Nationality: American. Born: Arkabutla, Mississippi, 17 January 1931; son of the actor Robert Earl Jones. Education: Attended Norman Dickson High School, Brethren, Michigan; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, B.A. in drama 1953. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1953–55: lieutenant. Family: Married 1) Julienne Marie, 1967; 2) Cecilia Hart, 1982. Career: 1955–57—studied acting at American Theatre Wing, and with Lee Strasberg and Tad Danielewski, New York; 1955–59—performed in summer stock at Manistee Summer Theatre, Michigan; 1957—New York role in Wedding in Japan ; 1961—breakthrough role in The Blacks , New York; 1964—title role in Othello , New York; also made film debut in Dr. Strangelove ; 1965—continuing role in TV series As the World Turns ; 1968—role in Broadway hit The Great White Hope , repeated in film version,
Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick) (as Lt. Lothar Zagg)
The Comedians (Glenville) (as Dr. Magiot)
King: A Filmed Record . . . Montgomery to Memphis (Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz—doc); End of the Road (Avakian) (as Dr. D); The Great White Hope (Ritt) (as Jack Jefferson)
Malcolm X (Worth and Perc—doc) (as narrator); The Man (Sargent—for TV but released theatrically) (as President Douglass Dilman)
Claudine (Berry) (as Roop)
The UFO Incident (Colla—for TV)
Deadly Hero (Nagy) (as Rabbit); The River Niger (Shah) (as Johnny Williams); The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and otor Kings (Badham) (as Leon); Swashbuckler ( The Scarlet Buccaneer ) (Goldstone) (as Nick Debrett)
Star Wars (Lucas) (as voice of Darth Vader); The Greatest (Gries) (as Malcolm X); Exorcist II: The Heretic (Boorman) (as older Kokumo); The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Feldman) (as Sheikh Abdul); A Piece of the Action (Poitier) (as Joshua Burke); The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened (Moses—for TV)
The Bushido Blade (Kotani) (as Harpooner); Paul Robeson (Lloyd Richards—for TV)
The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner) (as voice of Darth Vader); The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story (Sarafian); Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (William A. Graham—for TV) (as Father Div)
Amy and the Angel (Rosenblum—for TV) (as the Angel Gabriel)
Blood Tide (Jeffries) (as Frye); Conan the Barbarian (Milius) (as Thulsa Doom)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand) (as voice of Darth Vader)
The Vegas Strip War (Englund—for TV) (as Jack Madrid); Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (Burton—for TV)
1877: The Grand Army of Starvation (Briers); The Atlanta Child Murders (Erman—for TV); City Limits (Lipstadt) (as Albert)
My Little Girl (Kaiserman) (as Ike Bailey); Soul Man (Miner) (as Prof. Banks)
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (Gary Nelson and Newt Arnold) (as Umslopogaas); Gardens of Stone (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sgt.-Major "Goody" Nelson); Matewan (Sayles) (as "Few Clothes" Johnson); Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (Hal Sutherland—animation) (as voice of Emperor of the Night)
Coming to America (Landis) (as King Jaffe Joffer)
Three Fugitives (Veber) (as Detective Dugan); Field of Dreams (Robinson) (as Terence Mann); Best of the Best (Radler) (as Coach Couzo)
The Hunt for Red October (McTiernan) (as Adm. James Greer); Grim Prairie Tales (Coe) (as Morrison); Last Flight Out (Elikann—for TV) (as Al Topping); The Ambulance (Cohen) (as Lt. Spencer); Heat Wave (Hooks—for TV) (as Junius Johnson); Ivory Hunters ( The Last Elephant ) (Sargent—for TV) (as Inspector Nkuru); By Dawn's Early Light (Sholder—for TV) (as Alice)
Terrorgram (Kienzle) (as Voice of Retribution); True Identity (Lane) (as himself); Convicts (Masterson) (as Ben Johnson)
Scorchers (Beaird) (as Bear); Sneakers (Robinson) (as Mr. Bernard Abbott); Patriot Games (Noyce) (as Adm. James Greer); Lincoln (Kunhardt—doc for TV) (as narrator)
Excessive Force (Hess) (as Jake, the bar owner); Percy and Thunder (Dixon—for TV) (as Percy Banks); Hallelujah (Lane—for TV) (as Old Man Taylor); The Meteor Man (Townsend) (as Mr. Moses); The Sandlot (Evans) (as Mr. Mertle); Sommersby (Amiel) (as Judge Isaacs); Dreamrider (Bill Brown)
The Lion King (Minkoff—animation) (as voice of Mufasa); Clean Slate (Mick Jackson) (as Dolby); Clear and Present Danger (Noyce) (as Adm. James Greer); Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (Segal) (as himself, uncredited); Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics (Markowitz—for TV) (as host); Africa: The Serengeti (doc) (as narrator); Confessions: Two Faces of Evil (Cates—for TV) (as Charlie Lloyd); The Vernon Johns Story (Fink—for TV) (title role)
Jefferson in Paris (Ivory) (as Madison Hemings); Cry, the Beloved Country (Roodt) (as the Rev. Stephen Kumalo)
