James Earl Jones, the iconic voice behind Darth Vader in Star Wars, Mufasa in The Lion King, and so much more, is a widely admired actor. Not only has he voiced characters, but he has also been a live actor in films such as “The Great White Hope” and “Field of Dreams,” just to name a few (1). His deep, resonating voice captures the audience’s attention and gives the characters he plays a powerful presence. Who else could have said the famous words, “Luke, I am your father,” with the same emotion and depth of James Earl Jones?
Although he enjoys a successful career now, he had rough beginnings. This is the story of how the man behind that legendary voice overcame great obstacles to share his gift with the world.
Born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, in 1931, James Earl Jones grew up under the care of his maternal grandparents (1). Shortly after moving to Michigan as a young child, Jones developed a severe stutter (2). His stutter shaped much of his early childhood years by making him very self-conscious and withdrawn among his peers (1). He recounts his struggle with stuttering in his autobiography Voices and Silences: “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
Eventually, a high school teacher broke through his walls of silence by encouraging him to recite a poem he had written. This teacher’s gentle push helped Jones to become comfortable with public speaking (1). Jones eventually found a solace in reading and reciting poetry, because it required a definite rhythm. As he beautifully described it, “I would have glorious experience reading Edgar Allan Poe aloud. I could throw back the curtains in the high school gymnasium, step out on stage with a lighted candle, and read Edgar Allan Poe-and everybody would listen. Those were special nights for me” (2).
As a young man, James Earl Jones attended the University of Michigan to pursue a medical degree, but later found his place in acting (1). Acting is another avenue where he found fluency (2). After a short time in the military, Jones moved to New York where he performed plays at the American Theatre Wing. Eventually, all his courageous efforts to take control over his voice culminated into an appearance on Broadway in the late 1950’s. In the following years, James Earl Jones landed roles in Shakespearean plays, TV shows, films, and several Broadway dramas (1).
James Earl Jones continues to use his talents today. He has received many awards over the years, most notably, a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and an honorary Academy Award in 2011 (1).
James Earl Jones-a man who dared to dream, a man who never gave up-is acclaimed today for the very thing that used to hold him back. His voice resonates through years of movies and shows as a powerful testament to his perseverance. James Earl Jones serves as a beautiful example to stutterers around the world who are afraid to chase their dreams. Anything is possible, and his life is living proof. Next time you get chills from listening to Darth Vader reveal the shocking truth to Luke Skywalker, or cry from listening to Mufasa lovingly speak to his son, remember the man behind the voice–James Earl Jones.
(1) Biography.com Editors. “James Earl Jones Biography.” A&E Television Networks. http://www.biography.com/people/james-earl-jones-9357354 (accessed Sept. 5, 2016).
(2) Hasday, Judy. James Earl Jones: Overcoming Adversity. De Angelis, Therese. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998.