Denzel Hayes Washington Jr.

Actor, producer, and director Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. was born December 28, 1954. In 2016, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2020, The New York Times named him the greatest actor of the 21st century. In 2022, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Washington started acting in off-Broadway plays. He starred in the military films A Soldier’s Story (1984), Cry Freedom (1987), and Glory (1989), receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Glory. Malcolm X (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), Philadelphia (1993), The Hurricane (1999), and Remember the Titans (2000) secured his stardom. Washington received praise for his roles in American Gangster (2007), Flight (2012), Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), and The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021), as well as action films like Man on Fire (2004) and The Equalizer (2014).

In 2010, he won the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Fences. Washington directed, produced, and acted in a praised 2016 film adaption.

Childhood and education

On December 28, 1954, Mount Vernon, New York, welcomed Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. His father, Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., a native of Buckingham County, Virginia, was an ordained Pentecostal minister, a New York City Water Department employee, and a local S. Klein shop.

Washington attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary in Mount Vernon until 1968. His mother sent him to Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York, when his parents split at 14. Washington later said, “That decision changed my life, 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, he attended Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1970 to 1971. J. Carlesimo. After taking a semester off to decide on a major, Washington became creative arts director at Camp Sloane YMCA’s overnight summer camp in Lakeville, Connecticut. A coworker advised him to consider acting after he performed in a camper talent show.

Washington returned to Fordham that autumn with newfound purpose and studied acting at Lincoln Center, where he played the major parts in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Shakespeare’s Othello. He subsequently attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California, for one year before returning to New York to start his acting career.

Early work, Career, honours and nominations

Washington performed Wings of the Morning, the Maryland State play, in summer stock theatre in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, in 1976. The play was written for him with an African-American character/narrator based loosely on Mathias de Sousa, an early colonial Maryland figure.

Washington debuted in 1977’s Wilma, a docudrama on sprinter Wilma Rudolph, and 1981’s 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 opened November 20, 1981.

Washington won Best Supporting Actor for Glory at the 62nd Academy Awards (1990).

He played Dr. Phillip Chandler on NBC’s 1982–1988 medical drama St. Elsewhere, a career breakthrough. He was one of few African-American actors to appear on the series during its six-year run. A Soldier’s Story (1984), Hard Lessons (1986), and Power (1986) were among his film, television, and stage roles. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as South African anti-apartheid political leader Stephen Biko in Richard Attenborough’s 1987 film Cry Freedom.

In Glory, Washington played a strong, self-possessed ex-slave soldier and earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In The Mighty Quinn and For Queen and Country, he played Reuben James, a British soldier who returns to civilian life where racism and inner city life lead to vigilantism and violence.

1990s films

Washington played Bleek Gilliam in Spike Lee’s 1990 Mo’ Better Blues. Demetrius Williams in Mississippi Masala, 1991. Washington played Malcolm X in 1992’s Malcolm X, which garnered him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He founded Mundy Lane Entertainment in 1992 and portrayed a homosexual guy with AIDS’s lawyer in Philadelphia in 1993. Washington starred in The Pelican Brief, Crimson Tide, and Much Ado About Nothing in the early to mid-1990s. His 1996 U.S. In Courage Under Fire, alongside Meg Ryan, an army officer investigates a female helicopter commander’s Medal of Honor eligibility. He starred in Whitney Houston’s 1996 romantic comedy The Preacher’s Wife.

He Got Game starring Washington in 1998. Washington portrayed a father serving a six-year jail sentence whose prison warden grants him temporary parole to persuade his top-ranked high school basketball star son (Ray Allen) to sign with Big State, the governor’s alma mater. Washington featured in Gregory Hoblit’s supernatural horror thriller Fallen starring John Goodman, James Gandolfini, and Donald Sutherland the same year.

The Bone Collector stars Washington and Angelina Jolie in 1999. Washington featured in 1999’s The Hurricane, about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose triple murder conviction was reversed after over 20 years in jail. Hurricane got a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Carter’s performance. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert said of Washington’s portrayal, “This is one of Denzel Washington’s great performances, on a par with his work in Malcolm X.” 

2000s films

Washington received Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama for The Hurricane at the 57th Golden Globe Awards in 2000. He was the first black actor to win the prize since Sidney Poitier in 1963.He also participated in Disney’s Remember the Titans, which earned over $100 million in the U.S.

In 2001’s Training Day, Washington played corrupt LAPD Detective Alonzo Harris, winning an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was the second African-American actor to win the category after Poitier, who received an Honorary Academy Award the same night.

Washington’s debut film, Antwone Fisher, was a well-received drama in which he co-starred as a Navy psychiatrist.

Washington starred in Inside Man, a Spike Lee-directed bank heist thriller co-starring Jodie Foster and Clive Owen, released in March 2006, and Déjà Vu, a time travel film, released in November 2006.

In 2007, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster reunited Washington with Russell Crowe after 1995’s Virtuosity. He acted and directed Forest Whitaker in The Great Debaters. He then portrayed New York City subway security head Walter Garber in Tony Scott’s 2009 recreation of the 1974 thriller The Taking of Pelham 123, opposing John Travolta’s villain.

Return to theatre

Photo: Reuters

Washington following May 2005 Julius Caesar performance

Washington played Brutus in a Broadway production of Julius Caesar in 2005 after playing Richard III at the Public Theater in 1990. Washington received a Tony for Best Actor in a Play on June 13, 2010, for his performance as Troy Maxson in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences.

