James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi on January 17, 1931….90 years ago today. He is a 20-time Broadway veteran (most recently in “The Gin Game” in 2015) three-time Tony winner (“The Great White Hope,” “Fences,” life-time achievement); a performer in more than 90 films, including the voice of Darth Vader (Star Wars) AND Mufasa (Lion King), Oscar winner and Emmy winner….
Jones grew up on a farm, a shy kid who stuttered when he spoke…and so barely spoke. (“When you are mute, you become a good listener – it’s all one-way. You appreciate the written word. You appreciate the sound.”) He studied to be a physician in college, joined the Army, contemplated the priesthood. He worked as a janitor when first he moved to New York (“Some of the most famous off-Broadway theaters you can imagine, I washed the toilets in those places”)….He’s been an actor for nearly seven decades.
Seeing a recording of him as King Lear streaming last year reminded me of one of the times I saw him in the role at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, when I worked as an usher there. Just as he bellowed “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” it started to pour! One of the most memorable moments of live theater in a lifetime of theatergoing.