91 years of James Earl Jones's life: A traumatic childhood, a broken marriage, a silencing disability

91 years of James Earl Jones's life: A traumatic childhood, a broken marriage, a silencing disability

James Earl Jones suffered a severe stutter and a failed first marriage. But he kept going.

Born in 1931 in Mississippi, James Earl Jones was not really close to his father Robert Earl Jones growing up. He left for New York soon after his birth to pursue acting and since the age of 5, James was raised by his paternal grandparents. Today, he is known for his deep, confident, mellifluous tone that has famously voiced the character of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movie series and Mufasa in The Lion King. Yet, it has not always been this way. 

Even though James is known for having one of the most recognizable voices in the world, he was almost mute as a child due to a severe stutter that he developed as an adolescent. It was trauma that led to this state. "Stuttering is set off by an emotional trauma," he explained according to Washington Post.


"It might take years for it to set and have effect, but it's emotional trauma. I wouldn't doubt if it didn't start at the first moments of life...some pain, either psychic or physical or moral. I mean, can you imagine a child or an infant having moral pain? It does, they did, we do," he added. Children at Sunday school would ridicule him whenever he would read his lessons. 

"Stuttering is painful. In Sunday school, I'd try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter," he said according to Daily Mail. "But by the time I got to school, my stuttering was so bad that I gave up trying to speak properly." Encouraged by his English teacher and poet, Donald Crouch, he ultimately learned to work around his stuttering.

"I was essentially mute for several years, so I longed to express myself," he said adding that he entered oratorical contests. He went on to attend the University of Michigan as a pre-med major but soon realized that he was not cut out to be a doctor. Thus, he joined the school's drama department, graduated in 1955, and went to nab theatrical roles. Now he was more confident in his speech and full of zeal.


In 1957, he made his Broadway debut, and years later in 1964, he met his first wife, Broadway actress Julienne Marie. By 1968 he had achieved a great deal of fame but with it came the bad times as his privacy was abused. "I realized very soon that I was, for some reason, attracting insane people around me," he said adding that he underwent primal therapy at the time which involved reliving his "childhood traumas."

His fame made it difficult for him to focus on his marriage with Julienne. As a result, their relationship ended in divorce four years later. He went on to make his film debut in 1964 and even propelled Sesame Street to success. James bagged laureates like Tonys, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and even an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and in 1977 he made his iconic voice debut as Darth Vader. 


Apart from the Star Wars trilogy, the artist appeared in many films like Conan the Barbarian in 1982, Coming to America in 1988, and Field of Dreams in 1989. The 1990s were quite busy for the star as he also starred in television series and was won two of eight Emmy nominations. Shortly before this, he met the love of his life, actress Cecilia Hart.


The pair tied the knot in 1982 and welcomed a son named Flynn Earl Jones in 1982. But after a one-year battle with ovarian cancer, she passed away in 2016 a the age of 62 leaving James without his better half. On January 17, the legend turned 91 and we hope he continues to enjoy his extensive career in the years to come. 

Cover image source: Getty | Photo by Jemal Countess

Recommended for you