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He was born in Harlem, New York City on June 4, 1956. David first knew he was going to become an actor after playing the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz, and went on to study at New York's High School of the Performing Arts.
His first acting job was an uncredited role as a disco club patron in Disco Godfather in 1979, but it was his starring role as Childs less than two years later when he went on to star opposite Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's The Thing that bought him attention as an actor.
He went on to appear in films such as They Live, Platoon (usually considered to be his best film), Road House, and Stars and Bars. His role in They Live is most memorable for an alleyway brawl with Roddy Piper that was the longest fight sequence in cinema history at the time, lasting nearly seven minutes on-screen, and all over wearing a pair of sunglasses. In the early 1990s he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. He also played the role of Steven Seagal's best friend and partner in Marked For Death.
He played the character of Kirby the one legged war veteran in the acclaimed 1995 Hughes Brothers film Dead Presidents and followed this up with roles in big films such as Volcano, Armageddon, There's Something About Mary, Pitch Black, Barbershop, Chronicles of Riddick, Agent Cody Banks, Delta Farce, and Crash.
At the same time he has appeared in numerous independent films including the critically-acclaimed Requiem for a Dream.
He has also appeared extensively in TV productions since the 1980s and as a regular character Lieutenant Williams on the short-lived TV series The Job.
Although known for his roles in films and TV, he has also done extensive voice-acting work, and is noted for his deep, commanding voice. He is known most notably as the voice behind Goliath from Gargoyles and the title character in the Spawn animated series. He provided the voice for the character of Vhailor in the video game Planescape: Torment. His voice narrated the 2001 documentary series Jazz by Ken Burns and is also popular in advertising, and has done voice-over work for countless other documentaries and most recently the highly successful games Halo 2 and Halo 3 by Bungie Studios. He has also voiced Captain David Anderson in Mass Effect (he also reprises his role in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3) and Julius Little in Saints Row and Saints Row 2. He also voiced Sergeant Foley, a U.S. Army Ranger in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. David also voiced Barricade in Transformers: the Game.
David received raves for his Shakespeare work on stage in Central Park, New York City. He now does the narration for A&E's show City Confidential, succeeding Paul Winfield, who died in 2004. He was also the narrator for a history channel documentary on comics.