Washington starred in Kenny Leon’s Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Washington played Theodore “Hickey” Hickman in a Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh beginning March 22, 2018. George C. Wolfe directed the 14-week production, which opened April 26.

2010s films

Washington during 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert with Anne Hathaway

Washington starred in The Book of Eli, a near-future post-apocalyptic action-drama, in 2010. In 2010, he played an experienced railroad engineer in Unstoppable, about a runaway freight train with perilous cargo. After Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004), Déjà Vu (2006), and The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), this was his last picture with Tony Scott.

Washington was nominated for Best Actor for his role as an alcoholic airline captain under investigation for an aircraft tragedy in Flight (2012). Washington co-starred opposite Ryan Reynolds in Safe House and Mark Wahlberg in 2 Guns in 2013. In 2014, he starred in The Equalizer, an action thriller film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk, based on the Edward Woodward television series.In 2018, he returned for the sequel.

Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard appeared in the 2016 adaptation of The Magnificent Seven. Filming began in north Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 18, 2015. The film premiered on September 8 at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and was released in conventional and IMAX theatres in the US on September 23, 2016. Washington plays Sam Chisolm (“the Bounty Hunter”), a duly sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas. His character was renamed from Chris Adams (played by Yul Brynner in the original film) to Sam Chisolm. It is Washington’s first Western film. His clergyman father forbade him and his siblings from going to the movies. They watched Biblical films like King of Kings and The Ten Commandments instead of Westerns, but Fuqua flew to New York City to negotiate with Washington, who accepted the offer. He did not watch the original film, but he did watch Seven Samurai.

Washington at the premiere of The Equalizer in 2014

Washington directed Fences, starring Viola Davis and based on August Wilson’s play, in 2016. Washington portrays a former Negro league baseball player turned garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh. Paramount Pictures released the film on 12/16/2016. Washington received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress, and Davis won her first Oscar. Roman J. Israel, Esq. headlined Washington in 2017. Washington got his eighth Oscar nomination and his sixth for Best Actor for his performance in the picture, which received mixed reviews.

2020s films

Washington played Macbeth in the 2021 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy. He was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Satellite Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Washington also directed the 2021 drama A Journal for Jordan, based on Dana Canedy’s memoir. Critics gave it mediocre reviews when it opened wide on December 25, 2021.

Personal life

Photo: Reuters

Washington married Pauletta Pearson, whom he met on the set of his debut film, Wilma, on June 25, 1983. They have four children: John David (born July 28, 1984), an actor and former football player, Katia (born November 27, 1986), who graduated from Yale University with a BA in 2010, and twins Olivia and Malcolm (born April 10, 1991). Olivia appeared in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and Malcolm earned a cinema studies degree from Penn. Desmond Tutu officiated Washington and his wife’s 1995 South African vow renewal.

“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.” He is a Pentecostal Evangelical Christian and a member of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles.

Washington has been the national spokesman for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993 and has appeared in public service announcements and awareness campaigns for the organisation. He has also been a board member since 1995. PS 17X, a New York City elementary school, named their school after Washington due to his philanthropy.

Washington presented Purple Hearts to three Army soldiers recovering from Iraq wounds at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston in mid-2004. He also visited the fort’s Fisher House facilities, which had reached capacity, and made a large donation to the Fisher House Foundation, which builds and provides free homes for military personnel and their families while they receive medical care. Washington donated $1 million to Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund in 1995 and $1 million to Wiley College to revive its debate team.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) named Washington as one of three people (along with directors Oliver Stone and Michael Moore) with whom they would negotiate the release of three defence contractors they had held captive from 2003 to 2008. That effort failed.

Washington received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Fordham University, on May 18, 1991, for “impressively succeeded in exploring the edge of his multifaceted talent”. In 2011, he donated US$2 million to Fordham for an endowed theatre department chair and US$250,000 for a theatre-specific scholarship. He received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Morehouse College on May 20, 2007 and a Doctor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania on May 16, 2011.

At the Annual Association of the U.S. Army on October 11, 2021, Washington was named Honorary Sergeant Major. Army conference for his Fisher House Foundation efforts. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston presented Washington with the medal, saying that Washington embodied humility, service to soldiers, and respect for the Army.

Philanthropic and Social Contributions

Denzel visited Fisher Houses, hospitals that house wounded soldiers’ families for free, and donated a lot to the Fisher House Foundation.

Spokesperson for the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America.

Save Africa’s Children Honorary Chair.

Lifelong Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund founder.

Washington gave Wiley College $2 million to revive its debate squad.

His trivia

Washington aspired to be a doctor before acting. 

Washington wanted to be a doctor before acting. After randomly taking a college acting class, the Oscar winner changed careers to follow his father. 

Washington began acting in theatre. 

Washington began his acting career at Fordham University in NYC. Playing Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Othello off-Broadway. 

One of his earliest acting assignments introduced him to his wife Pauletta. 

Washington met love on Wilma, his first film. Denzel and Pauletta Washington, married since 1983, renewed their vows in 1995 with Desmond Tutu. 

His children also love performing.

Recent blockbusters have included the actor’s son, rising star John David Washington. Hollywood loves John David, from Amsterdam to BlacKkKlansman. Denzel’s oldest daughter Katia Washington is a successful producer, while his youngest daughter Olivia Washington appeared in Lee Daniel’s The Butler.

His Presidential Medal of Freedom came in 2022. 

The White House announced Washington’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2022. Washington was lauded for playing Malcolm X and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. 


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