A Family Thing (Richard Pearce) (as Ray Murdock); Looking for Richard (Pacino); Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault (La Salle—for TV) (as Dr. McDuffie)
Casper: A Spirited Beginning (McNamara—for video) (as voice of Kibosh); Alone ( Horton Foote's Alone ) (Lindsay-Hogg—for TV) (as Grey); Good Luck ( Guys Like Us; The Ox and the Eye ) (LaBrie) (as James Bing); The Second Civil War (Dante) (as Jim Calla); Gang Related ( Gang City ) (Kouf) (as Arthur Baylor); What the Deaf Man Heard (Harrison) (as Archibald Thacker)
Summer's End (Shaver) (as Dr. William Blakely); The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (LaDuca, Rooney) (as Mufasa); Primary Colors (Nichols) (voice); Merlin (Barron) (as Mountain King)
Undercover Angel (Stoller); The Annihilation of Fish (Burnett) (as Fish); Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (Kucan) (as General Solomon)
James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences , with Penelope Niven, New York, 1993.
Interview in Jet (Chicago), 4 July 1994. Interview in Jet (Chicago), 16 January 1995.
Null, Gary, Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.
Hellman, P., "The Great Black Hope," in New York , 21 October 1968.
Clark, John, filmography in Premiere (New York), June 1992.
Current Biography 1994 , New York, 1994.
Culhane, John, "How James Earl Jones Found His Voice," in Reader's Digest , July 1994.
Mesic, Penelope, "Real Heat," in Chicago , February 1996.
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When James Earl Jones was a young actor, it would have been impossible for him to have attained celluloid stardom. From the early 1950s through the late 1960s/early 1970s, only one African-American performer was allowed to achieve eminence on screen: Sidney Poitier. Such was the manner in which the racial politics of the era affected the movies. In the 1990s, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Wesley Snipes, Laurence Fishburne, and others have become movie stars—and Jones, too old to play romantic leads or action heroes, has aged into a venerable celluloid elder statesman and character actor.
Jones began pursuing an acting career in the 1950s, at which point he cut his teeth on the New York stage, often appearing with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. He was past 30 when he debuted on-screen in Dr. Strangelove , and he was barely noticeable in a minor role. His first important movie work came in 1970, when he was approaching the age of 40. In The Great White Hope , he offers a mesmerizing performance as Jack Jefferson, a character based on Jack Johnson, the first black-American heavyweight boxing champion. It was a part he had originated on Broadway two years earlier. Jones did go on to play some starring parts—most intriguingly, the first black U.S. president in The Man , and most memorably, the Josh Gibson-like Negro League home-run hitter opposite Billy Dee Williams's Satchel Paige-like hurler in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings . Over the years, Jones frequently returned to the stage, and began appearing in television movies and mini-series (with one of his more distinguished roles being Alex Haley in Roots: The Next Generation ).
But in most of his better films, including Matewan , Field of Dreams , The Sandlot , and the trilogy The Hunt for Red October , Patriot Games , and Clear and Present Danger , Jones has had supporting roles. As he began surfacing on screen with more frequency, many of his films—from Swashbuckler in 1976 through Excessive Force and The Meteor Man in 1993—have been unimpressive. Still, Jones is such an imposing presence that his impact is felt even when only his voice is employed on screen. Such is the case in the animated feature The Lion King , where he speaks the character of Mufasa, and most especially in the Star Wars trilogy, where he is the voice of Darth Vader.
In the mid-1990s, Jones has had two interesting starring roles: a back-country South African priest in Cry, the Beloved Country and a Chicago cop in A Family Thing . In these films, he is paired with a white actor (Richard Harris in the former, Robert Duvall in the latter). Both scenarios begin with the characters living in separate worlds; through the course of the story, they come to understand one another, realizing that they have much in common as human beings. In Cry, the Beloved Country , they are fathers whose sons suffer cruel fates; in A Family Thing , they are, in fact, half-brothers. The manner in which they learn to coexist serves to present a humanistic antidote to the racial polarization that pervades contemporary society.
While publicizing A Family Thing , Jones noted, "We are who we are for much more interesting reasons than our color": a deeply humane observation, which reflects upon his own life and career as much as it does the theme of the movie he was promoting.