James Earl Jones established himself as one of Hollywood’s top actors when he began his career more than six decades ago. The Tony winner has also lit up Broadway stages, voiced several iconic movie characters and has a resume full of tremendous accolades. He has made quite the transformation in the spotlight since his rise to fame.
James, born in 1931, initially wanted to become a doctor before he fell in love with theater. The Mississippi native overcame a stutter at a young age, later leading him to discover that he had a passion for storytelling and acting. After serving in the Korean War, James began performing in Shakespeare’s Othello, a role he reprised many times during his career.
“I love any form of performance,” the City Limits star told the New York Times in May 2012. “I love any way of expressing ideas through words. It’s probably because I didn’t express myself through words for a long time.”
All through the ‘60s, James continued his work in Shakespearean plays and also began starring in films. Some of his earliest onscreen roles include 1964’s Dr. Strangelove and 1967’s The Comedians. He earned both an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the 1970 film The Great White Hope after starring in the play of the same name. In 1977, James voiced villain Darth Vader in Star Wars, a role that solidified his status as a top-name voiceover artist.
The Claudine actor continued to balance his career in film and theater, starring in Of Mice and Men on Broadway in 1973. In 1988, James starred in Coming to America alongside Eddie Murphy. He reprised his role of King Jaffe Joffer in the film’s 2021 sequel, Coming 2 America.
“Of the countless characters I’ve portrayed, King Jaffe Joffer remains one of the most enjoyable and iconic characters I’ve had the pleasure of playing,” the film icon told People in December 2020. “With his regal and commanding presence as the ruler of Zamunda, I reveled at bringing his presence to life for Coming to America in 1988. And now, over 30 years later, I am honored to reprise my role once again in the sequel, Coming 2 America.”
In addition to his prestigious acting career, The Lion King star became a father in 1982 when he welcomed his son, Flynn Earl Jones, with his second wife, Cecilia Hart. The pair met after starring in the 1979 series Paris. Hart died from ovarian cancer in 2016, but James continues to honor her memory. He shared an emotional tribute to her before accepting the Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
“I want to thank my wife Ceci for being such a wonderful companion in my life and in my work,” he said. “And, for being the great coproducer of our son Flynn and for being so dazzling on the red carpet.”
Keep scrolling to see photos of James’ Hollywood transformation.
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