Entertainment Movies Morgan Freeman's Life in Photos In honor of his 86th birthday, take a look back at his life and career By Skyler Caruso Skyler Caruso Instagram Skyler Caruso is the Editorial Assistant of PEOPLE Digital. People Editorial Guidelines Updated on May 31, 2023 04:23PM EDT Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos Known for his iconic voice and a long list of memorable roles on stage and screen, Morgan Freeman is one of the most legendary actors working in Hollywood. Learn more about the star and his road to fame through his life in photos. 01 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Early Life Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 1, 1937. Before moving to Los Angeles to study theater, he discovered his love for acting by taking part in school plays in Mississippi where he grew up. He received a partial scholarship from Jackson State University to pursue drama — but he turned it down to join the United States Air Force, where he served from 1955 to 1959 before moving to California. 02 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Personal Life Frazer Harrison/Getty In 1959, Freeman welcomed his firstborn son Alfonso with former partner Loletha Adkins. His second son, Saifoulaye, was born in 1960, though his mother is unknown. Freeman wed Jeanette Adair Bradshaw in 1967 and the pair welcomed daughter Morgana together. Freeman also adopted Jeannette's eldest daughter, Deena, whom she welcomed during a previous relationship. Jeanette and Freeman divorced in 1979. In 1984, Freeman married Myrna Colley-Lee, but they divorced in 2010. In 2014, he told the Telegraph that he felt that he might have been too focused on acting to be a hands-on dad, but he's refocused on family life: "Now I am in my dotage, I am a great grandfather. I have 14 grandchildren." 03 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Early Career Freeman's acting career began on stage. He didn't just excel at acting, but he discovered his talent in dance as well. Marking one of his first professional gigs, Freeman was hired as a dancer at the 1964 World's Fair and was a member of the Opera Ring musical theatre troupe in San Francisco. It wasn't until he joined the The Royal Hunt of the Sun touring group that his acting career really began to take off, and he decided to pursue acting instead of dance. 04 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Theater Breakthrough Freeman acted in a few small onscreen roles early in his career, then landed an Off-Broadway role in 1967 before making his Broadway debut a year later — nabbing a part opposite Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey in an all-Black adaptation of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. Freeman held several roles on stage throughout the 1970s, including Shakespearean tragedies such as Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. He was cast as the titular role in the latter and won an Obie Award in 1980 for his work. 05 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Breakthrough Role Freeman played "Easy Reader" on The Electric Company, the Emmy Award-winning, puppet-based children's series from the same producers behind Sesame Street. The educational program debuted in 1969 and boasted an A-list cast that included Academy Award winner Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby. Freeman gained recognition from American audiences thanks to the show, but it was his role in 1987's Street Smart that he made his breakthrough. Cast as a violent street hustler, Freeman earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the film. He's also previously stated that it was one of his favorite roles. 06 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Major Hollywood Beginnings Between the late 1980s into the mid-1990s, Freeman kept very busy in Hollywood. He held four film roles in 1989, with the first being the five-time Academy Award-winning war drama Glory, in which he costarred alongside Denzel Washington. The job marked one of Freeman's first leading film roles. The second was Driving Miss Daisy, a nine-time Oscar nominee (one of which was his nod for Best Supporting Actor). The third was Lean on Me, followed by Johnny Handsome. 07 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Golden Globe Win In addition to earning an Oscar nomination for his role in Driving Miss Daisy, he also received a Golden Globe nod in the same category — and won in 1990. Over the course of his career, he's been nominated for five Golden Globes. 08 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Directorial Debut Christopher Polk/Getty Freeman starred in films throughout the early 1990s including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves opposite Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, which earned four Oscars (including Best Picture). In 1993, he stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with Bopha!, chronicling the story of a Black police officer during South Africa's apartheid period. 09 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Role in The Shawshank Redemption Freeman had a memorable performance as Ellis Boyd Red in 1994's prison drama classic The Shawshank Redemption. Director Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella amassed critical acclaim, receiving seven Oscar nominations. Freeman's role earned him Golden Globe, Oscar and Screen Actors Guild Award nods. 10 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Voice Roles In addition to his on-camera work, he's also created a name for himself as a voice actor due to his distinctive tone. His iconic voice has narrated Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, March of the Penguins and more. So what was left for Freeman to do besides be the voice of God? He did just that in Bruce Almighty and its sequel Evan Almighty. 11 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Honorary Degrees Freeman has been awarded several honorary degrees for his incredible contributions to the arts, culture and major charitable endeavors. He received an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from Delta State University in 2006, an honorary degree from Howard University in 2015 and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Boston University in 2016. 12 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Role in Million Dollar Baby Freeman's role as veteran boxing trainer Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris in Million Dollar Baby was among his most critically acclaimed over the course of his career to date. Produced, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the film was nominated for many awards. Freeman starred alongside lead Hilary Swank in the picture. 13 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Academy Award Win Freeman took home the Academy Award for his role in Million Dollar Baby, winning in the Best Supporting Actor category at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005. His work in the film also earned him Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations. Oscar nominations for Freeman have included Best Supporting Actor for 1987's Street Smart and Best Actor nods for 1989's Driving Miss Daisy, 1994's The Shawshank Redemption and 2009's Invictus. 14 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Cecil B. DeMille Award Freeman was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 69th annual Golden Globes in 2012, marking one of the numerous lifetime achievement awards the actor's been honored with throughout his career. "Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is one of the most recognizable figures in American cinema," read the Hollywood Foreign Press Association press release at the time. "His works are among the most critically and commercially successful films of all time and Freeman himself ranks 10th among worldwide top-grossing actors of all time." 15 of 16 Morgan Freeman's SAG Life Achievement Award Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Freeman also received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award for his career achievement and humanitarian accomplishments. His Electric Company co-star, Rita Moreno, presented him with the honor. Freeman's accumulated three SAG Award nominations throughout his career, winning one for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for his work in 2004's Million Dollar Baby. 16 of 16 Morgan Freeman's Recent Ventures Morgan Freeman. youtube Freeman is still an incredibly busy actor, with multiple films in theaters in 2021 and several more due out this year. He has also embarked on several ventures outside of acting, including environmental and political activism. He was also a huge advocate of the COVID-19 vaccine. In 2021, Freeman donated $1 million to the University of Mississippi to launch its Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform. He most recently starred in A Good Person alongside Florence Pugh.