James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones is the American actor who voiced Darth Vader in the Star Wars film franchise. He's also known for roles in such films as The Hunt for Red October and Field of Dreams, and such shows as Frasier and Everwood.


Actor James Earl Jones was born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi. As a child, Jones developed a severe stutter, which he overcame during his high school years. He went on to star in a long list of highly successful movies and plays, becoming widely known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars film franchise. Jones won Tony Awards for his performances in The Great White Hope and Fences, and garnered an honorary Academy Award in 2011.

Early Life

James Earl Jones was born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi. His father, Robert Earl Jones, a boxer and actor, was largely absent from his life growing up. At an early age, Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents on their farm in Michigan. He is of Irish, Cherokee and African descent.

Jones developed a severe stutter in childhood, which left him terribly self-conscious and shy around other children. He refused to speak in school until a teacher helped him out of his silence during his high school years. "I had a great English teacher who believed in language," Jones later told the Hollywood Reporter. "And he 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."

Jones went to the University of Michigan to study medicine, but soon discovered acting. After college, he served in the military during the Korean War, returning to his passion of performing once he finished his service. Moving to New York City, Jones studied at the American Theatre Wing, and found a job as a janitor to make ends meet during the early days of his career.

Success on Stage and Screen

James Earl Jones made his Broadway debut in the late 1950s. For several years, he took on a variety of roles on the stage, on television and in film. Jones was active in the Shakespeare in the Park program, appearing in one of its first productions in 1962, and in 1964, he gave a tremendous performance as the title character in Othello—he would go on to play this character numerous times. In 1963, Jones picked up an Emmy Award nomination for his performance on the TV show East Side/West Side. The following year, he played Lieutenant Lothar Zogg in Stanley Kubrick's war satire Dr. Strangelove, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.

On the stage, Jones had a career breakthrough in 1966: He starred as boxer Jack Jefferson in the 1966 Broadway drama The Great White Hope, and the performance brought him his first Tony Award win. He also starred in the film version four years later, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination.

Continuing to work in theater, Jones appeared in numerous Broadway productions during the 1970s and '80s. He had starring roles in such productions as the 1974 revival of Of Mice and Men and the 1978 play Paul Robeson. In 1987, he won his second Tony Award for his work in the August Wilson drama Fences.

Acclaimed Actor

Famous for his distinctively deep and rich voice, Jones began one of his most famous film roles in the late 1970s: performing the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).