James Earl Jones is an American actor who is well known for an array of notable characters he has played in his movies. He was born in January 1931 to Robert Earl and Ruth Jones in Arkabutla, Mississippi. His father was an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family shortly after his birth. His mother was a teacher and a maid who took off shortly after. As a result, Jones was raised by his maternal grandmother and he always held feelings of resentment towards his parents for abandoning him as a child. At the age of 5, he moved to Jackson, Michigan with his grandparents. His childhood abandonment left him with deeply rooted feelings of rejection which manifested itself in a speech impediment. He developed a stutter and became reticent and shied away from public speaking. The problem got so bad that he was effectively mute for 8 years until he reached high school.
One of his teachers at school helped him to overcome his shyness by encouraging him to enroll in public speaking competitions. Surprisingly, this tactic worked rather well and Jones also began to write poetry. He gained immense self confidence by reciting a poem in class every day. After graduating from high school, Jones enrolled at the University of Michigan where he initially intended to study medicine. He decided against the profession soon and enrolled in the military. He then changed his major to drama, and enrolled at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance from where he graduated in 1955. During this time, the Korean War broke out and Jones was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He also worked as a part-time stage crew hand at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan and later studied at the American Theatre Wing.
At the age of 21, he travelled to New York to meet his estranged father who encouraged him to pursue acting. He earned his first theatre role in a production of “Wedding in Japan”. In 1959, he joined the New York Shakespeare Festival where he had a minor part in the play “Henry V”. Theatre seemed his true calling, and by 1963 he began to star as the lead in several Shakespearean plays including Othello, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet. In 1974, he played the lead role in the Broadway play “Of Mice and Men”. He appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s film “Dr. Strangelove” as well as a long standing role on the television soap opera “As the World Turns”.
One of his major roles was that of boxing champion Jack Johnson in the film “The Great White Hope”. Jones trained extensively to develop his physique and was successful in getting the part. He received a Tony Award for his performance and was also nominated for Best Actor Academy Award, becoming only the second African American actor after Sidney Poitier to receive a nomination. His other prominent film roles include the role of the villain Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” films, “Conan the Barbarian”, “The Sandlot”, “Coming to America”, “A Family Thing”, “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”. In 2002, he returned to Broadway to star in a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. His television and voice roles include “Roots: The Next Generations”, “Sesame Street”, “Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun” and “Under One Roof” (for which he received an Emmy nomination). In 2011, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award for his outstanding achievements in television and film.