Jan. 17, 1931
Born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, James Earl Jones moved to his grandparents’ farm in Michigan at age 5.
He had a stutter so severe, he hardly spoke. An English teacher realized his gift for writing poetry and had him recite poetry in front of the class, overcoming his stuttering.
At the University of Michigan, he was majoring in pre-med when he discovered drama. After training troops in the Korean War, he starred in “Othello” at the Ramsdell Theatre in Michigan. In 1967, he starred opposite actress Jane Alexander in “The Great White Hope,” loosely based on heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and society’s demand for a white boxer that would defeat Johnson. The play began at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., before moving to Broadway, where the play, Jones and Alexander all won Tonys. In the film adaptation, Jones won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.
He went on to play Shakespeare on Broadway and win another Tony, three Emmys and an honorary Oscar in 2011. The first celebrity guest on Sesame Street, he may be best known for providing the voice for Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies and for Mufasa in Disney’s “The Lion King.”
He sees the two biggest challenges to society as health and sanity. “I won’t say racism,” he said. “I say sanity because racism is a form of insanity.”
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