Denzel Washington's Life in Pictures, from Early Years to Groundbreaking Work

From television to movies to Broadway, the two-time Oscar winner (who turns 68 on Dec. 28) has had an illustrious career that spans almost 40 years

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Denzel Washington's New York Beginnings

Courtesy the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Denzel Washington was born on Dec. 28, 1964 in Mount Vernon, New York. His father Denzel Sr. was a Pentecostal minister and his mother Lennis was a beauty salon owner. He is the middle child of three siblings: older sister Lorice and younger brother David. He graduated from Fordham University and furthered his studies in acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

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Denzel Washington at The Boys & Girls Club

Courtesy the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

As a young child, Washington spent a lot of time at his local Boys & Girls Club "with mentors who cared and gave me the confidence I needed to set higher goals than I might have," he wrote in an essay for Essence in 2020. The actor credits The Boys & Girls Club for helping him become the man he is today. Washington has been the national spokeperson for the organization for more than 20 years.

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Denzel Washington and Pauletta Pearson

Denzel Washington Throwbacks

The star met his now-wife of almost 40 years, Pauletta Pearson, on the set of the TV movie Wilma in 1977. The two tied the knot on June 25, 1983 and share four children: son (and fellow actor) John David, daughter Katia, and twins Olivia and Malcolm.

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Denzel Washington on St. Elsewhere

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Early in his career, Washington played Dr. Philip Chandler from 1982 to 1988 on the TV medical dramedy St. Elsewhere, alongside stars William Daniels (the future Mr. Feeny) and Ed Begley Jr.

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Denzel Washington's First Oscar

Denzel Washington

Washington was joined by wife Pauletta and mom Lennis at the 1990 Governor's Ball in L.A., the same year the actor won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Private Trip in the 1989 film Glory.

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Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

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Director Spike Lee tapped Washington to play Malcolm X in 1992, which earned him Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor and best performance by an actor, and an NAACP Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture.

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Denzel Washington in Much Ado About Nothing

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In 1993, the Oscar winner joined Kenneth Branagh, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson and Robert Sean Leonard in the romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

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Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief

Pelican Brief
Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

The star played Gray Grantham alongside Julia Roberts as Darby Shaw in 1993's The Pelican Brief.

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Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

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Tom Hanks and Washington took on starring roles in the 1994 film Philadelphia, which has been credited as one of the first mainstream films to acknowledge the AIDS crisis.

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Denzel Washington as Sexiest Man Alive


Based on his extraordinary talent, intelligence, good looks and ability to inspire, Washington was named PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive in 1996.

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Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife


During his reign as Sexiest Man Alive, Washington's character Dudley crushed over Whitney Houston's character Julia Biggs in 1996's The Preacher's Wife.

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Denzel Washington's Walk of Fame Star

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With his kids supporting him, Washington cemented his place in Hollywood history in 1998 at his hand and footprint ceremony in Los Angeles.

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Denzel Washington in The Hurricane


Washington's portrayal of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in 1999's The Hurricane earned him a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor and an NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture.

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Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans

Denzel Washington

In 2000, Washington helped share the true story of Coach Herman Boone, who was hired bys T.C. Williams High School to coach the school's first racially integrated football season, in Remember the Titans.

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Denzel Washington Makes Oscars History

74th Annual Academy Awards - Pressroom
Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Halle Berry and Washington took home the top prizes at the 2002 Academy Awards. Berry won Best Actress for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in Monster's Ball, making her the first Black woman to ever win in the category. Washington won Best Actor for playing Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day, making him the second Black actor to win in the category. The first was Sidney Poitier, who won for Lilies of the Field in 1963.

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Denzel Washington the Director

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Washington made his directorial debut and starred in the 2002 film Antwone Fisher, alongside actor Derek Luke. The two posed for a photo while promoting the film during a visit to MTV's TRL.

The star would go on to direct 2007's The Great Debaters, a 2016 episode of Grey Anatomy, 2016's Fences and more recently A Journal for Jordan, starring Michael B. Jordan.

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Denzel Washington's American Cinematheque Award

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Jamie Foxx and former costar Tom Hanks stood by as Washington received the American Cinematheque Award in 2002 for his extraordinary artistry and contributions to the arts.

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Denzel Washington with Muhammad Ali

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Washington compared punches with one of the greatest athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America President's Dinner in 2004, where the actor was being honored for his efforts in N.Y.C.

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Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning

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Dakota Fanning, who was nine at the time, and costar Washington hit the Man on Fire L.A. premiere red carpet together in 2004.

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Denzel Washington on Broadway

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Jessica Hecht looked to Washington, who played Marcus Brutus in the hit Broadway revival, on opening night of Julius Caesar in 2005.

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Denzel Washington with JAY-Z

Denzel Washington Throwbacks

Back in 2006, the A-lister sat with future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer JAY-Z and BET's 106 & Park hosts Rocsi Diaz and Terrence J.

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Denzel Washington in Fences

FENCES, from left, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, 2016, ph: David Lee, © Paramount / courtesy

Viola Davis and Washington both won Tony Awards for their work in Kenny Leon's revival of Fences in 2010. The two went on to reprise their roles in the 2016 film, which was directed and produced by Washington and earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Adapted Screenplay. Washington earned a nom for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role as Troy Maxson and Davis brought home the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Rose Maxson.

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