Tom “Tiny” Lister (born Thomas Lister Jr.) was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on June 24th 1958. Lister was born blind with a detached and deformed retina in his right eye. When Lister was a small boy the family moved to and Lister grew up in the city of Compton in Southern California.
As a child he avoided the local gang life by developing an interest in films and religion instead. He attended Palomar Junior College before transferring to Long Beach City College for his sophomore year. While at Long Beach, he recorded a 52′ shot put throw, which helped to earn him a scholarship to California State University at Los Angeles. In his senior year, he won the National shot put title with a mark of over 61 feet 8 inches (18.8 m).
In 1982 Lister became the NCAA Division II National Shot Put Champion, and currently the Cal State LA athletic department sponsors an annual track meet in his name. After college, Lister competed for the Converse Track Club, eventually raising his shot put mark to 64 feet 3 inches (19.58 m), before trying out with the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League. He was cut after two exhibition games, and opted to pursue acting instead.
In 1984 Lister made his acting debut in the TV show Webster, he played a football player. Further roles followed in Runaway Train, 8 Million Ways To Die, Blue City, Armed and Dangerous, Wired To Kill, 1st & Ten: The Championship, Warm Hearts Cold Feet, and Perfect Strangers.
By 1987 Lister was being noticed for his roles in such films as Extreme Prejudice and Beverly Hills Cop II. Roles that followed included Prison, Glory Years, The Night before, Hard Time on Planet Earth, and the wrestling movie No Holds Barred – where Lister’s character Zeus ended up crossing over and wrestling for the WWF (now WWE) for real and battling Hulk Hogan.
As well as wrestling as Zeus, Lister still managed to knock out some roles in Think Big, Matlock, Chameleons, Secret Agent OO Soul, 9 1/2 Ninjas!, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Driving Me Crazy, Talkin’ Dirty After Dark, Universal Soldier, The Boys, The Meteor Man, Renegade, Walker, Texas Ranger, In the Heat of the Night, Immortal Combat, Men of War, Don Juan DeMarco, ER, and Hologram Man.
In 1992 Lister played an Egyptian guard in the Michael Jackson music video “Remember the Time.”
In 1995 Lister took on what would become one of his most iconic roles – Deebo from Friday. Deebo was the neighborhood bully and antagonist for Ice Cube’s character, Craig Jones. He reprised the role in the film’s sequel, Next Friday, but did not appear in the third film of the series, Friday After Next.
Lister has had numerous guest appearances in TV series, including playing Klaang, the first Klingon ever to make contact with humans, in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, also he appeared in Step by Step, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Martin, Barb Wire, Street Corner Justice, Moesha, Malcolm & Eddie, Nash Bridges, and USA High.
In 1997, Lister appeared in the Sublime music video “Santeria.”
Lister played a prisoner once again in The Dark Knight and Austin Powers in Goldmember but his role in The Fifth Element was definitely a break from his usual typecasting – the Galactic President!
Dracula 3000 saw Lister turn to the horror genre; he also appeared in the Adam Sandler film Little Nicky as Nicky’s older brother Cassius.
Further music video appearances included playing a police officer in Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” video, and reprised his role as a police officer in Chamillionaire’s 2012 single Show Love. He has also appeared in the Ice Cube videos for “Friday” (from the Friday soundtrack) and “You Can Do It” (from the Next Friday soundtrack). Lister appeared via both original footage and film clips from the movie. He was also in the videos for Young Bleed’s “How You Do Dat”; French Montana’s “I Told ‘Em” and 50 Cent’s “Many Men”.
Lister worked with Quentin Tarantino in the film Jackie Brown, playing bail agent Winston, who “finds people who don’t want to be found”. Further roles included Zootopia, Enter the Fist and the Golden Fleece, No Weapon Formed Against Us, On the Court, The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence), Da Jammies, Johnny Dynamo, NTSF:SD:SUV, Fish Hooks, The Rev, Super Capers: The Origins of Ed and the Missing Bullion and Terra Nova.
He also appeared in a 2016 commercial for Ball Park Brand beef jerky, advertised as “tough, but tender.”
Sadly, Lister passed away at the age of 62 years old on December 10th 2020. Law enforcement received a call to the actor’s Marina Del Rey apartment, just before 3 PM, for an unconscious male. He was pronounced dead on the scene. According to his manager, Cindy Cowan, Lister had been experiencing COVID symptoms in the days leading up to his death.