Academy Award–winning actor Morgan Freeman was born on 1 June 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee. After living in Charleston, Mississippi; Chicago; and Gary, Indiana, he graduated from high school in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Freeman attended Los Angeles Community College and spent several years in the US Air Force before seeking acting jobs in Hollywood. He traveled between the West Coast and New York, accumulating roles in small productions until his November 1967 Broadway debut as Rudolph in Hello, Dolly! From 1971 to 1976 Freeman played the role of Easy Reader on the PBS children’s program The Electric Company. His 1978 portrayal of Zeke in Richard Wesley’s The Mighty Gents earned excellent critical reviews and the Clarence Derwent Award as the season’s most promising male newcomer, the Drama Desk Award for outstanding featured actor in a play, and a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a featured role. He continued working in live theater through the early 1980s, earning the Village Voice’s Obie Award for performances in Coriolanus (1979) under the auspices of the New York Shakespeare Festival and Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (1980).
Freeman’s first film appearance was an uncredited role in A Man Called Adam (1966). He made intermittent film and television appearances through the 1970s and early 1980s before his film work began gathering widespread critical acclaim. His portrayal of the pimp Fast Black in 1987’s Street Smart earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His portrayal of principal Joe Clark in Lean on Me (1989) was widely praised, although the film itself was not a commercial or critical success. That same year Freeman played Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins in the Civil War epic Glory, which he describes as the most satisfying role he has ever done. His other noteworthy parts include an aging gunfighter in Unforgiven (1992) and four more performances for which he received Academy Award nominations: the chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), a prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), a boxing trainer in Million Dollar Baby (2004, for which he won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor), and South African president Nelson Mandela in Invictus (2009). He has also played God—twice.
Freeman’s work has been lauded by critics as well as others in the movie industry. In a rave review of Street Smart, New Yorker writer Pauline Kael asked, “Is Morgan Freeman the greatest American actor?” Directors mention his name in the same breath with such industry heavyweights as Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Freeman remains highly regarded and in high demand as both an actor and a narrator. He was also featured in the documentary film Prom Night in Mississippi (2009), which detailed his funding of Charleston’s first integrated prom. In 2007 Freeman received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. He received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2012 Golden Globes ceremony.
Freeman has also worked behind the camera, making his directorial debut with Bopha! (1993) and forming a production company, Revelations Entertainment, with producer Lori McCreary in 1997. In addition, he is part owner of Clarksdale’s Ground Zero Blues Club.
- Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide website, www.allmovie.com
- Jill Daniel, in Biography, vol. 6 (2002)
- Ground Zero Blues Club website, www.groudzerobluesclub.com
- Internet Movie Database website, www.imdb.com
- Charles Moritz, ed., Current Biography Yearbook (1991)
- Miranda Spencer, in Biography, vol. 7 (2003)