By Ellis Nassour
This Sunday 71st annual Tony Awards with have a dash of Southern flavor as acclaimed Mississippi native James Earl Jones is honored with a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement The two-time Tony winner and native of Arkabula, Mississippi, James Earl Jones, whose career has spanned more than 60 years.
The three-hour Tony Awards are telecast Sunday on CBS, at 7 p.m.
Critics have acclaimed Jones as “One of America’s most distinguished and versatile actors” and “One of the greatest actors in American history.” Certainly, you can add to that: one of the most distinguished and memorable voices in entertainment history.”
Jones left Mississippi in his teens for New York where he followed in the footsteps of his equally famous father, Robert Earl Jones. He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Dore Schary’s Sunrise at Campobello, opposite Ralph Bellamy as Franklin Roosevelt.
Jones has appeared in 20 Broadway plays since, garnering four Tony nominations. He won in 1969 for his acclaimed performance as boxer Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope, which he revisited in the 1970 film adaptation, receiving an Oscar nomination; and in 1987 as Troy Maxson in Fences.
Classic stage roles include Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1973), Paul Robeson (1978) which he later presented on TV, his Othello in the 1982 revival, On Golden Pond (2005), the 2008 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Daddy, and the 2010 revival of Driving Miss Daisy. He was honored with a special Oscar in 2012.
His TV career (seven Emmy nominations, with a 1991 win) began in 1952, when he was one of the first to break the color barrier in daytime soaps with his appearance on Guiding Light.
Jones has a roster of hundreds of TV and film roles that include Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Claudine (1974), Roots: The Next Generation (1979) as Alex Haley, Coming to America (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), the voice of Mufasa in The Lion King (1994), and, of course, the voice of Darth Vader in the Stars Wars franchise.
Ellis Nassour, a New York-based journalist, author, and playwright, is a native of Vicksburg.