James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones

Jones in 2013
Born (1931-01-17) January 17, 1931
Arkabutla, Mississippi, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
Occupation Actor
Years active 1953–present
Spouse(s) Julienne Marie (m. 1968; div. 1972)[1]
Cecilia Hart (m. 1982; d. 2016)
Children 1[2]
James Earl Jones's voice
Recorded December 2009 from the BBC Radio 4 program Front Row

James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931) is an American actor. His career has spanned more than 60 years, and he has been described as "one of America's most distinguished and versatile" actors[3] and "one of the greatest actors in American history."[4] 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 roles 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.

Jones has been said to possess "one of the best-known voices in show business, a stirring basso profundo that has lent gravel and gravitas to" his projects, including live-action acting, voice acting, and commercial voice-overs.[5][6]

As a child Jones had a stutter. In his episode of Biography, he said he overcame the affliction through poetry, public speaking, and acting, although it lasted for several years. A pre-med major in college, he went on to serve in the United States Army during the Korean War before pursuing a career in acting.

On November 12, 2011, he received an Honorary Academy Award.[4] On November 9, 2015, Jones was honored to receive the Voice Arts Icon Awards.[7]

Early life


Robert Earl Jones, James Earl Jones' father, in 1938

James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi on January 17, 1931,[8] 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.[9][10] Jones and his father reconciled many years later. Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents, farmers John Henry and Maggie Connolly.[11] His parents were both African-American, and he has said that he also has Irish and Native American ancestry.[12][13]

Jones has described 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 African-American, Cherokee and Choctaw ancestry.[14]

At the age of five, Jones moved to his grandparents' farm in Jackson, Michigan. He found the transition to be traumatic, and developed a stutter so severe he refused to speak. When he moved to Brethren, Michigan, a teacher 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.[10] Crouch urged him to challenge his disinclination to speak.[15] "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."[16]


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 initially a pre-med major.[10] 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.[17] During the course of his studies, Jones discovered he was not cut out to be a doctor. Instead he focused on drama at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance 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.[18]


With the war intensifying in Korea, Jones expected to be deployed 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 former 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.[19] 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

External audio
James Earl Jones talks with Studs Terkel on WFMT ; 1968/02, 49:25, Studs Terkel Radio Archive[20]

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.[21] His early career also included an appearance in the ABC radio anthology series Theatre-Five.[22]

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 Tony awards in 1969 for The Great White Hope and in 1987 for Fences. He has acted in many Shakespearean roles: Othello, King Lear, Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Abhorson in Measure for Measure, and Claudius in Hamlet. Jones played Lennie on Broadway in the 1974 Brooks Atkinson Theatre production of the adaptation of Steinbeck's novella, "Of Mice and Men", with Kevin Conway as George and Pamela Blair as Curley's Wife. He received 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.[10]

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.[23]

In November 2011, Jones starred in Driving Miss Daisy in London's West End, and on November 12 received his honorary Oscar in front of the audience at the Wyndham's Theatre, which was presented to him by Ben Kingsley.[24]

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.[25][26]

In 2013, Jones starred opposite Vanessa Redgrave in a production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Mark Rylance at The Old Vic, London.[27]

In 2014, Jones played the role of Grandpa in the comedy "You Can't Take it With You" at the Longacre Theatre, Broadway.

On September 23, 2015, Jones opened in a new revival of The Gin Game opposite Cicely Tyson, in the same venue where the play originally premiered (with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy): the John Golden Theater. The play will have a limited run of 16 weeks.[28]

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 Haitian 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. 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.[10]

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 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 because Prowse's strong West Country accent was deemed unsuitable for the role by George Lucas.[29] At his own request, Jones was uncredited for the original releases of the first two Star Wars films,[30] though he later would be credited for the first film in its 1997 "Special Edition" re-release.[31] 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.[30]

Although uncredited, Jones' voice is possibly heard as Vader at the conclusion of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). When specifically asked whether he had supplied the voice, possibly from a previous recording, Jones told Newsday: "You'd have to ask Lucas about that. I don't know."[30]

His other voice roles include Mufasa in the 1994 Walt Disney Feature Animation 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 monitor at SeaWorld Orlando, in Florida, US.

In 1996, he recited the classic baseball poem "Casey at the Bat" with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra,[32] and in 2007 before a Philadelphia Phillies home game on June 1, 2007.[33]

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.[34]

In 2014, Jones reprised his voice role of Darth Vader for an extended prologue featured on the ABC broadcast of the first episode of Star Wars Rebels.[35] He continued voicing Vader into season 2.[36]

In 2015, Jones reprised his voice role of Mufasa in the television pilot movie The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar.[37]

Jones will reprise his role of Darth Vader for the upcoming 2016 Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One.[38]

Television roles

Jones has the distinction of being the only actor to win two Emmys[39] 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.[3]

Jones portrayed the older version of author Alex Haley, in the television mini-series Roots: The Next Generations;[10] 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 that appeared in the PBS program Square One Television.

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.[10]

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.[40][41]

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

Personal life

Jones married American actress/singer Julienne Marie in 1968, whom he met while performing as Othello in 1964.[42] They had no children, and divorced in 1972.[43] In 1982 he married actress Cecilia Hart, with whom he had one child, son Flynn Earl Jones.[44][45] Hart died on October 16, 2016, after a one-year battle with ovarian cancer.[46]

In April 2016, Jones spoke publicly for the first time in nearly 20 years about his long-term health challenge with type 2 diabetes. He has been dealing with diabetes since the mid 1990s; he uses Invokana to help manage it.[47]

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
1969 The Great White Hope[48] Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play Won
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
1987 Fences[48] Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play Won
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 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
2005 On Golden Pond[48] Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play Nominated
2008 N/A Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Won
2011 N/A Academy Honorary Award Won
2012 The Best Man[48] Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play Nominated
Other awards


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  32. Drayer, Shannon (June 3, 2013). "Audio treasure: Dave Niehaus reads 'Casey at the Bat'". KTTH / 710 ESPN Seattle. Archived from the original on September 20, 2014. Retrieved January 31, 2015. James Earl Jones more than did the piece justice in a recording with the Cincinnati Pops in 1996...
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  37. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/11/17/lion-guard-james-earl-jones-mufasa
  38. http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/06/23/rogue-ones-darth-vader-will-be-played-by-james-earl-jones-and-a-variety-of-large-framed-performers
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  42. http://www.playbill.com/multimedia/gallery/2046/photo-archive-james-earl-jones-onstage/?slide=2
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