James Earl Jones
Date of Birth: January 17, 1931
James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, to Ruth Connolly and Robert Earl Jones. His father, a successful film actor who appeared in the Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting (1973) alongside Robert Redford and Witness (1985) alongside Harrison Ford, left the family before James was born.
James was subsequently sent to his grandparents in Michigan to be raised. He later graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in drama in 1953, before entering the U.S. Army for a brief stint.
Upon his return, James enrolled at the American Theatre Wing to study with renowned acting teacher, Lee Strasberg. Shortly after making his Off-Broadway debut in 1957, he was cast on Broadway in the 1958 play Sunrise at Campobello by Dore Schary at the Cort Theatre. The play ran for 558 performances, closing on May 30, 1959.
James appeared in many more plays over the next few years, including Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1962), the title role in Othello (1964 - 65), Coriolanus (1965) and Troilus and Cressida (1965).
In 1962 James made his first television appearance with a role on the TV series Monitor. His feature film debut came in the box office hit Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), in the role of Lt. Lothar Zogg. That same year, he earned his first Primetime Emmy nomination for his guest role as Joe in the TV series East Side/West Side (1963).
In 1966 James made guest appearances on the soap operas Guiding Light and As the World Turns as well as playing a recurring role as Dr. Lou Rush on the popular TV series Dr. Kildare.
His starring role opposite Jane Alexander in the feature film The Great White Hope (1970) earned James his first Oscar nomination. He'd won a Tony for the same role in the stage version in 1969. Although he didn't win the Oscar, he did win a Golden Globe as "Most Promising Newcomer - Male" in 1971 for his role.
His film and TV roles are too numerous to mention, but there is one role he is most often affiilated with—providing the voice of Darth Vader in many Star Wars films over the years, starting with the original now (now titled Episode IV - A New Hope) in 1977.
He has also earned many Lifetime Achievement Awards, including an Honorary Oscar in 2002, the Joseph Plateau Life Achievement Award in 1995, a 1995 Career Achievement Award from the National Board of Review, and a 2009 Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. He was also honored at The Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tony Awards in 2017.
He is the winner of two Primetime Emmy Awards, both in 1991—one for his starring role on the TV series Gabriel's Fire and the other for the TV movie Heat Wave. In 2000 he added a Daytime Emmy to his collection for his work in the children's special Summer's End.
He also returned to stage regularly and won another Tony in 1987 for his work in the Broadway play Fences by August Wilson.
Most recently, James provided the voice of Mufasa for Disney's live-action remake The Lion King (2019)—the same role he voiced in the 1994 animated film as well as several subsequent videos.
James was married to Cecilia Hart for 34 years, until her death in 2016. They have a son together named Flynn Earl Jones.