James Earl Jones

His voice is deep, resonant and sonorous.  Demands attention and exudes authority.  Recognizable behind a kindly face and warm smile.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the voice may have never been heard.

James Earl Jones, a recent recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, was born in 1931 in rural Mississippi.  He was abandoned by his father, and his mother aloof.  According to Wikipedia, his adoption by his grandparents at age five was so traumatic that Jones developed a stutter.  So severe was the speech impediment that he refused to speak for several years.

High school was when the silence was broken.  A teacher discovered that Jones wrote poetry. The teacher encouraged him to recite his writing aloud, believing that public speaking would help him to become more confident and break his impediment.  Jones heeded his advice, and eventually brought his stuttering under control. 

Jones spent time in medical school and then the Army before going into acting.  We would see him on stage in Othello, Fences, On Golden Pond and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; hear his voice as the announcer for CNN, Mufasa, the Lion King, and Darth Vader, the dark knight of the Star Wars saga; and see him on film in The Great White Hope, Field of Dreams, Coming to America, and Roots: The Next Generation.  Jones admits that he still stutters on occasion, but with his body of work and rich basso, one would never know or believe it.

Jones’ choice to fight his speech impediment and let his voice be heard is a personal triumph, one of which we have a privilege to enjoy.


James Earl Jones writes of his childhood experience in his autobiography Voices and Silences.  He also speaks of other aspects of his personal life, as well as his career and philosophy on acting.  The book is available through PINES.

See a listing of Jones’ film and television work at Internet Movie Database.  His stage work is discussed in this Wikipedia article.

The Stuttering Foundation provides free online resources, services and support to those who stutter and their families, as well as support for research into the causes of stuttering.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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