Home - Breaking News, Events, Things-To-Do, Dining, Nightlife


Mississippi Legends: Morgan Freeman

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • From actor to businessman to Ole Miss fan, Morgan Freeman is a true Magnolia State legend.

With his distinctive deep voice, actor Morgan Freeman has been seen on the screen and heard as a frequent narrator during his career that has spanned more than five decades. His range as an actor is impressive, from comedy to drama, in heartfelt movies to action-packed thrillers. And his work has been recognized by the industry with numerous nominations and awards, including the Kennedy Center Honor in 2008, the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 2011, and the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award in 2017.

The Early Years

Born in Memphis in 1937, Freeman spent most of his time with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi as a child. When he was 12, he won a statewide drama competition and discovered his love for music and theatre. While he moved around a bit during his childhood, he graduated from high school at Broad Street High in Greenwood, which is now the site of Threadgill Elementary, in 1955. He was offered a partial scholarship in theatre at Jackson State University, but Freeman turned it down and enlisted in the Air Force instead.

After his stint in the military, Freeman moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and took acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse before enrolling at Los Angeles City College where he majored in theatre arts. He had no trouble getting both dancing and acting gigs. He danced at the World’s Fair in 1964 and joined a theatre group in San Francisco. Soon he was touring the country in The Royal Hunt of the Sun. His first cinema job was as an extra in The Pawnbroker, a dramatic film starring Rod Steiger.

More roles followed before he had his Broadway debut in 1968. He was cast in an all-black version of Hello, Dolly that starred Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey.

National Fame

Freeman entered the consciousness of the nation in 1971 when he starred in the children’s television show The Electric Company on the Public Broadcasting System. The steady gig on national television gave him both financial stability and national fame. But doing the show was not something he particularly enjoyed.

In a 2011 YouTube video, the producer of the show, Joan Ganz Cooney, said that Freeman “loathed appearing in The Electric Company. It was a very unhappy period in his life.” He left the show in 1975.

Throughout the 1980s, Freeman continued to land more prominent roles in films with some of the most popular actors of the day, including Robert Redford (Brubaker), William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver (Eyewitness), Christopher Reeve (Street Smart), and Michael Keeton (Clean and Sober).

His real Hollywood breakthrough came in 1989 with Driving Miss Daisy, one of four films with Freeman released that year. The movie was based on the Alfred Uhry play of the same name, in which Freeman had played the character of Hoke Coburn in the stage show. He reprised the role in the film. Hoke Colburn was a chauffeur for a rich Jewish widow played in the film by Jessica Tandy. Dan Akroyd appeared in the film as well. The reviews of the film were positive, and it became a box office hit. Henry Sheehan, a critic from The Hollywood Reporter, wrote that “the performances by Freeman and Tandy complimented each other while retaining their individual star quality.” Freeman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film, one of nine of the nominations the film received. Driving Miss Daisy received the Academy Award for Best Film of the Year, and Jessica Tandy won the Best Actress award.

(Iconic image of a scene from Driving Miss Daisy)

Another major hit was The Shawshank Redemption, released in 1994. Freeman played the role of Red, a redeemed convict in the film that co-starred Tim Robbins. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Freeman was nominated for Best Actor. He lost to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.

More films followed, and in 1995, Freeman formed a film production company, Revelations Entertainment, with business partner Lori McCreary.

The 2004 release of Million Dollar Baby earned Freeman his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the sports drama starring Hillary Swank. Freeman played an elderly former boxer in the film directed by Clint Eastwood.

Baby Boomers everywhere took note of the film The Bucket List, the 2007 Rob Reiner comedy where Freeman co-starred with Jack Nicholson. The men portrayed two terminally ill men on a road trip, determined to fulfill their list of things to do before they die. Worldwide, the film grossed $175 million.

His next nomination for an Academy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor came from his portrayal of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and politician, in the biographical drama Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and co-starring Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, a rugby team captain.

Freeman continues to have multiple film releases annually, both in theatres and on streaming platforms.

Business in Mississippi

In 2001, Freeman partnered with attorney and businessman Bill Luckett to open Madidi, a fine dining restaurant in Clarksdale. The establishment became an anchor in downtown Clarksdale, drawing blues lovers, fine diners and those who admired the famous actor. Freeman and Luckett then opened Ground Zero Blues Club.

While Madidi shuttered in 2012, Ground Zero is still going strong, attracting blues lovers from around the world. The businesses helped kickstart Clarksdale into a thriving art community with live music in numerous venues seven nights a week. Luckett and Freeman were always good friends, and Freeman helped campaign for Luckett’s successful bid for mayor of Clarksdale in 2013 (and later, Luckett’s gubernatorial campaign). Luckett passed away after a short illness in 2021.

Freeman has an unabashed love for Mississippi. He chooses to live here when he can live anywhere else. He is generous, donating a million dollars with a University of Mississippi professor, Linda Keena, to fund the Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform to train law enforcement officers on better cooperating with citizens to prevent crime using more evidence-based practices.

A fan of Ole Miss sports, Freeman is frequently seen on campus, cheering on his favorite team.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Local Dining Stream

Things To Do

Related articles