“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones was born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi. His father, Robert Earl Jones, a boxer and actor, was largely absent from his life growing up. At an early age, Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents in Mississippi before moving with them to Michigan. He is of African, Cherokee, Choctaw and Irish descent.
Jones developed a severe stutter in childhood, which left him terribly self-conscious and shy around other children. He generally didn’t speak until a teacher helped him out of his silence during his high school years. “…I had a great English teacher who believed in language,” Jones later told the Hollywood Reporter. “And he looked at a poem I wrote and said, ‘It’s too good for you to have written, so to prove you wrote it, please stand up in front of the class and recite it from memory.’ And I did it without stuttering. So he used that as a program to get me to talk.”
James Earl Jones made his Broadway debut in the late 1950s in the play Sunrise at Campobello. On the stage, Jones had a career breakthrough in 1968: He starred as boxer Jack Jefferson (a character based on real-world fighter Jack Johnson) in the Broadway drama The Great White Hope. The performance brought him his first Tony Award. He also starred in the 1970 film version of the play, for which he received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe. Famous for his distinctively deep and rich oration, Jones began one of his most iconic film roles in the late 1970s: providing the voice of Darth Vader in George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).Jones thrived on TV as well, winning a pair of Emmy Awards in 1991 for his leading role on the dramatic series Gabriel’s Fire and his supporting role on the miniseries Heat Wave. He thus became the first actor to win two Emmys in the same year in the drama category. In 1993, Jones published the memoir Voices and Silences, which looks at both his career and early family life.
Over the years, Jones has received many accolades for his contributions to the arts, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and an honorary Academy Award in 2011. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed the award to Jones “for his legacy of consistent excellence and uncommon versatility,”