Movie Star Bio’s – Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is without a doubt one of the most respected actors in modern Hollywood; but how did this son of a minister & beautician go from wanting to work as a journalist, to become a double Oscar winner..?
Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is an American actor, film director and film producer. He has received much critical acclaim for his film work since the 1990’s, including for his portrayals of real-life figures such as Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Melvin B. Tolson, Frank Lucas and Herman Boone. He has been a featured actor in the films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and was a frequent collaborator of the late director Tony Scott.
Early life and education
Washington was born in Mount Vernon, near New York City. His father, Reverend Denzel Hayes Washington, Sr., a native of Buckingham County, Virginia, served as an ordained Pentecostal minister, and also worked for the Water Department and at a local department store, S. Klein. His mother, Lennis “Lynne”, was a beauty parlor owner and operator born in Georgia and partly raised in Harlem.
Washington attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon until 1968. When he was 14, his parents broke up, and his mother sent him to a private preparatory school, Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York. “That decision changed my life,” Washington later said, “because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going. The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.” After Oakland, Washington next attended Mainland High School, a public high school in Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1970 to 1971. He was interested in attending Texas Tech University: “I grew up in the Boys Club in Mount Vernon, and we were the Red Raiders. So when I was in high school, I wanted to go to Texas Tech in Lubbock just because they were called the Red Raiders and their uniforms looked like ours.” Washington attended Texas College, and earned a B.A. in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. At Fordham he played collegiate basketball as a guard under coach P. J. Carlesimo. After a period of indecision on which major to study and dropping out of school for a semester, Washington worked as creative arts director at an overnight summer camp, Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. He participated in a staff talent show for the campers and a colleague suggested he try acting.
Returning to Fordham that fall with a renewed purpose, Washington enrolled at the Lincoln Center campus to study acting, and where he was given the title roles in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Shakespeare’s Othello. He then attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he stayed for one year before returning to New York to begin a professional acting career.
Career – Early work
Washington spent the summer of 1976 in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, in summer stock theater performing Wings of the Morning, the Maryland State play, which was written for him by incorporating an African-American character/narrator based loosely on the historical figure from early colonial Maryland, Mathias Da Sousa. He also filmed a series of commercials in the Fruit of the Loom ensemble, as Grapes. Shortly after graduating from Fordham, Washington made his screen acting debut in the 1977 made-for-television film Wilma, and his first Hollywood appearance in the 1981 film Carbon Copy. He shared a 1982 Distinguished Ensemble Performance Obie Award for playing Private First Class Melvin Peterson in the Off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company production A Soldier’s Play which premiered November 20, 1981.
A major career break came when he starred as Dr. Phillip Chandler in NBC’s television hospital drama St. Elsewhere, which ran from 1982 to 1988. He was one of only a few African-American actors to appear on the series for its entire six-year run. He also appeared in several television, motion picture and stage roles, such as the films A Soldier’s Story (1984), Hard Lessons (1986) and Power (1986). In 1987 he starred as South African anti-apartheid political activist Steven Biko in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom, for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1989 Washington won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a defiant, self-possessed ex-slave soldier in the film Glory. That same year, he appeared in the film The Mighty Quinn; and in For Queen and Country, where he played the conflicted and disillusioned Reuben James, a British soldier who, despite a distinguished military career, returns to a civilian life where racism and inner city life lead to vigilantism and violence.
In 1990, Washington starred as Bleek Gilliam in the Spike Lee film Mo’ Better Blues. In 1992, he starred as Demetrius Williams in the romantic drama Mississippi Masala. Washington was reunited with Lee to play one of his most critically acclaimed roles, the title character of 1992’s Malcolm X. His performance as the black nationalist leader earned him another nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The next year he played the lawyer of a gay man with AIDS in the 1993 film Philadelphia. During the early and mid-1990s, Washington starred in several successful thrillers, including The Pelican Brief and Crimson Tide, as well as in the comedy Much Ado About Nothing. In 1996, he played a US Army officer who, despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander’s worthiness for the Medal of Honor in Courage Under Fire with Meg Ryan. In 1996 he appeared with Whitney Houston in the romantic drama The Preacher’s Wife.
In 1998, Washington starred in Spike Lee’s film He Got Game. Washington played a father serving a six-year prison term when the prison warden offers him a temporary parole to convince his top-ranked high-school basketball player son (Ray Allen) to sign with the governor’s alma mater, Big State. The film was Washington’s third collaboration with Lee.
In 1999, Washington starred in The Hurricane, a film about boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, whose conviction for triple murder was overturned after he spent almost 20 years in prison. A former reporter, who was angry that the film portrayed Carter as innocent despite the overturned conviction, began a campaign to pressure Academy Award voters not to vote for the film. Washington did receive a Golden Globe Award in 2000 and a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival for the role.
In 2010 Washington presented the Arthur Ashe ESPY Award to Loretta Claiborne for her courage. He later appeared as himself, presenting the award, in the conclusion of the film The Loretta Claiborne Story.
When Washington won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Movie in 2000, he observed: “No African-American has won Best Actor in the Golden Globes since Sidney Poitier.” He was the first black actor to win the award in 36 years.
