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James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones is one of a select few actors who have won the highest honors in the theater (two Tonys), television (Emmy), and vocal performance (Grammy). He is probably best known for his distinctive voice, having gained worldwide fame as the voice Darth Vader in the films of the first Star Wars trilogy (1977–1983); as Mufasa in The Lion King(1994); and through numerous television voiceover projects (Bell Atlantic and CNN).

Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi. He was raised in Michigan by his maternal grandparents. Jones overcame a childhood stutter with voice work. He attended the University of Michigan, beginning in medicine but eventually switching to drama as he continued to work on his voice.

Jones moved to New York City in 1955. Jones won recognition for his performance in Jean Genet's The Blacks (1961), in a cast that also included Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou. Jones made his film debut in Stanley Kubrick's classic: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). That same year he appeared in Shakespeare's Othello , a role he repeated several times, in addition to other roles in his multiyear association with the New York Shakespeare Festival. Jones played the lead inThe Great White Hope as the first African American heavyweight champion. He won a Tony for the role in 1969, and repeated the role in the 1970 film version, for which he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Through the 1970s, Jones continued to work in films and began in narration, but concentrated on the theater. His films includedClaudine (1974) and Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings(1976). He received a 1976 Grammy as one performer on a spoken voice recording of great American documents. His most far-reaching role was the brief time he spent doing the voice for the villain Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), a part originally meant for David Prowse, the actor in the actual costume. His one-man theatrical show about Paul Robeson ran in both New York and London in 1977 and 1978. He also began appearing in the works of South African playwright Athol Fugard, culminating in Master Harold…and the Boys. Jones reprised the voice of Darth Vader in the next two Star Wars sequels: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983).

Jones won his second Tony for best actor in August Wilson 's Fences (1987). In 1989 he starred with Kevin Costner in the baseball film Field of Dreams. Jones' other films include Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), and Clear and Present Danger (1994). In 1994 his voice became familiar to young cinema fans as that of Mufasa inThe Lion King.

Jones began work in television in the 1960s, one of the first African Americans to appear as a regular character on soap operas ( Guiding Light and As the World Turns ). His television series include Paris (1979–1980) and Gabriel's Fire (1990–1991). He won two 1991 Emmys: best series actor for Gabriel's Fire and for a supporting role in the TNT movie Heat Wave. In 1992 he received the National Medal of the Arts from President George H.W. Bush. He has also won the NAACP Hall of Fame Image Award and several honorary degrees. Jones published a memoir, James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences in 1997.

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