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James Earl Jones


James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones
Jones in 2010
Born (1931-01-17) January 17, 1931
Arkabutla, Mississippi, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan
Occupation Actor
Years active 1953–present
Spouse(s) Julienne Marie (divorced)
Cecilia Hart (1982–present)
James Earl Jones's voice
Recorded December 2009 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Front Row

James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931)[1] is an American actor who in a career of more than 60 years has become known as "one of America's most distinguished and versatile" actors[2] and "one of the greatest actors in American history."[3] Since his Broadway debut in 1957, Jones has won many awards, including a Tony Award and Golden Globe Award for his role in The Great White Hope. Jones has won three Emmy Awards, including two in the same year in 1991, and he also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the film version of The Great White Hope. He is also known for his voice acting, most notably as Darth Vader in the Star Wars film series and Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King, as well as many other film, stage, and television roles.

As a child Jones overcame a stutter that lasted for several years. A pre-med major in college, he went on to serve as a U.S. Army Ranger during the Korean War, before pursuing a career in acting.

On November 12, 2011, he received an Honorary Academy Award.[3]

Early life


James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, son of Robert Earl Jones (1910–2006), an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family shortly after James Earl's birth, and his wife Ruth (Connolly) Jones, a teacher and maid.[1][4] Jones and his father reconciled many years later. Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents, farmers John Henry and Maggie Connolly.[5] He is multiracial, with African, Irish, and Native American ancestry.[6][7]

Jones describes his grandmother, Maggie, as "the most racist person I have ever known", thus forcing him to develop his own independent thinking. His grandmother was of Cherokee, Choctaw, and black ancestry.[8]

He moved to his grandparents' farm in Jackson, Michigan, when he was five, but the transition was traumatic and he developed a stutter so severe he refused to speak. When he moved to Brethren, Michigan, in later years, a teacher at the Brethren schools helped him overcome his stutter. He remained functionally mute for eight years, until he entered high school. He credits his English teacher, Donald Crouch, who discovered he had a gift for writing poetry, with helping him end his silence.[4] Crouch believed forced public speaking would help Jones gain confidence and insisted he recite a poem in class every day.[9] "I was a stutterer. I couldn't talk. So my first year of school was my first mute year, and then those mute years continued until I got to high school."[10]


After being educated at the Browning School for boys in his high school years and graduating from Brethren High School in Brethren, Michigan, Jones attended the University of Michigan where he was a pre-med major.[4] He joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and excelled. He felt comfortable within the structure of the military environment, and enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow cadets in the Pershing Rifles Drill Team and Scabbard and Blade Honor Society.[11] During the course of his studies, Jones discovered he was not cut out to be a doctor. Instead he focused on drama with the thought of doing something he enjoyed, before, he assumed, he would have to go off to fight in the Korean War. After four years of college, Jones graduated from the university in 1955.[12]


With the war intensifying in Korea, Jones expected to be sent to the war as soon as he received his commission as a second lieutenant. As he waited for his orders, he worked as a part-time stage crew hand at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan, where he had earlier performed. Jones was commissioned in mid 1953 and reported to Fort Benning to attend Infantry Officers Basic Course. He then attended Ranger School and received his Ranger Tab (although he stated during an interview on the BBC's The One Show, screened on November 11, 2009, that he "washed out" of Ranger training). He was initially to report to Fort Leonard Wood, but his unit was instead sent to establish a cold weather training command at the Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado. His battalion became a training unit in the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains. Jones was promoted to first lieutenant prior to his discharge.[13] He then moved to New York, where he studied at the American Theatre Wing, working as a janitor to support himself.

Film and stage career

Early career

Jones began his acting career at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan. In 1953 he was a stage carpenter. During the 1955–57 seasons he was an actor and stage manager. He performed his first portrayal of Shakespeare’s Othello in this theater in 1955.[14] His early career also included an appearance in the ABC radio anthology series Theatre-Five.[15]

Stage roles

Jones performs Othello's Act I, scene III monologue from Shakespeare's Othello at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009.

