James Earl Jones, sometimes credited as James Earl Boggins Jones, is one of the most celebrated American actors of the twentieth century. James Earl Jones was born 17 January 1931 in Mississippi. His father, Robert Earl Jones, was an actor and former prizefighter. However, since his parents separated shortly before his birth, his grandparents raised him on their family farm in Michigan.
As a child, James Earl Jones suffered from a serious stuttering problem and was very shy. His teachers encouraged him to work on his speech by reciting poetry he had written in front of his classmates. He also began to take acting lessons, although he admits that he still struggles to control his stuttering to this day. Of course, since James Earl Jones is known throughout the world for his distinctive baritone voice, his story is often cited as proof that even the most difficult of challenges can be overcome with hard work and determination.
James Earl Jones has been working steadily as an actor since the early 1960s—an impressive feat considering that very few roles were available for African-American men at this time. His big screen debut was in 1963’s Dr. Strangelove . In 1968, James Earl Jones won his first Tony Award for his performance as the first African-American heavyweight champion in The Great White Hope .
James Earl Jones is perhaps best known for voicing the Darth Vader character in the Star Wars movies. His performance earned him a spot on Premiere’s "100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time" and a mention as one of Maxim’s "50 Greatest Movie Villains of All Time." However, as an exceedingly humble man, James Earl Jones takes this praise in stride. In fact, he wouldn’t even allow his name to appear on the credits of Star Wars and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back because he didn’t feel he made a significant contribution to either film.
After Darth Vader turned him into a household name, James Earl Jones found his voice in high demand. He narrated several documentaries, helped to create an audio version of the King James Bible, provided the voice of Mufasa in the hit movie The Lion King in 1994, and became the commanding voice that informs viewers “This is CNN.”
In 1993, James Earl Jones published an autobiography titled Voices and Silences which provides an in-depth account of his childhood and struggle to build a career as a professional actor. In 1996, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 2002, he received the John F. Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his numerous lifetime accomplishments.