James Earl Jones Biography

James Earl Jones is an American Television and film actor who is known for films like 'The Great White Hope,' 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'Field of Dreams'. He is also known for having voiced Darth Vader in the 'Star Wars' franchise.

Actor James Earl Jones was born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi. Jones developed a severe stutter, as a child, which he overcame during his high school years. He went on to star in a long list of successful movies and plays, becoming widely known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars film franchise. James is a two-time Emmy Award winner, won a Tony Awards for his performances in The Great White Hope and Fences, and received an honorary Academy Award in 2011.

Early Life and Education
Born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi, James Earl Jones is of African, Cherokee, Choctaw and Irish descent. His father was a boxer and actor; Robert Earl Jones, who was largely absent from his life growing up. Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents in Mississippi before moving with them to Michigan.

Jones developed a severe stutter in childhood, due to which he became terribly self-conscious and shy around other children. He generally didn't speak until a teacher helped him out of his silence during his high school years. Jones later told the Hollywood Reporter "...I had a great English teacher who believed in language and he looked at a poem I wrote and said, 'It's too good for you to have written, so to prove you wrote it, please stand up in front of the class and recite it from memory.' And I did it without stuttering. So he used that as a program to get me to talk."

Jones initially went to the University of Michigan to study medicine, but soon discovered acting. After college, he served in the military during the Korean War. Once he finished his service, he went back to his passion of performing. After moving to New York City, Jones studied at the American Theatre Wing and eventually took on the stage name Todd Jones for a little while which was inspired by a childhood nickname. To make ends meet during the early days of his career, he worked as a janitor. He also got to know his father, who was then working in the dramatic arts as well.

Stage and Screen Success
In the late 1950s James Earl Jones made his Broadway debut in the play ‘Sunrise at Campobello’. For several years, he took on a variety of roles for stage, television and film. Jones was active in the Shakespeare in the Park program, appearing in one of its first productions in 1962, and in 1964, he gave a tremendous performance as the title character in Othello, going on to play the character numerous times.

Jones picked up his first Emmy Award nomination in 1963, for his performance on the TV show East Side/West Side. He played Lieutenant Lothar Zogg in Stanley Kubrick's war satire Dr. Strangelove the following year; starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. He also starred in two soaps, during the mid-'60s, portraying doctors; ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘As the World Turns’.

Jones had a career breakthrough in 1968, when he starred in the Broadway drama ‘The Great White Hope’, as boxer Jack Jefferson which was a character based on real-world fighter Jack Johnson. He received his first Tony Award for his brilliant performance in this Broadway drama. Jack also starred in the 1970 film version of the play, for which he received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe.

Jones appeared in numerous Broadway productions during the 1970s and '80s. He had starring roles in such productions as the 1974 revival of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and the 1978 two-man show Paul Robeson. In 1987, Jones won his second Tony Award for his work in the August Wilson drama Fences.

Darth Vader in 'Star Wars'
Jones also continued with his screen work too, as the second lead with Diahann Carroll in the 1974 drama/comedy Claudine as well as portraying author Alex Haley in the acclaimed 1977 miniseries Roots and its 1979 sequel The Next Generations. Famous for his distinctively deep and rich oration, Jones began one of his most iconic film roles in the late 1970s: providing the voice of Darth Vader in George Lucas's Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).

Jones often played strong, authoritative characters on the big screen. He portrayed the villain Thulsa Doom in 1982's Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and later portrayed a king to Eddie Murphy's prince in 1988's Coming to America. He then took on the role of an admiral in 1990's The Hunt for Red October—a part he reprised in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). That same year, he lent his commanding voice to the character of Mufasa for the blockbuster animated film The Lion King.

Historic Emmy Wins
Jones thrived on TV as well as he won a pair of Emmy Awards in 1991 for his leading role on the dramatic series Gabriel's Fire and his supporting role on the miniseries Heat Wave; Thus becoming the first actor to win two Emmys in the same year in the drama category. On Gabriel's Fire, which ran from 1990-91, he starred as a former cop who was released from prison after being convicted of murder.Jones tried his hand at series TV again in 1995 with the short-lived drama Under One Roof. He's also made guest appearances on such shows as Touched by an Angel, Frasier, Stargate SG-1, The Simpsons, Everwood and The Big Bang Theory, among other programs.

'Golden Pond,' 'Tin Roof' and 'Gin'
Jones continued to be an in-demand actor and went on working in a variety of stage and screen roles. In 2005, he earned another Tony nomination for best leading actor in a play for his work on on Golden Pond, co-starring Leslie Uggams in the production. Three years later, he played Big Daddy in the African-American revival of the Tennessee Williams's classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, co-starring Terrence Howard, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad. Then in 2010, Jones co-starred with a fellow legend—Vanessa Redgrave—in the Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy. More productions followed, including The Best Man (2012), ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ (2014) and The Gin Game (2015), with the latter co-starring fellow Tony winner Cicely Tyson. Jones earned his fourth Tony nomination for his performance in the revival of The Best Man, penned by Gore Vidal, in 2012. Around this time, he again appeared on the big screen with Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson in the 2013 drama Gimme Shelter, and co-starred with Peter Dinklage and Mila Kunis in the dramatic comedy The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.

Over the years, Jones has received many accolades for his contributions to the arts, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and an honorary Academy Award in 2011. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed the award to Jones "for his legacy of consistent excellence and uncommon versatility," according to the organization's website.

Personal Life
Jones was previously married to actress Julienne Marie, with whom he co-starred in Othello. Jones wed Cecilia Hart in 1982 and the couple has one son, Flynn Earl Jones.

Jones published the memoir Voices and Silences In 1993, which looks at both his career and early family life.

Tags: USA, Actor, 1930-1939