Audio only

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Jones is an accomplished stage actor; he has won Kennedy Center Honors in 2002.

On April 7, 2005, James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams headed the cast in an African-American Broadway revival version of On Golden Pond, directed by Leonard Foglia and produced by Jeffrey Finn.[4]

In February 2008, he starred on Broadway as Big Daddy in a limited-run, all-African-American production of Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Debbie Allen and mounted at the Broadhurst Theatre.

In November 2009, James reprised the role of Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at the Novello Theatre in London's West End. This production also stars Sanaa Lathan as Maggie, Phylicia Rashad as Big Mamma, and Adrian Lester as Brick.

In October 2010, Jones returned to the Broadway stage in Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy along with Vanessa Redgrave at the Golden Theatre.[16]

In November 2011, Jones starred in Driving Miss Daisy in London's West End, and on November 12 Jones received his honorary Oscar in front of the audience at the Wyndham's Theatre, which was presented to him by Ben Kingsley.[17]

In March 2012, Jones played the role of President Art Hockstader in Gore Vidal's The Best Man on Broadway at the Schoenfeld Theatre. Earning Jones a Tony nomination for Best Performance in a Lead Role in a Play. The play also starred Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette (as candidate William Russell), Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack (as candidate Senator Joseph Cantwell), Jefferson Mays, Michael McKean and Kerry Butler, with direction by Michael Wilson.[18][19]

In 2013, Jones starred opposite Vanessa Redgrave in a production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Mark Rylance at The Old Vic, London.[20]

Film roles

His first film role was as a young and trim Lt. Lothar Zogg, the B-52 bombardier in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964. In 1967 Jones portrayed a surgeon and Haiti rebel leader in The Comedians.

His first starring film role came with his portrayal of boxer Jack Jefferson in 1970's The Great White Hope; a reprise of the role he had performed on Broadway play, which was based on the life of boxer Jack Johnson. For his role, Jones was nominated Best Actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making him the second African-American male performer (following Sidney Poitier) to receive a nomination.[4]

In 1974, Jones co-starred with Diahann Carroll in the film Claudine, the story of a woman who raises her six children alone after two failed and one "almost" marriage.

Jones also played the villain Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, "Few Clothes" Johnson in John Sayles' Matewan, the author Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, the feared neighbor Mr. Mertle in The Sandlot, King Jaffe Joffer in Coming to America, Reverend Stephen Kumalo in Cry, the Beloved Country, Raymond Lee Murdock in A Family Thing, and Vice Admiral James Greer in The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, among many other roles.

Voice roles

Jones is also well known as the voice of Darth Vader in the 1977 film Star Wars and its sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Darth Vader was portrayed in costume by David Prowse in the film trilogy, with Jones dubbing Vader's dialogue in postproduction due to Prowse's strong West Country accent being unsuitable for the role.[21] At his own request, Jones was uncredited for the original releases of the first two Star Wars films, though he later would be credited for the first film in its 1997 "Special Edition" re-release. As he explained in a 2008 interview;

"When Linda Blair did the girl in The Exorcist, they hired Mercedes McCambridge to do the voice of the devil coming out of her. And there was controversy as to whether Mercedes should get credit. I was one who thought no, she was just special effects. So when it came to Darth Vader, I said, no I'm just special effects. But it became so identified that by the third one, I thought, OK I'll let them put my name on it."[22]

Although uncredited, Jones's voice is possibly heard as Vader at the conclusion of Lucas about that. I don't know."[22]

His other voice roles include Mufasa in the 1994 animated Disney film The Lion King and its direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. Archive recordings from the film would later be used for the English version of the 2006 video game Kingdom Hearts II, since Jones himself did not reprise the role. He also voiced the Emperor of the Night in Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night and Ommadon in Flight of Dragons.

In 1990, Jones performed voice work for The Simpsons first "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special, in which he was the narrator for the Simpsons' version of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven". In 1992, Jones was often seen as the host on the video tele-monitor for the Sea World resort in Orlando, Florida.

