James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones in a 2010 photo.
Born January 17, 1931 (1931-01-17) (age 80)
Arkabutla, Mississippi, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1953–present
Spouse Julienne Marie (divorced)
Cecilia Hart (1982–present)

James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931) is an American actor. He is well-known for his distinctive bass voice and for his portrayal of characters of substance, gravitas and leadership. Since his Broadway debut in 1957, Jones has spent more than five decades as "one of America's most distinguished and versatile actors"[1] and has been termed "one of the greatest actors in American history."[2] On November 12, 2011, Jones received an Honorary Academy Award.[2]


Early life


James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, the son of Ruth (née Connolly), a teacher and maid, and Robert Earl Jones (1910–2006), an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family shortly after James Earl's birth.[3][4] 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 Connolly,[5] and is of African, Irish, Choctaw and Cherokee descent.[6][7]

He moved to his maternal grandparents' 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.[4] The teacher believed forced public speaking would help him gain confidence and insisted he recite a poem in class each day.[8] "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."[9]


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 a pre-med major.[4] 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.[10] During the course of his studies, Jones discovered he was not cut out to be a doctor. Instead he focused himself on drama, 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 left without his degree.


With the war intensifying in Korea, Jones supposed he would be shipped off to the war as soon as he received his officer's commission. Instead, he went home. As he waited for his orders to active duty, he found a part-time stage crew job at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan, where he had performed before. By the end of summer 1953, Jones was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and was soon off to Fort Benning to attend Basic Infantry Officers School. While there, Jones went through Ranger School, graduated, 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). His first duty station was supposed to be at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but his orders changed, and his unit was instead sent to Colorado where the Army planned to establish a cold weather training command at the old Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado. His regiment was established as a training unit, to train in the bitter cold weather and the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains. Jones eventually earned the rank of First Lieutenant.[11] After his discharge, Jones moved to New York, where he attended the American Theatre Wing to further his training and worked as a janitor to earn a living.

Film and stage career

Early career

Jones had his acting career beginnings at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan. In 1953 he was a stage carpenter. During the 1955–1957 seasons he was an actor and stage manager. He performed his first portrayal of Shakespeare’s Othello in this theater in 1955.[12]

Stage roles

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. 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.[4]

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.[13]

In November 2011, Jones starred in Driving Miss Daisy in London's West End, and on November 12 Jones received his honorary Oscar in front of the audience at the Wyndham's Theatre, which was presented to him by Ben Kingsley.[14]

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. His first big role came with his portrayal of boxer Jack Jefferson in the The Great White Hope a reprise of the role he had performed on Broadway play, which was based on the life of boxer Jack Johnson. 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.[4]

In the early 1970s, James appeared with Diahann Carroll in a film called Claudine, the story of a woman who raises her six children alone after two failed marriages and one "almost" marriage. Ruppert, played by Jones, is a garbage man who has deep problems of his own. The couple somehow overcomes each other's pride and stubbornness and get married.

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 others.

Jones is also well-known as the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. Darth Vader was portrayed in costume by David Prowse in the original trilogy, with Jones dubbing Vader's dialogue in postproduction due to Prowse's strong West Country accent being unsuitable for the role.[15] At his own request, he was originally uncredited for the release of the first two films (he would later be credited for the two in the 1997 re-release):

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've been denying it, I've been saying it sounds like the uncola nut guy Holder. Geoffrey Holder! ... But for the third one, I said OK, I'll let them put my name on it.[16]

Although uncredited, Jones' voice is briefly heard as Darth Vader at the conclusion of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When specifically asked whether he had supplied the voice, possibly from a previous recording, Jones told New York Newsday: "You'd have to ask Lucas about that. I don't know."[16] However, on the issue of the voice, the commentary on the DVD release states that, while it will always be uncredited, any true Star Wars fan "should know the answer".[17]

Jones reprised his role as the voice of Vader several times: he is credited in the movie Robots with the voice of Darth Vader from a voice module. Playing the king of Zamunda in the comedy Coming to America, he echoed four Darth Vader phrases. He also vocally appeared as Vader in the comedy film The Benchwarmers and the video games Star Wars: Monopoly and Star Wars: The Interactive Video Board Game. Jones' voice is also used for the Jedi Training Academy attraction at Disneyland and at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Jones returned as Vader for the video game: Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. Jones also reprised his role as Vader in the new Disney attraction; Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.[18]

Other voiceover work

His other voice roles include Mufasa in the 1994 animated Disney film The Lion King and its direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. He also voiced the Emperor of the Night in Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night.

In 1990, Jones performed voice work for the Simpsons Halloween episode "Treehouse of Horror", 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 tele-monitor for the Sea World resort in Orlando, Florida.

