James Earl Jones Biography

James Earl Jones Biography on Monsters and Critics


"James Earl Jones" (born January 17, 1931) is an American Emmy- and Tony Award-winning actor of film and stage well known for his deep basso voice.


Early life

Jones was born "Todd Jones" in Arkabutla Township, Tate County, Mississippi, the son of Ruth (née Williams), a teacher and maid, and Robert Earl Jones (1910-2006), an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family before James Earl's birth. Jones and his father reconciled many years later in the 1980s and 1990s. Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents, farmers Maggie and John Henry Williams, and is of African, Irish, Choctaw and Cherokee descent.

He moved to his grandparent's farm in Jackson, Michigan at the age of five, but the adoption was traumatic and he developed a stutter so severe he refused to speak aloud. When he moved to Brethren, Michigan in later years a teacher at the Brethren schools started to help him with his stutter. He remained functionally mute for eight years until he reached high school. He credits his high school teacher, Donald Crouch, who discovered he had a gift for writing poetry, with helping him out of his silence. The teacher believed forced public speaking would help him gain confidence and insisted he recite a poem in class each day. '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'. Jones went on to graduate from the University of Michigan. He was enrolled in the ROTC at Michigan, completed Ranger training, and was an Army officer stationed in Alaska in the late 1950s. While in college, he was a member of the National Honorary Society of Pershing Rifles.

Film and stage career

His first film role was as a young and trim B-52 crewman in "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" in 1964 which was more famous for the work of Peter Sellers and Slim Pickens. His first big role came with his portrayal of boxer Jack Jefferson in the film version of the Broadway play, "The Great White Hope" which was based on the life of boxer Jack Johnson. For his role, Jones was nominated Best Actor by the Academy, with George C. Scott ultimately taking home the Oscar for his role in "Patton". He was the second African-American male performer following Sidney Poitier to receive a nomination.

In 1969, Jones participated in making test films for a proposed children's television series called "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.

He has appeared in many roles since, but is best known as the sinister voice of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" films. Darth Vader was portrayed in costume by David Prowse in the original films and Hayden Christensen in "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", with Jones dubbing over their lines in postproduction. At his own request, he is uncredited in some versions of the films. Jones cites the case of Linda Blair's Oscar nomination for "The Exorcist", when there was a campaign for Mercedes McCambridge (who provided the devil's voice) to share the nomination. Jones found this ridiculous, and did not want to find himself put in a similar position with "Star Wars".

His other voice roles include Mufasa in the 1994 Disney animated feature "The Lion King", the 1998 Disney sequel "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride" (voice clips from the former were used in the English dub of the video game Kingdom Hearts II), The Emperor of the Night in "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night", the CNN tagline ('This is CNN'), the opening teaser for NBC's coverage of the 2000 & 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 guest spots on "The Simpsons". He also reprised his voice in a credited appearance in the movie "Robots" where Darth Vader's voice appears in a voice module.

He also played as Terence Mann in the popular baseball film "Field of Dreams", Reverend Stephen Kumalo in "Cry, The Beloved Country"; Admiral James Greer in "The Hunt for Red October", "Patriot Games," and "Clear and Present Danger"; villain Thulsa Doom in "Conan the Barbarian"; and author Alex Haley in the television mini-series "Roots: The Next Generations".

Jones is an accomplished stage actor as well; he has won Tony awards in 1969 for "The Great White Hope" and in 1987 for "Fences," and his performance of Othello is considered one of the greatest in history. Other Shakespearean roles include King Lear, Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Abhorson in "Measure for Measure," and Claudius in "Hamlet." He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2002.

His other works include his portrayal of GDI's commanding general James Solomon in "Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun", a starring role in the television program "Under One Roof" as widowed police officer Neb Langston (for which he received an Emmy nomination), and television and radio advertising for Verizon Business DSL and Verizon Online DSL from Verizon Communications. He has guest-starred on such sitcoms as "Frasier", "Will & Grace" and "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 Bible.

Personal life

Jones has been married to Cecilia Hart since 1982, with whom he has one child, Flynn Earl Jones. He was previously married to the actress and singer Julienne Marie. They had no children. Both actresses have played the role of Desdemona in the same production in which Jones played Othello.


"Emmy Award"

1991 Outstanding Lead Actor - Drama Series

1991 Outstanding Supporting Actor - Miniseries or a Movie

1999 Outstanding Performer - Children's Special

"Tony Award"

1969 Best Leading Actor in a Play

1987 Best Leading Actor in a Play


"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)

"The Comedians in Africa" (1967)

"The Comedians" (1967)

"End of the Road" (1970)

"King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis" (1970)

"The Great White Hope" (1970)

"Malcolm X" (1972)

"The Man" (1972)

"Claudine" (1974)

"The Cay" (1974)

"The UFO Incident" (1975)

"The River Niger" (1976)

"The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings" (1976)

"Swashbuckler" (1976)

"Deadly Hero" (1976)

"The Greatest" (1977)

"Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977) (voice)

"Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1977)

"The Last Remake of Beau Geste" (1977)

"A Piece of the Action" (1977)

"Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)

"Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement" (1978)

"Star Wars Christmas Special" (1978) (voice)

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article about James Earl Jones.