In 1996, he recited the classic baseball poem Casey at the Bat, with the accompaniment of arranger/composer Steven Reineke and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

He also has done the CNN tagline, "This is CNN", as well as "This is CNN International", and the opening for CNN's morning show New Day.

Jones was also a longtime spokesman for Bell Atlantic and later Verizon. The opening for NBC's coverage of the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics; "the Big PI in the Sky" (God) in the computer game Under a Killing Moon; a Claymation film about The Creation; and several other guest spots on The Simpsons.

Jones narrated all 27 books of the New Testament in the audiobook James Earl Jones Reads the Bible.[23]

More recently, Jones reprised his voice role of Darth Vader for an extended cold opening featured on the ABC broadcast of the first episode of Star Wars Rebels.[24]

Television roles

Jones has the distinction of being the only actor to win two Emmys[25] in the same year, in 1991 as Best Actor for his role in Gabriel's Fire and as Best Supporting Actor for his work in Heat Wave.[2]

Jones portrayed the older version of author Alex Haley, in the television mini-series Roots: The Next Generations;[4] the GDI's commanding general James Solomon in the live-action sequences of the video game Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun; and widowed police officer Neb Langston in the television program Under One Roof, for which he received an Emmy nomination. He also appeared in television and radio advertising for Verizon Business DSL and Verizon Online DSL from Verizon Communications.

Jones appeared in the 1963–64 television season in an episode of ABC's drama series about college life, Channing, starring Jason Evers and Henry Jones. He appeared on the soap opera Guiding Light. He portrayed Thad Green on Mathnet, a parody of Dragnet.

In 1969, Jones participated in making test films for the children's education series Sesame Street; these shorts, combined with animated segments, were shown to groups of children to gauge the effectiveness of the then-groundbreaking Sesame Street format. As cited by production notes included in the DVD release Sesame Street: Old School 1969–1974, the short that had the greatest impact with test audiences was one showing bald-headed Jones counting slowly to ten. This and other segments featuring Jones were eventually aired as part of the Sesame Street series itself when it debuted later in 1969 and Jones is often cited as the first celebrity guest on that series, although a segment with Carol Burnett was the first to actually be broadcast.[4]

He has played lead characters on television in three series. First, he appeared on the short-lived CBS police drama Paris, which aired during autumn 1979. That show was notable as the first program on which Steven Bochco served as executive producer. The second show aired on ABC between 1990 and 1992, the first season being titled Gabriel's Fire and the second (after a format revision) Pros and Cons.

In both formats of that show, Jones played a former policeman wrongly convicted of murder who, upon his release from prison, became a private eye. In 1995, Jones starred in Under One Roof as Neb Langston, a widowed African-American police officer sharing his home in Seattle with his daughter, his married son with his children, and Neb's newly adopted son. The show was a mid-season replacement and lasted only six weeks.

From 1989 to 1993, Jones served as the host of the children's TV series Long Ago and Far Away.

In 1996, James guest starred in the CBS drama Touched by an Angel as the Angels of Angels in the episode "Clipped Wings". In 1998, Jones starred in the widely acclaimed syndicated program An American Moment (created by James R. Kirk and Ninth Wave Productions). Jones took over the role left by Charles Kuralt, upon Kuralt's death. He also made a cameo appearance in a penultimate episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and has guest-starred on such sitcoms as NBC's Frasier and Will & Grace, CBS's Two and a Half Men, and the WB drama Everwood. Jones also lent his voice for a narrative part in the Adam Sandler comedy Click, released in June 2006. His voice is also used to create an audio version of the King James New Testament.

In 2009, Jones guest starred in the Fox medical drama House, M.D., in season 6, episode 4, entitled "The Tyrant", as a brutal African dictator named Dibala who has fallen ill. The dictator had made threats of ethnic cleansing against an ethnic minority, the Sitibi, and the team deals with ethical issues of treating a potential mass murderer.

In 2013-14 he appeared alongside Malcolm McDowell in a series of commercials for Sprint in which the two recited mundane phone and text-message conversations in a dramatic way.[26][27]

Jones appeared as himself on the season 7 episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled "The Convention Conundrum".

