Northern James Calloway was an American actor on Sesame Street for 18 years. He was primarily known for playing the character David (wearing a hat in the above photo) but also voiced various Muppets including Same Sound Brown. Despite continued popularity, the responsibilities of his role eventually led to a serious decline in his mental health, and eventually his death.
In his early thirties, having worked on Sesame Street his entire professional career, Calloway began to exhibit signs of bipolar disorder which led to a severe nervous breakdown. On the morning of September 19, 1980 in Nashville, he attacked the marketing director of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Mary Stagaman with an iron rod, resulting in life threatening injuries. He then fled into the suburbs of Nashville where he was arrested after hiding out in a couple’s garage, screaming “Help! I’m David from Sesame Street and they’re trying to kill me!”
Despite this incident, Calloway continued to work on Sesame Street. In 1982, his character David graciously abandoned his dreams of becoming a lawyer to takeover Hooper's Store, following the death of Mr. Hooper.
The death of Mr. Hooper was not originally scripted, but came as a result of the unexpected death of actor Will Lee, who had portrayed the beloved character since the show's first episode. Originally, the producers toyed with the idea of telling viewers that Mr. Hooper had retired to Florida, but ultimately, after consulting with numerous child psychologists, decided that they could use the episode to deal with the issue of death on Sesame Street.
Despite their success in crafting a poignant and accessible 'Death Episode' the show's producers, were tragically unprepared to guide Mr. Hooper's replacement, Northern Calloway, away from his own untimely demise.
Calloway’s final years on the show were marked by periods of declining health and ability, punctuated by episodes of erratic behavior. By 1987, executive producer Dulcy Singer became increasingly doubtful about Calloway's future with the show. As a result, the writers gradually and quietly ended the relationship that the character of David had with Maria Figueroa, which had been in the storyline for several years. Maria soon began a romance with Luis Rodriguez, which resulted in their Sesame Street marriage in May 1988. Eventually, in the spring of 1989, Calloway was dismissed from Sesame Street, following an on-set fight with Danny Epstein. His final appearance was in the 20th season finale, which aired May 19, 1989.
Shortly after leaving Sesame Street, Calloway was admitted to the Stony Lodge psychiatric facility in Ossining, New York. Calloway died after going into cardiac arrest during a violent altercation with a staff physician shortly thereafter. He was pronounced dead at the age of 41. A coroner’s report listed Calloway’s official cause of death as exhaustive psychosis. On the next season of Sesame Street it was explained that Calloway's character David had moved to a farm to take care of his grandmother.