James Earl Jones
(actor, born January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi)
James Earl Jones possesses one of the most instantly recognizable
voices in entertainment history: a commanding basso profundo with
a built-in echo chamber that is the very sound of authority. Jones'
great range as a performer has made him a legendary American artist.
He is a major classical stage actor-his performances as Lear and
Othello are towering achievements-but as the voice of Darth Vader,
he is evil incarnate to the billions of Star Wars fanatics. At once
he is recognized by theatergoers as one of the foremost interpreters
of great contemporary playwrights such as August Wilson and Athol
Fugard, and loved and respected by a generation of youngsters as
the lion patriarch Mufasa in Disney's animated film, The Lion King.
A giant of a man physically, Jones' reputation as an actor is of
roughly the same proportions. In The Washington Post, theater writer
David Richards wrote: "It's not just his physical size that
is imposing, what clinches the impression is the elemental force
he brings to his roles. Jones' resonant voice is capable of moving
in seconds from boyish ingenuousness to near-biblical rage and somehow
suggesting all the gradations in between."
Surprisingly, Jones suffered from a severe stutter as a child, which
left him virtually mute. The remedy he found for his affliction
was acting. As a child, he was estranged from his prizefighter father
and raised by his grandparents on a farm in Michigan. His early
years were lonely; he was quiet around other children, self conscious
about his speech problem. At the University of Michigan, where he
went to study medicine, he began to develop his voice with acting
lessons. His rapid improvement gave him an appetite for further
theatrical experiences, and soon he quit medicine to devote his
attentions to the theater.
Following military service, he moved to New York, where he attended
the American Theatre Wing and supported himself as a janitor. In
1957, he made his Broadway debut, and during the subsequent decade,
became one of the theater's most in-demand actors. In one two-year
period alone, he appeared in 19 plays, leading to his triumphs in
works by Fugard, particularly Boesman and Lena, his first
Othello for the New York Shakespeare Festival, and his 1969
Tony Award for his breakthrough role as boxer Jack Johnson in the
Broadway hit, The Great White Hope (which also garnered him
a nomination for an Academy Award in the 1970 film adaptation).
He won a second Tony Award in 1987 in Wilson's Fences, playing
a former baseball player who finds it difficult to communicate with
his son. In 1981, Jones again starred as Othello opposite Christopher
Plummer, and Mel Gussow in The New York Times claimed that "Jones
has earned the right to share the title of America's Othello with
Paul Robeson"). Coincidentally, Robeson provided Jones with
one of his finest stage triumphs when he performed his controversial
one-man portrait of the legendary actor. Later returning once again
to Fugard, he stunned audiences throughout the country in the national
tour of "Master Harold"…and the boys.
In the 1960s, Jones was one of the first African American actors
to appear regularly in daytime soap operas (playing a doctor in
both "The Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns"),
and he made his film debut in '64 in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
Jones continued to work on screen throughout the '70s appearing
in everything from documentaries about Martin Luther King, Jr. and
the Diahann Carroll romantic drama Claudine to film adaptations
of King Lear and The River Niger. In 1977, a day of uncredited voiceover
work for the character of Darth Vader in Star Wars led to screen
His finest film performances of the 1980s included his work as the
oppressed coal miner in John Sayles' Matewan and as the embittered
writer in Field of Dreams, while the '90s found him in the thick
of the Tom Clancy blockbuster trilogy-The Hunt for Red October,
Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger-as well as giving one
of his finest and most honored film performances in Cry, the Beloved
On television, he played Alex Haley in Roots: The Next Generation,
one of the three Wise Men in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth,
and a great number of guest roles in series ranging from "The
Defenders" and "Dr. Kildare" to "Touched by
an Angel" and "Homicide: Life on the Streets."
In addition to the many awards he has received as an actor-two Tonys,
four Emmys, a Golden Globe, two Cable ACEs, two OBIEs, five Drama
Desks, and a Grammy- Jones has been honored with an NAACP Image
Award as well as the National Medal of Arts in 1992.