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By the time he was famous, it seemed as though actor Morgan Freeman already had a long and venerable career. While he worked hard for years in small basement productions in New York City and on public television's early morning kid's show "The Electric Company" (PBS, 1971-77) - which, to his chagrin, was his most widely-recognized role for many years - Freeman would not gain widespread exposure until he landed the Oscar-nominated role of the volatile pimp Fast Black in "Street Smart" (1987). Because of that performance, Freeman catapulted into national prominence, quickly becoming a household name and one of Hollywood's most distinguished performers. He was nominated again just two years later for his portrayal of Hoke Coleburn in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), a role reprised from a previous off-Broadway stint. A third nomination for "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) further cemented Freeman's already esteemed image as a quality actor. Though it took another decade to actually win an Academy Award - his performance in Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) finally earned him the golden statue - Freeman had by then firmly established himself as one of the finest and most revered performers of...
By the time he was famous, it seemed as though actor Morgan Freeman already had a long and venerable career. While he worked hard for years in small basement productions in New York City and on public television's early morning kid's show "The Electric Company" (PBS, 1971-77) - which, to his chagrin, was his most widely-recognized role for many years - Freeman would not gain widespread exposure until he landed the Oscar-nominated role of the volatile pimp Fast Black in "Street Smart" (1987). Because of that performance, Freeman catapulted into national prominence, quickly becoming a household name and one of Hollywood's most distinguished performers. He was nominated again just two years later for his portrayal of Hoke Coleburn in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), a role reprised from a previous off-Broadway stint. A third nomination for "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) further cemented Freeman's already esteemed image as a quality actor. Though it took another decade to actually win an Academy Award - his performance in Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) finally earned him the golden statue - Freeman had by then firmly established himself as one of the finest and most revered performers of his generation. Other highly acclaimed roles would follow: he played Lucius Fox in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy, starting with "Batman Begins" in 2005. He also starred in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" (2009), in which he played Nelson Mandela. Other projects included heist caper "Now You See Me" (2013) and its 2016 sequel, as well as a remake of "Ben Hur" (2016). He also began producing non-fiction programming for TV, including "The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman" (National Geographic Channel, 2017- ) and "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman" (National Geographic Channel, 2016- ), both of which he also hosted.
Born on June 1, 1937 in Memphis, TN, Freeman moved around with his family, making stops in Charleston, MS and Chicago, IL before finally settling in Greenwood, MS. Years spent watching countless movies - especially ones with horses and someone carrying a gun - prompted Freeman to want to be an actor. Encouraged by teachers at Greenwood High School from which he graduated in 1955, Freeman pursued acting only after attempting to become a fighter pilot in the Air Force. But since it was the mid-1950s, he encountered a military unwilling to allow blacks to fly. The only job available to him was radar mechanic. Though racism certainly discouraged Freeman from his dream, his realization that flying combat planes meant possibly killing others was the main reason he refocused his goals for good. After leaving the Air Force in 1961, he headed to Los Angeles, CA where he enrolled at Los Angeles City College and began his career in earnest.
At LACC, Freeman developed his signature mellifluous vocal tone with the help of diction lessons. Meanwhile, he accepted whatever job came his way, including dancer at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. Back in New York, he gained his first major exposure in 1967 in an off-Broadway production of George Tabori's "The Niggerlovers," followed by a stint as Rudolph in an all-black version of "Hello, Dolly!" But the parts in those days were few and far between for Freeman - a lack of extensive connections forced him to ping-pong from coast to coast in search of roles and various odd jobs. In 1971, Freeman became Easy Reader on "The Electric Company" - a cool and hip (for back then) reading guru who performed song and dance numbers to teach kids to read. Despite anticipating only doing the show for a couple years, Freeman managed to stick around for six. He returned to the stage after "The Electric Company," winning critical acclaim and several awards - including a Drama Desk Award and the Clarence Derwent Award - for his performance as the rebellious wino Zeke in "The Mighty Gents" in 1978. He also received a Tony Award nomination for the same role.
