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How action hero Snipes hit trouble

25 April 08 09:31 GMT

As a Hollywood action star, actor Wesley Snipes has been seen routinely defeating terrorists, assassins and blood-sucking vampires.

Off screen, though, there is one opponent he has been unable to defeat - the US Internal Revenue Service.

The 45-year-old has just received a three-year prison sentence for tax offences, a year for each conviction for deliberately failing to file a tax return.

Born in Orlando, Florida, in 1962, Wesley Trent Snipes moved to the Bronx borough of New York with his family when he was one year old.

After attending New York's School of Performing Arts, he landed his first screen role as an American Football player in Goldie Hawn's 1986 comedy Wildcats.

The following year, he was chosen by Martin Scorsese to play a hoodlum in Michael Jackson's Bad video.

That led to a supporting part in baseball comedy Major League, alongside Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger.

His breakthrough role, however, came in 1991 when he was cast as flamboyant drug lord Nino Brown in gangster thriller New Jack City.


The same year, director Spike Lee - with whom Snipes had previously worked on the film Mo' Better Blues - gave him the lead role in Jungle Fever.

A provocative drama that centred around the racial tensions of an affair between a black man and a white woman, it seemed to be the harbinger of a serious acting career.

The actor's skill at martial arts, though, took him in another direction - that of no-nonsense, tough-talking action hero.

"I never really planned on making action films," he once said. "It just kind of happened.

"I've focused primarily on acting and developing characters, but that has blossomed into a whole new venue I'm still young and fit enough to do."

Passenger 57, in which his character foiled a mid-air hijack, introduced cinemagoers to a brawny new persona he would go on to develop in such movies as Boiling Point, Drop Zone and The Art of War.

Whether playing a futuristic villain in Demolition Man or a drag queen in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, though, he was still capable of surprising audiences.

He and Woody Harrelson also teamed up to winning effect in the basketball comedy White Men Can't Jump, although their follow-up vehicle Money Train was less successful.

In 1998, Snipes landed another of his signature roles - that of the sword-wielding comic book vampire hunter Blade.


The actor would go on to reprise his performance in two sequels, 2002's Blade II and Blade: Trinity two years later.

Increasingly, though, Snipes' legal and financial worries were beginning to eclipse his acting career.

In June 2005, Snipes was detained at Johannesburg International Airport for allegedly trying to use a fake South African passport.

The same year, he took legal action against the producers of Blade: Trinity for allegedly not paying him his full salary and failing to consult him on key decisions.

A paternity case brought by a woman who alleged he fathered her child was dismissed, although the actor lost his bid to cancel an arrest warrant relating to the claim.

And in December 2006, the actor was arrested in Orlando after it emerged he had failed to pay millions of dollars in taxes.

Snipes listed more than 70 potential character witnesses to defend him against the accusations, including celebrity endorsements from the likes of Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington.

The actor was cleared of five fraud and conspiracy charges, but found guilty of three misdemeanours.

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