Theodore "Ted" Ross Roberts was an American actor who was probably best known for his role as the Lion in The Wiz, an all-African American reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz. He won a Tony Award for the original 1975 Broadway production, and went on to recreate the role in the 1978 film version which also starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Nipsey Russell. Ross went on to appear in films including Police Academy, and on the television sitcoms The Jeffersons, Benson, The Cosby Show, and its spin-off A Different World. His final role was in the 1991 movie The Fisher King.
Ross was born Theodore Ross Roberts in Zanesville, Ohio, but his mother, Elizabeth Russell, a nightclub singer in the 1920s and 1930s, moved the family to Dayton when young Ross was seven. He loved the clubs on West Fifth Streetâ€”Daytonâ€™s answer to Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. While in junior high, Ross, who was big for his age, would dress up and strut into the Owl Club and The Palace Theater's Midnight Rambles to see great acts such as Duke Ellington.
His nightclub exploits as a teenager weren't very popular at home. He dropped out of Roosevelt High in 1950 and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Two years later at 18, Ross entered an amateur night contest at the Top Hat bar on Germantown Street. Home on furlough, he sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", won $5 that night and found his calling. After leaving the military, Ross worked his way from Great Falls, Montana, to a strip bar in Los Angeles as a singer and emcee. There he landed his first stage role in Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Bigtime Buck White".