In 1996, he recited the classic baseball poem Casey at the Bat, with the accompaniment of arranger/composer Steven Reineke and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra[19]

He also has done the CNN tagline, "This is CNN", as well as "This is CNN International", and the Bell Atlantic tagline, "Bell Atlantic: The heart of communication". When Bell Atlantic became Verizon, Jones used the tagline greeting of "Welcome to Verizon" or "Verizon 411" right before a phone call would go through. 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.

Television roles

Jones has the unusual distinction of being the only actor to win two Emmys 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.[20]

Jones portrayed the older version of author Alex Haley, in the television mini-series Roots: The Next Generations;[4] 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 1963–1964 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.

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.[4]

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 episodes 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.

Personal life

Jones has been married to actress Cecilia Hart since 1982. They have one child, Flynn Earl Jones. He was previously married to American actress/singer Julienne Marie (born March 21, 1933, Toledo, Ohio); they had no children.


Academy Awards

Emmy Awards

Golden Globe Awards

Independent Spirit Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards

Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play

Other awards

  • 1991 Common Wealth Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Dramatic Arts
  • 1992 National Medal of Arts
  • 2011 Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Monte Cristo Award Recipient


Other voice acting

  • Kingdom Hearts II (2006) (archived audio, voice)
  • Disneyland Hollywood Studios (2008) (voice)


  1. ^ Rebecca Flint Marx. "James Earl Jones Biography". All Movie Guide. http://www.allmovie.com/artist/james-earl-jones-36131/bio. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Nicole Sperling, Susan King (November 12, 2011). "Oprah shines, Ratner controversy fades at honorary Oscars gala". LA Times.com. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/movies/2011/11/3rd-annual-governors-awards-its-the-oprah-show-bret-ratner-anti-gay-slur-controversay-abates-honorary-oscars-gala-dick-smith-.html. Retrieved November 14, 2011. 
  3. ^ "James Earl Jones Biography (1931–)". Film Reference. http://www.filmreference.com/film/4/James-Earl-Jones.html. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Bandler, Michael J. (March 2008). "This is James Earl Jones". NWA World Traveler (Northwest Airlines). http://www.nwaworldtraveler.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=3BA4583DD6074B17AC433C6F1DB1729B&nm=Archives&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=EFE8668FC21A45458BA591255BB3367E. Retrieved April 3, 2008. 
  5. ^ "James Earl Jones – Academy of Achievement". A Museum of Living History. Academy of Achievement. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/photocredit/achievers/jon2-010. Retrieved April 3, 2008. 
  6. ^ Levesque, Carl (August 1, 2002). "Unconventional wisdom: James Earl Jones speaks out". Association Management (The Gale Group). http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/summary_0199-1928105_ITM. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  7. ^ Dorothy Davis (February 2005). "Speaking with James Earl Jones". Education Update. http://www.educationupdate.com/archives/2005/february/html/Black-Jones.html. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  8. ^ "The daddy of them all". heraldscotland.com. http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts-ents/stage-visual-arts/the-daddy-of-them-all-1.1007614. Retrieved 2011-11-5. 
  9. ^ James Earl Jones (June 29, 1996) (Audio/Transcript). Interview with the American Academy of Achievement for the National Medal of Arts. Sun Valley, Idaho. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/jon2int-2. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  10. ^ Ensian (Yearbook of the University of Michigan), p. 156 (1952)
  11. ^ "Soldiers to Celebrities: James Earl Jones – U.S. Army". Hollywood Hired Guns. Hired Guns Productions. January 20, 2008. http://www.hiredguns.biz/profiles/jamesearljones.htm. Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  12. ^ "Ramsdell Theatre History". Ramsdell-theater.org. http://www.ramsdell-theater.org/pages/history.asp?content=2. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  13. ^ "James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave to Star in Broadway's Driving Miss Daisy". Playbill. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/140813-James-Earl-Jones-and-Vanessa-Redgrave-to-Star-in-Broadways-Driving-Miss-Daisy. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  14. ^ Actor James Earl Jones receives Oscar in London BBC. Retrieved November 13, 2011
  15. ^ Stop Look Listen (February 14, 2006). "The Green force". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4690148.stm. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "''Newsday'': "Fast Chat: James Earl Jones", March 16, 2008". Newsday. New York. March 12, 2008. http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/stage/ny-c5611250mar16,0,5264743.story. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  17. ^ Quoted on Jedi Council Forums, November 14, 2005
  18. ^ Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (2011) - Full cast and crew, IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1643247/fullcredits#cast, retrieved October 1, 2010 
  19. ^ 1998 CD: Play Ball! - Erich Kunzel - Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Recorded 1996 with Arranger/Composer Steven Reineke and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (insert credits) - http://www.amazon.com/Play-Ball-Erich-Kunzel/dp/B0000064U5/ref=sr_1_6?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1320200952&sr=1-6
  20. ^ Rebecca Flint Marx. "James earl Jones Biography". All Movie Guide. http://www.allmovie.com/artist/james-earl-jones-36131/bio. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 


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