Despite the widespread acclaim, "The Mighty Gents" closed after only one week. He regained his stride with his next performance, earning considerable acclaim and an Obie Award for his outstanding turn as The Bard's exiled Roman general Coriolanus at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He won another Obie - this time for "Mother Courage" - but quickly found himself in the midst of a two year dry spell brought about by his reputation at the time for being difficult to work with. But he emerged in 1984 with another Obie-winning performance, playing The Messenger in Lee Breuer's "Gospel at Colonus" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The same role earned him a Dramalogue Award in 1985. Yet another Obie was added to his trophy shelf with a tour-de-force performance as Hoke Colburn in the staged version of "Driving Miss Daisy," a role he would revive two years later in Bruce Beresford's Oscar-winning film.
Though he made his big screen debut in "Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow?" (1971), Freeman was absent from movies for another nine years when he played a crazed inmate in the prison drama, "Brubaker" (1980), a role praised by famed New Yorker critic Pauline Kael. While excelling on stage, Freeman languished in routine roles in mediocre movies, including "Teachers" (1985) and "MARIE: A True Story" (1985). But his first Oscar nominated performance in "Street Smart" permanently changed his fortunes. After getting a second Oscar nomination with his reprisal of Hoke Colburn in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), Freeman gave a standout performance in "Glory" (1989), the heart wrenching saga of the first unit of black soldiers to serve for the United States during the Civil War. He followed with a forgettable appearance as the sympathetic Judge White in "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (1990), before returning to form with a solid turn as the mysterious, but loyal Moor Azeem in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991). Already a venerable actor of considerable heft, Freeman had yet to reach his zenith.
Most often cast in supporting roles, Freeman routinely outshined his leading co-stars, as was the case in "Unforgiven" (1992), the Oscar-winning anti-Western directed by old friend Clint Eastwood. Freeman played Ned Logan, former gunslinger-gone-straight who is convinced by a former outlaw (Eastwood) to help right the wrong done to a prostitute. Freeman's roles in both "Unforgiven" and "Robin Hood" allowed Freeman opportunity to play characters not typically conceived as black; a trend he continued when playing the roles of President of the United States and God later in his career. Meanwhile, Freeman made his directorial debut with the story of a black South African policeman and his son divided by apartheid in "Bopha!" (1993) - the strain and stress of which made him vow to never direct again. In 1994, Freeman earned a third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Red, a man serving a life sentence in prison who can access everything on the inside except hope, in the moving drama "The Shawshank Redemption."
As Freeman earned considerable prestige and respect, he was able to shake off years of struggle, though never his playing Easy Reader on "The Electric Company." He received more praise for his role as a world-weary cop tracking a serial killer with novice partner (Brad Pitt) in "Seven" (1995). Freeman then appeared as the mysterious Hibble - a character not in the original novel - in the screen adaptation of "Moll Flanders" (1996), then as the enigmatic benefactor of a university's research project in "Chain Reaction" (1996). The following year, Freeman had the rare opportunity to headline a film, playing police detective and psychologist Alex Cross in the above-average thriller "Kiss the Girls" (1997). Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg utilized the actor's innate moral rectitude for the role of an former slave turned abolitionist in "Amistad" (1997), while director Mimi Leder saw him as the perfect figure to lend dignity and leadership to a world in crisis as the U.S. President coping with an impending meteor crash in "Deep Impact" (1998).
Freeman added a producer credit to his resume with the based-on-fact television drama "Mutiny" (NBC, 1999), which detailed the behind-the-scenes actions that led to the landmark decision to integrate the U.S. military. Both Freeman and actor Gene Hackman served double duty as co-producers and co-stars in the cat and mouse drama "Under Suspicion" (2000), a remake of the French thriller "Garde a Vue" (1982). Later that year, Freeman offered a splendid performance as a hit man who obsesses over the woman (Rene Zellweger) he has targeted to kill in "Nurse Betty," one of the most affecting and offbeat roles of his career. Following his reprise of detective Alex Cross in the prequel "Along Came a Spider" (2001) opposite Monica Potter, the actor rejoined "Kiss the Girls" co-star Ashley Judd in the middlebrow thriller "High Crimes" (2002), then played the director of the CIA in "The Sum of All Fears" (2002). Freeman turned in an otherwise effective performance as the mentor to a young Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) in a disappointingly lackluster adaptation of the Tom Clancy bestseller.
