James Earl Jones' Life in Photos

The acclaimed actor, known for his iconic voicing of Star Wars' Darth Vader and The Lion King's Mufasa, is recognized as one of America's greatest performers of all time. Between the stage and the screen, take a look back at his extensive career that spans more than seven decades

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01 of 16

James Earl Jones' Early Life

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Born in 1931 in Mississippi, James Earl Jones is the son of Ruth and Robert Earl Jones. Jones' father left shortly after he was born to pursue acting in New York and Hollywood, so the two were never close until they reconciled in the 1950s.

From the time Jones turned 5, he was raised by his paternal grandparents. Growing up, he developed a stutter, refusing to talk in school. He credits a grade school English teacher for helping him overcome his stutter.

"[The teacher] 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," Jones told The Hollywood Reporter.

02 of 16

James Earl Jones' Time in the Military

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Jones attended the University of Michigan, where he was a pre-med major and a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. After realizing he wasn't cut out to be a doctor, he joined the school's drama department. He later graduated from the university in 1955.

Following the end of the Korean War, Jones was commissioned in 1953 going to Infantry Officers Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was promoted to first lieutenant before he was discharged. He later moved to New York, where he went on to study at the American Theatre Wing.

03 of 16

James Earl Jones' Broadway Debut

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Prior to his work on Broadway, Jones nabbed the role of Shakespeares' Othello for a 1955 Michigan production, the first of many times the actor would play the character.

Jones made his Broadway debut in 1957 in the short-lived play The Egghead by Molly Kazan. He was the understudy to Lloyd Richards in the show that only had 21 performances.

Wasting no time, Jones jumped into a featured role in 1958 as Edward the House Butler in Sunrise at Campobello by Dore Schary at the Cort Theater.

04 of 16

James Earl Jones' Shakespeare Sucess

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Jones held various roles in a number of Shakespeare productions in the '60s, including Othello, King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet. He's regarded as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his day.

05 of 16

James Earl Jones and Julienne Marie's Marriage

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Jones first metBroadway actress Julienne Marie while playing Othello in 1964, and the two eventually got married in 1968. They later divorced in 1972.

06 of 16

James Earl Jones and Cecilia Hart's Marriage

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Jones met actress Cecilia Hart on the set of the Steven Bochco series Paris. In 1982, Cecilia played Desdemona opposite Jones' Othello and the two wed later that year.

They had one child together, a son named Flynn Earl Jones born in 1982. Cecilia later died at age 62 after a one-year battle with ovarian cancer in 2016.

07 of 16

James Earl Jones' Film Debut

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Jones made his film debut in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964, followed by a role in The Comedians alongside Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Alec Guinness in 1967.

08 of 16

James Earl Jones' Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Wins

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Jones returned to the stage in 1967 to play Jack Jefferson in Howard Sackler's play The Great White Hope alongside Jane Alexander in Washington, D.C. Due to the show's success, it was moved to Broadway a year later. It eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as Jones' first Tony Award for best actor in a play in 1969.

Jones went on to win his second Tony Award for his role in August Wilson's Fences in 1987, followed by the Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, which is regarded as the ceremony's highest honor.

09 of 16

James Earl Jones on Sesame Street

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Jones largely impacted the success of Sesame Street as he helped create test films to gauge the show's effectiveness in educating children in 1969.

He contributed to the short that had the greatest effect on its test audience, in which he is pictured slowly counting to 10.

Jones is technically the first celebrity to appear on the show, although Carol Burnett's segment was the first to be broadcast.

10 of 16

James Earl Jones' Oscar Nomination and Win

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20th Century Fox Film Corp/ Everett Collection.

Jones reunited with Jane Alexander for the film adaptation of The Great White Hope in 1970, playing the same role he received the Tony Award for in 1969.

This marked his first leading role in a film and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, making him the second Black male performer to do so after Sidney Poitier.

11 of 16

James Earl Jones in Star Wars

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In 1977, Jones made his iconic voice debut as Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope. He later reprised the role in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi sequels.

Although he voiced the character, he didn't actually play the cloaked villain. David Prowse was the actor behind the mask, but director George Lucas didn't think his accent fit the tone of the character.

12 of 16

James Earl Jones' 1980s and 1990s Box Office Hits

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Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

In addition to the Star Wars trilogy, Jones appeared in a number of successful films, such as 1982's Conan the Barbarian, 1988's Coming to America and 1989's Field of Dreams, which was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The 1990s were busy for Jones as well as he had roles in 1990's The Hunt for Red October, 1992's Patriot Games and 1993's The Sandlot.

13 of 16

James Earl Jones in The Lion King

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Jones lent his distinctive voice to Disney's animated film The Lion King in 1994, in which he dubbed the iconic voice of Mufasa. He reprised his role in 2019's CGI remake of the classic, making him the only actor from the original film to do so.

14 of 16

James Earl Jones' Emmy Award Wins

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Throughout the 1990s, Jones starred in three television series, Gabriel's Fire, Pros and Cons and Under One Roof. Out of eight Emmy Award nominations, Jones is a two-time recipient – winning them both in the same year!

In 1991, he earned an Emmy for his role on Heat Wave, winning outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or special, and another for his role on Gabriel's Fire, winning outstanding lead actor in a drama series.

15 of 16

James Earl Jones' Voice Work for CNN

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In addition to lending his voice to iconic characters throughout his career, Jones' baritone voice became the recognizable tagline for CNN, uttering the phrases "This is CNN" and "This is CNN International," which opened the network's News Day morning show.

16 of 16

James Earl Jones' Other Honors and Awards

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Throughout his illustrious career spanning more than seven decades, Jones has been widely recognized for his work with various awards.

In addition to his two Emmys and Tonys, he's earned a Grammy and an Honorary Academy Award. Jones is technically an EGOT winner, but not formally since he never won an Oscar in a competitive category.

He also won a Golden Globe for The Great White Hope in 1970, was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2009.

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