Personal life

Jones was married to American actress/singer Julienne Marie; they had no children. Since 1982 he has been married to actress Cecilia Hart, with whom he has one child, son Flynn Earl Jones.[28][29]

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Result
1963 East Side/West Side Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
1970 The Great White Hope Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor Won
1970 The Great White Hope Academy Award for Best Actor Nominated
1970 The Great White Hope Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
1974 Claudine Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Nominated
1987 Matewan Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male Nominated
1990 By Dawn's Early Light Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
1990 Heat Wave Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Won
1990 Gabriel's Fire Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Won
1990 Gabriel's Fire Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama Nominated
1991 Pros and Cons Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama Nominated
1994 Picket Fences Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
1995 Under One Roof Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
1995 Cry, the Beloved Country Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor Won
1995 Cry, the Beloved Country Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
1997 Frasier Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1999 Summer's End Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special Won
2003 Everwood Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
2008 N/A Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Won
2011 N/A Academy Honorary Award Won
Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play
Other awards



  1. ^ a b "James Earl Jones Biography (1931–)". Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b Marx, Rebecca Flint. "James Earl Jones Biography". All Movie Guide. Retrieved April 12, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Sperling, Nicole; Susan King (November 12, 2011). "Oprah shines, Ratner controversy fades at honorary Oscars gala". LA Retrieved November 14, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Bandler, Michael J. (March 2008). "This is James Earl Jones". NWA World Traveler (Northwest Airlines). Retrieved April 3, 2008. 
  5. ^ "James Earl Jones – Academy of Achievement". A Museum of Living History. Academy of Achievement. Retrieved April 3, 2008. 
  6. ^ Levesque, Carl (August 1, 2002). "Unconventional wisdom: James Earl Jones speaks out". Association Management (The Gale Group). Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  7. ^ Davis, Dorothy (February 2005). "Speaking with James Earl Jones". Education Update. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  8. ^ "James Earl Jones on his 'racist grandmother'", interview with Stephen Sackur, BBC News, December 7, 2011.
  9. ^ "The daddy of them all". Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  10. ^ (Audio/Transcript). Interview with the American Academy of Achievement for the National Medal of Arts. June 29, 1996. Sun Valley, Idaho.
  11. ^ Ensian (Yearbook of the University of Michigan), p. 156 (1952).
  12. ^ "Notable Alumni". University of Michigan. Retrieved February 27, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Soldiers to Celebrities: James Earl Jones – U.S. Army". Hollywood Hired Guns. Hired Guns Productions. January 20, 2008. Archived from the original on December 27, 2008. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Ramsdell Theatre History". Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Incident on US1" archive copy at Theater Five - Single Episodes.
  16. ^ "James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave to Star in Broadway's Driving Miss Daisy". Playbill. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  17. ^ Actor James Earl Jones receives Oscar in London BBC. Retrieved November 13, 2011
  18. ^ "Gore Vidal's The Best Man" at IBDB.
  19. ^ Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth." 'The Best Man', Tony Nominee as Best Revival of a Play, Extends Booking a Second Time", May 17, 2012.
  20. ^ Trueman, Matt (December 4, 2012). "Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones to reunite for Old Vic's Much Ado". The Guardian (London). 
  21. ^ "The Green force".  
  22. ^ a b  
  23. ^ "James Earl Jones Reads The New Testament - Digital Edition". 
  24. ^
  25. ^ James Earl Jones Emmy Nominated
  26. ^ Inside James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell's Dramatic Readings for Sprint
  27. ^ Sprint Commercial (2013–2014)
  28. ^ "James Earl Jones: I'll just keep going until I fall over". Metro News. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  29. ^ "James Earl Jones Biography". 
  30. ^ "Broadway's Best". New York Times. March 5, 1985. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame members". Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  32. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated

Further reading

  • Anne Hornaday, "James Earl Jones: A Voice for the Ages, Aging Gracefully," Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2014.
  • Jones, James Earl, and Penelope Niven. James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993) ISBN 0-684-19513-5
  • Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts

External links

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