The following year, Freeman turned in an unusually exaggerated performance as an obsessive alien-fighting military officer in the supernatural thriller "Dreamcatcher" (2003), an artistic and critical disaster based on the novel by Stephen King. The actor was next seen as a genial God in the hit comedy "Bruce Almighty," starring Jim Carrey (2003), then as a Hawaiian lawman in the meandering Elmore Leonard-derived caper "The Big Bounce" (2004). Freeman next appeared in the critically acclaimed "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), an exquisite and subtle film directed by old friend Clint Eastwood. As Scraps, an aged boxer full of frustration and regret and blind in one eye, Freeman gave a fine performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, his first since "The Shawshank Redemption." The actor won at the Screen Actors Guild, and on his fourth go-round at the Oscars Freeman at last claimed the Best Supporting Actor trophy at the Academy Awards.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Freeman maintained a steady output of work after his Oscar win. He followed up with an appearance in "Unleashed" (2005) as a blind piano tuner who helps a trained fighter (Jet Li) escaped from the confines of his trainer's prison basement to start a new life. The combination of martial arts and blunt sentimentality earned the action thriller plenty of critical kudos. The venerable actor thrilled comic book fans when he winningly played Bruce Wayne's right-hand man Lucius Fox - the "Q"-like character with the keys to all of the Dark Knight's exotic, high-tech tools - in "Batman Begins" (2005), a prequel to the popular film franchise that focused on the superhero's shadowy origins. He also lent his gravitas-heavy vocals to narrate a pair of disparate projects: "March of the Penguins" (2005), the Americanized version of the p tic French nature documentary "La Marche de L'empereur," and Steven Spielberg's riveting remake of the sci-fi classic "War of the Worlds" (2005). Freeman's next release, director Lasse Hallstrom's long-delayed "An Unfinished Life" (2005), cast the actor in a role that ech d his "Million Dollar Baby" turn despite being filmed first, playing the plain-spoken best friend of a cantankerous rancher (Robert Redford).
Though he made his career as the upholder of moral authority and dignified voice of reason in most of his roles, Freeman did break form to play the occasional villain. In "Lucky Number Slevin" (2006), a post-Tarantino thriller about a case of mistaken identity, Freeman was a New York City crime boss waging war against his cross-street rival (Ben Kingsley) while trying to get an innocent man (Josh Hartnett) new to the Big Apple to pay up on an outstanding debt. After serving as executive producer and starring in "10 Items or Less" (2007), a bittersweet comedy about an aging Hollywood icon who forms an unlikely friendship with a caustic checkout clerk (Paz Vega), Freeman revisited his role as the Man Upstairs in "Evan Almighty" (2007).
Meanwhile, Freeman reprised Lucius Fox for the highly anticipated follow up, "The Dark Knight" (2008), which opened to rave reviews and record-breaking box office. While reveling in the commercial and artistic success of "The Dark Knight," Freeman suffered a near-tragic event when he was involved in a car accident near his home in Mississippi. Freeman was driving down a rural highway, where it left the road, flipped several times and landed in a ditch. Though he was lucid - talking to and joking with rescue workers - Freeman and his passenger Demaris Meyer were pried from the vehicle with the jaws of life. The actor was then airlifted to Regional Medical Center in Memphis, TN, where he was listed in serious condition. Just days after the accident, Freeman's business partner told "Access Hollywood" (Syndicated, 1996- ) that the actor and his wife, costumer Myrna Colley-Lee, were in the midst of divorce proceedings and had been separated since December 2007. At the hospital, Freeman had surgery to reconnect nerves in his left arm and hand, and was reportedly doing well. Returning to work, Freeman bounced back nicely with his next film, "Invictus" (2009), directed by old friend Clint Eastwood. He played South African president Nelson Mandela, who joins forces with white rugby star, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to inspire a subpar team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and unite a fractured nation. Freeman's stirring portrayal of Mandela earned him nominations at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards for Best Actor.
The following year, Freeman joined the cast of fellow veteran actors playing retired secret operatives, including Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, for the hit action movie "Red" (2010), and he also indulged his scientific curiosities by narrating the TV series "Through the Wormhole" (Science, 2010- ). After appearing in the sunny, uplifting movies "Dolphin Tale" (2011) and "The Magic of Belle Isle" (2012), Freeman returned to the role of Lucius Fox for the third and final time in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), which proved to be another huge success and a fitting close to the series. Numerous Freeman projects saw the light of day in 2013, including the sci-fi film "Oblivion," starring Tom Cruise, and "Last Vegas," a comedy co-starring Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas, but most notable was the heist caper "Now You See Me," featuring Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg, which proved to be a surprise blockbuster.
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