The powerful and horrific planet destroying Death Star and Darth Vader, the dark, foreboding and ruthless cyborg enforcer in the original Star Wars trilogy were perhaps the two most remarkable technological creations in George Lucas’ science fiction saga. Yet, few people are aware that the distinctive, deep and resonant voice of the masked Vader was provided by James Earl Jones, a veteran stage, television and film actor. While Premier Magazine ranked his vocal performance of Darth Vader as 84th in its 100 Greatest Movie Characters of all time, Jones who is known for his humility, declined to have his name appear on the credits of the first two Star Wars films released in 1977 and 1980 because he thought that his contribution to the character was insignificant to warrant a credit.
Born on 17 January 1931 in Arkabutla, Missisippi, James Earl Jones who is known for his deep basso voice and commanding presence, stuttered severely when he was young and refused to speak aloud making him functionally mute for eight years. When he reached high school, his teacher Donald Crouch helped him out of his stuttering and silence by making him read poetry aloud in front of the class and encouraging him to compete in oratorical contests and high-school debates.
James Earl Jones attended the University of Michigan intending to finish a pre-med course, but realized later that he was not cut out to be doctor and focused instead on drama. He excelled in ROTC and enjoyed the camaraderie of the Pershing Rifles Drill Team and the Scabbard and Blade Honor Society. Jones left the university and applied for an officer’s commission, trained in Fort Benning and went through Ranger School. Eventually, he earned the rank of first lieutenant in the 75th Ranger Regiment of the U.S. Army.
His first theater performance was in 1955 when he portrayed Shakespeare’s Othello in New York Theater, while his screen debut was in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, “Dr. Strangelove” produced in 1964. His big break came when he portrayed boxer Jack Johnson in “The Great White Hope,” which made him the second African-American following Sidney Poitier to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Over a span of 40 years, James Earl Jones appeared in more than 50 films and starred in a wide variety of classic and contemporary plays that won acclaim and numerous honors. Aside from two Tony’s and an Emmy, he was awarded in 1992 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. the American National Medal of the Arts for his contribution to American culture. In 2009, he was honored by his peers with the Lifetime Award of the Screen Actors Guild.
James Earl Jones is a member of the National Rifle Association. His pro-gun advocacy stems from the conviction that if guns are banned, decent law-abiding citizens will be at the mercy of armed criminals. While he was not against U.S. involvement in the wars in Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq, he was against a lengthy war of attrition and strongly indicated his preference for a swift military resolution of these conflicts.