Washington won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his next film, the 2001 cop thriller Training Day, where he played Detective Alonzo Harris, a rogue and evil Los Angeles cop with questionable law-enforcement tactics. He was the second African-American performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. The first was Sidney Poitier, who was presented with an Honorary Academy Award the same night. Washington currently holds the records for most Oscar nominations (six) and the most wins (two) by an actor of African descent.
After appearing in 2002’s box office success, the healthcare-themed John Q., Washington directed his first film, a well-reviewed drama called Antwone Fisher, in which he also co-starred.
Between 2003 and 2004 Washington appeared in a series of thrillers that performed generally well at the box office, including Out of Time, Man on Fire, and The Manchurian Candidate. In 2006, he starred in Inside Man, a Spike Lee-directed bank heist thriller co-starring Jodie Foster and Clive Owen, released in March, and Déjà Vu.
In 2006 Washington worked alongside multi-talented Irish off-rock band The Script on a project combining music and Hollywood. The hybrid of genres was critically acclaimed, but didn’t receive much mainstream attention due to legal conflicts between The Script’s record label and Denzel’s studio commitments.
In 2007 Washington co-starred with Russell Crowe, for the second time after 1995’s Virtuosity, in American Gangster. He also directed and starred in the drama The Great Debaters with Forest Whitaker. He next appeared in Tony Scott’s 2009 film The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (a remake of the 1974 thriller of the same name), where he played New York City subway security chief Walter Garber opposite John Travolta’s villain.
Return to theater
In the summer of 1990, Washington appeared in the title role of the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In 2005, he appeared onstage again as Marcus Brutus in a Broadway production of Julius Caesar. Despite mixed reviews, the production’s limited run was a consistent sell-out. In the spring of 2010, Washington played Troy Maxson, opposite Viola Davis, in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play on June 13, 2010.
From April to June of 2014, Washington played the leading role in the Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Kenny Leon. The show received positive reviews and won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.
In 2010, Washington starred in The Book of Eli, a post-Apocalyptic drama set in the near future. Also in 2010, he starred as a veteran railroad engineer in the action film Unstoppable, about an unmanned, half-mile-long runaway freight train carrying dangerous cargo. The film was his fifth and final collaboration with director Tony Scott, following Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004), Déjà Vu (2006) and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009).
In 2012, Washington starred in Flight, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He co-starred with Ryan Reynolds in Safe House, where he prepared for his role by subjecting himself to a torture session that included waterboarding.
In 2014, Washington starred in The Equalizer, an action thriller film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk, based on the television series of same name starring Edward Woodward.
On June 25, 1983, Washington married Pauletta Pearson, whom he met on the set of his first screen work, the television film Wilma. The couple has four children: John David (b. July 28, 1984), a football player who signed with the St. Louis Rams in May 2006, after playing with the United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions (and before that, college football at Morehouse); Katia (b. November 27, 1986) who graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2010; and twins Olivia and Malcolm (b. April 10, 1991). Malcolm graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in film studies, and Olivia played a role in Lee Daniels’s film The Butler. In 1995, Denzel and Pauletta renewed their wedding vows in South Africa with Archbishop Desmond Tutu officiating.
Washington is a devout Christian, and has considered becoming a preacher. He stated in 1999, “A part of me still says, ‘Maybe, Denzel, you’re supposed to preach. Maybe you’re still compromising.’ I’ve had an opportunity to play great men and, through their words, to preach. I take what talent I’ve been given seriously, and I want to use it for good.” In 1995, he donated $2.5 million to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ facility in Los Angeles. Washington says he reads the Bible daily.
Washington has served as the national spokesperson for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993 and has appeared in public service announcements and awareness campaigns for the organization. In addition, he has served as a board member for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1995.
In mid-2004, Washington visited Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston, where he participated in a Purple Heart ceremony, presenting medals to three Army soldiers recovering from wounds they received while stationed in Iraq. He also visited the fort’s Fisher House facilities, and after learning that it had exceeded its capacity, made a substantial donation to the Fisher House Foundation. Washington’s other charitable contributions include $1 million to the Children’s Fund of South Africa and $1 million to Wiley College to resuscitate the college’s debate team.
Washington is an Independent voter. He supported Barack Obama in 2008.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia named Washington as one of three people (the others being directors Oliver Stone and Michael Moore) with whom they were willing to negotiate for the release of three defense contractors the group had held captive from 2003 to 2008.
On May 18, 1991, Washington was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Fordham University, for having “impressively succeeded in exploring the edge of his multifaceted talent.” In 2011 he donated $2 million to Fordham for an endowed chair of the theatre department, as well as $250,000 to establish a theatre-specific scholarship at the school. He also received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Morehouse College on May 20, 2007. and an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania on May 16, 2011.
In 2008, Washington visited Israel with a delegation of African-American artists in honor of the state’s 60th birthday.
In April 2014, Washington presented at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition with Bryan Cranston, Idina Menzel and Fran Drescher, after raising donations at his Broadway show Raisin in the Sun.
Washington has received two Golden Globe awards and a Tony Award, and two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Glory (1989) and Best Actor for Training Day (2001).