Shari Belafonte Reveals the Last Thing Her Dad Harry Belafonte Said to Her: 'He Died Laughing' (Exclusive)

The singer died in April 2023 at age 96 of congestive heart failure

<p>Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic</p> Harry Belafonte and Shari Belafonte in 2010

Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic

Harry Belafonte and Shari Belafonte in 2010

Shari Belafonte looks back on her final moments with her dad with a smile.

The actress’ father — beloved singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafontedied last year of congestive heart failure, and she tells PEOPLE that the last time she saw him, he was laughing.

“I know exactly what I said to him,” Shari, 69, says, recalling that Harry, who was 96 when he died, was sitting “reclined” in his wheelchair when she saw him with his wife, Pamela Frank, by his side. “He said, ‘Pam.' She said, ‘What up, babe?’ He said, ‘Sit me upright.’ So she went over to start sitting him up. And he has a caregiver, so the caregiver said, ‘I'll get it, Mr. B.’ ”

“So they kept trying to prop him up. He kept going, ‘Higher, higher, higher,’ to the point where he was all the way up. He was bent over. And he said, ‘Higher.’ And I said, ‘Harry, if you were any higher, you'd be sucking on your own,’ ” Shari recalls. “And he went, ‘What did you say?’ And we started laughing, and that was it.”

The Morning Show actress adds, “And then I said, ‘I love you, Dad.’ And then I left and that was the last conversation we had.”

Related: Harry Belafonte Remembered by John Legend, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bernice King and More After His Death

Getty Harry Belafonte
Getty Harry Belafonte

Reflecting on the lessons she learned from her father’s extraordinary life, Shari says the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer “was very true to himself.”

“I think he lived his life to the bitter end. He was 96 years old. He didn't have any regrets,” she tells PEOPLE. “So I think that's a lesson to take for most people, is to be true to yourself and go out kicking and screaming, or happy. And do what's honest for you.”

<p>SGranitz/WireImage</p> Harry Belafonte and Shari Belafonte in 2006


Harry Belafonte and Shari Belafonte in 2006

Shari previously told PEOPLE at the 2024 SAG Awards in February that there "were no huge tears" when her late father died last year.

“Harry lived a very fulfilled life with helping everybody else, and there were no regrets," she said.

"We knew that he had completed his journey on this planet, and each one of his children had something to bring, hopefully, as part of his legacy in different areas. Mine is making people aware of health education.”

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The year before Harry's death, Shari told PEOPLE that their relationship got "so much better" later in life, as he and her mother, Marguerite Belafonte, separated while she was pregnant with Shari.

"He was not the warm and fuzzy father figure depicted in early TV shows. But then, who really was? My parents separated when my mother was pregnant with me, so I did not grow up with him in our household. My grandmother and mother raised me, and they would be talking about 'Harry' — 'Harry's coming over to pick up Shari at whatever time.' So 90% of the time, I refer to him as 'Harry,' " she shared. "A few times over the years, he's gone, 'Why don't you call me 'Dad'?' I say, 'Well, okay, I'll make more of an effort to do that!' "

Paying tribute to his incredible legacy, she said, "There's a lot of icons out there, but Harry pretty much beats the band when it comes to people of color."

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