last Hard Men (with Sam Gilman), Fun with Dick and Jane (with the aforementioned Allan Miller), and the 1979 docudrama The Bermuda Triangle (with Albert Hall, Glenn Morshower, and Warren Munson). He also appeared in such made-for-TV movies as Last Hours Before Morning (opposite Ed Lauter and George Murdock), Killer on Board (with Susan Howard), and The President's Mistress (with Michael Bell, Gail Strickland, Jason Wingreen, and Biff Yeager).
Perhaps Rasulala's best-known role is that of Bill Thomas on the sitcom What's Happening!, appearing frequently between 1976 and 1977. He also had guest spots on such popular programs as All in the Family, Mission: Impossible, Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jeffersons. On Sanford and Son, he appeared in two episodes, one with Ron Glass and the other with Joan Pringle. In addition, he made an appearance on the seventh episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live and appeared in the first two parts of the 1977 mini-series Roots as Omoro, the father of Kunte Kinte, who was played by TNG regular LeVar Burton.
1980s and 1990s
In 1984 and again in 1985, Rasulala guest-starred on T.J. Hooker, the police action series which starred William Shatner in the title role and James Darren as Officer Jim Corrigan. His first episode, "Death Strip," also guest-starred Sam Anderson, while Julie Cobb and Gary Lockwood appeared in Rasulala's second episode, "To Kill a Cop."
In 1986, Rasulala reprised his What's Happening! role for an episode of the follow-up series, What's Happening Now! Rasulala also appeared in such shows as The Greatest American Hero (in an episode with John Hancock), Cagney & Lacey (with Dan Shor), and two episodes of Simon & Simon, one with Michael J. Pollard and James Sloyan and another with John Schuck. He also co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg in the 1989 CBS Schoolbreak Special entitled My Past Is My Own.
In addition, Rasulala co-starred with several Star Trek alumni in the 1981 TV movie The Sophisticated Gents, including Bibi Besch, Bernie Casey, Robert Hooks, Albert Hall, Janet MacLachlan, Davis Roberts, Paul Winfield, and Alfre Woodard. He also worked with MacLachlan and Winfield in the 1983 TV movie For us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story. His other TV movie credits during the 1980s included The Jerk, Too (with Ray Walston), The Defiant Ones (with Ed Lauter and Wil Wheaton), and The Preppie Murder (with Diedrich Bader and David Spielberg).
Rasulala acted alongside LeVar Burton for the second time after Roots for the 1984 short film Booker. He also had six feature film credits during the 1980s. In 1986, he was seen in the action-thriller Born American (with David Coburn) and the comedy The Boss' Wife (with Christopher Plummer and Robert Costanzo). He also had two films open in 1988: the Steven Seagal action thriller Above the Law and the actioner Bulletproof. He then appeared in 1989's The Package, which starred Joanna Cassidy.
Between 1989 and 1990, Rasulala played Police Captain Boltz in an updated version of the classic series Dragnet. He also played a police commissioner in the popular 1991 film New Jack City, which also featured Bill Cobbs. Rasulala's last TV movie was 1990's Blind Vengeance, which co-starred Richard Lineback and James Parks. His last two films – the drama Judgement and the comedy Mom and Dad Save the World – were released posthumously in 1992. Judgement co-starred Raymond Cruz and the aforementioned Ed Lauter, while Mom and Dad Save the World co-starred Wallace Shawn.