Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. is an American actor and director. He has garnered much critical acclaim for his work in film since the 1990s, 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.
Washington has been awarded three Golden Globe awards and two Academy Awards for his work. He is notable as the second African American man (after Sidney Poitier) to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, which he received for his role in the 2001 film Training Day.
Denzel Washington was born in Mount Vernon, near to New York City, in 1954. His mother, Lennis "Lynne", was a beauty parlor-owner and operator born in Georgia and partly raised in Harlem. His father, Reverend Denzel Washington, Sr., was an ordained Pentecostal minister and also worked for the Water Department and at a local department store, "S. Klein".
Washington attended grammar school at Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon, and in 1968, at the age of 14, he was sent to a private preparatory school, Oakland Military Academy, in New Windsor in New York State, followed by Mainland High School, a public high school in Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1970-71. Washington 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." Nevertheless, Washington earned a B.A. in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. At Fordham, he played collegiate basketball as a Freshman guard under coach P. J. Carlesimo. After a period of bouncing from major to major and briefly dropping out of school for a semester, Washington worked as a counselor at an overnight summer camp called Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville CT. After participating in a staff talent show for the campers, a colleague suggested he try acting. Returning to Fordham that fall with a renewed purpose and focus, he enrolled at the Lincoln Center campus to study acting, snagging the title character in both Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, and William Shakespeare's Othello, where he earned rave reviews. Upon graduation, he was given a scholarship to attend graduate school at the prestigious American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, where he stayed for one year before deciding to return to New York to begin a professional acting career.
Washington spent the summer of 1976 in Southern Maryland, in St. Mary's City, acting summer stock theater in the Wings of the Morning, the Maryland State play. Shortly after graduating from Fordham, Washington made his professional acting debut in the 1977 made-for-television movie Wilma. He made his film debut in the 1981 film Carbon Copy.
His big break came when he starred in the popular television hospital drama, St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988. He was one of a few actors to appear on the series for its entire six-year run. In 1987, after appearing in several minor television, film and stage roles, Washington starred as South African Anti-Apartheid political activist Steve Biko in Richard Attenborough's Cry Freedom, a role for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1989, Washington won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing a defiant, self-possessed ex-slave in the film Glory. Also that same year, he gave a powerful performance as the conflicted and disillusioned Reuben James, a Caribbean-born British soldier who, despite a distinguished military career abroad, turns to a life of vigilantism and violence upon his return to civilian life in For Queen and Country.
In March, 1990 he starred in the Spike Lee movie Mo' Better Blues as Bleek Gilliam. In the Summer of 1992 he starred in a movie called Mississippi Masala where he played the character Demetrius Williams. Washington played one of his most critically acclaimed roles in 1992's Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee. His performance as the Black Nationalist leader earned him an Oscar nomination. Both the influential film critic Roger Ebert and the highly acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese called the movie one of the ten best films made during the 1990s.
Malcolm X transformed Washington's career, turning him, practically overnight, into one of Hollywood's most respected actors. He turned down several similar roles, such as an offer to play Martin Luther King, Jr., because he wanted to avoid being typecast. The next year, in 1993, he took another risk in his career by playing Joe Miller, the homophobic lawyer of a homosexual man with AIDS in the movie Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks. During the early and mid 1990s, Washington became a renowned Hollywood leading man, starring in several successful thrillers, including The Pelican Brief and Crimson Tide, as well as in comedy Much Ado About Nothing and alongside legendary singer Whitney Houston in the romantic drama The Preacher's Wife.
While filming the 1995 film Virtuosity, Washington refused to kiss his white female co-star, Kelly Lynch, during a romantic scene between their characters. During an interview, Lynch stated that while she wanted to, "Denzel felt very strongly about it. I felt there is no problem with interracial romance. But Denzel felt strongly that the white males, who were the target audience of this movie, would not want to see him kiss a white woman." Lynch further stated, "That's a shame. I feel badly about it. I keep thinking that the world's changed, but it hasn't changed quick enough." A similar situation also occurred during the filming of The Pelican Brief when Julia Roberts expressed in an interview her desire to have her character in the film engaged in a romantic relationship with Washington's character. And an additional occurrence was in the 1989 film The Mighty Quinn where Washington's Quinn character did not kiss Mimi Rogers' alluring Hadley character. However, in 1998, Washington starred in a scene of a sexual nature with actress Milla Jovovich, in Spike Lee's He Got Game.
In 1999, Washington starred in The Hurricane, a movie about boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, whose conviction for triple murder was overturned after he had spent almost 20 years in prison. Various newspaper articles have suggested that the controversy over the film's accuracy may have cost Washington an Oscar for which he was nominated. Washington did receive a Golden Globe Award in 2000 and a 'Silberner Bär' (Silver Berlin Bear) at the Berlin International Film Festival for the role.
He also presented the Arthur Ashe ESPY Award to Loretta Claiborne for her courage. He appeared as himself in the end of The Loretta Claiborne Story movie. Washington is often cited as an example of human physical attractiveness due to the symmetry of his facial features.
In 2000, Washington appeared in the crowd-pleasing Disney film, Remember the Titans, which grossed over $100 million at the United States box office. He was nominated and won an Oscar for Best Actor for his next film, the 2001 cop thriller, Training Day, as Det. Alonzo Harris, a rogue LAPD cop with questionable law-enforcement tactics. The role was a much-acclaimed change-of-pace for the actor, who was known for playing many heroic leads. Washington was the second African-American performer ever to win an Academy Award in the category of Best Actor (for Training Day), the first being Sidney Poitier, who happened to receive an Honorary Academy Award the same night that Washington won for Best Actor. Washington holds the record for most Oscar nominations by an actor of African descent; so far he has earned five.
After appearing in 2002's box office success, the health care-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, and Déjà Vu released in November 2006.
In 2007, he co-starred with Russell Crowe in American Gangster. Later, Denzel directed and starred in the drama The Great Debaters with Forest Whitaker.
Return to theater
In 2005, after a 15-year hiatus (he was seen last in the summer of 1990 in the title role of the Public Theater's production of Shakespeare's Richard III) , Washington appeared onstage again in another Shakespeare play as Marcus Brutus in Julius Caesar on Broadway. The production's limited run was a consistent sell-out, averaging over 100% attendance capacity nightly despite receiving universally terrible reviews.
In 1983, Washington married actress Pauletta Pearson (now Pauletta Washington), whom he met on the set of his first screen role, Wilma. The couple have four children: John David (b. July 28, 1984), who signed a football contract with the St. Louis Rams in May 2006 after playing college football at Morehouse Katia (b. November 1987), who is attending Yale University, and twins Olivia and Malcolm (named in honor of Malcolm X)(b. April 10, 1991). In 1995, the couple renewed their wedding vows in South Africa with Archbishop Desmond Tutu officiating.
Washington and his family visited soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He later made a sizable donation to the Fisher Houses, small hotels that provide rooms for soldiers' families while the soldiers are hospitalized. In October 2006, he published a bestseller entitled A Hand to Guide Me, featuring actors, politicians, athletes, and other public figures recalling their childhood mentors. The book was published in commemoration of the Boys and Girls Club of America's centennial anniversary, because Washington had participated in the club as a child.
Washington is a devout Christian. He goes to Church with actress Angela Bassett at LA's West Angeles Church of God in Christ. 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 that 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". He also was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities from Morehouse College on May 20, 2007