James Earl Jones’s voice is known by people of all ages


James Earl Jones’s voice is known by people of all ages – “Star Wars” fans who know him as the voice of Darth Vader, children who know him as Mufasa from Disney’s “The Lion King,” and the countless people who use Verizon phone services, for which he has been the exclusive spokesperson for many years. Listening, one would never guess that he spent his childhood as a virtual mute due to a severe stuttering problem. With the help of an extraordinary high school teacher, Jones overcame his stutter and transformed his weakness into his greatest strength.

Born in Mississippi and raised in Michigan, James Earl Jones moved to New York City in 1955 after graduating from the University of Michigan and serving in the military. In 1960, renowned Broadway producer, Joseph Papp gave Jones one of his first major breakthroughs, casting him as Michael Williams in Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” This marked the beginning of Jones’s long affiliation with the New York Shakespeare Festival, with the title roles of “Othello,” “Macbeth,” and “King Lear” among his many performances for the company.

Based on his success in the theater, he was soon offered film and television roles. In the 1960s, Jones was one of the first African-American actors to appear regularly in daytime soap operas, and he made his film debut in 1964 in Stanley Kubrick's “Dr. Strangelove.”

Among his many screen credits are leading roles in John Sayles's “Matewan” (1987), “Field of Dreams” (1989), and the film version of the Alan Paton classic “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1995). He won Emmys for his portrayal of Junius Johnson in “Heat Wave,” the 1990 television drama about the 1965 riots in Watts, and of Gabriel Bird, a disgraced cop turned private investigator, in the 1990-92 series “Gabriel's Fire.”

Throughout his varied career, however, Jones has always made his biggest impression on stage. In 1969, he won a Tony Award for his performance as boxer Jack Johnson in the Broadway hit, “The Great White Hope” (which also garnered him an Oscar nomination for the 1970 film adaptation). He won a second Tony Award in 1987 for August Wilson's “Fences.” In addition to continuing his celebrated Shakespearian work, he has also enjoyed a long-standing collaboration with South African playwright Athol Fugard, acting in “The Blood Knot,” “Boseman” and “Lena,” and the critically acclaimed “Master Harold...and the Boys,” among others.

The recipient of two Tonys, four Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy--Jones was also honored with the National Medal of Arts in 1992 and the John F. Kennedy Center Honor in December 2002.

James Earl Jones recently starred on Broadway in On Golden Pond for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

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