Moviegoers young and old no doubt recognize the booming voice of James Earl Jones, from his turns voicing Darth Vader in the Star Wars series to Mufasa in The Lion King.
But he’s also been in front of the camera, in hit movies such as Field of Dreams, Conan the Barbarian, and Coming to America.
It’s hard to fathom that a stutter muted such a distinctive voice.
His Early Life
James Earl Jones’ upbringing was less than idyllic. He was raised on a farm in Mississippi by his maternal grandparents in a bustling 13-member household.
He liked it there, so it was a shock when he was sent to live with his paternal grandfather in Memphis at age 5.
That upheaval was traumatic. Though James returned to his grandparents’ house soon after, he developed a mistrust about being sent away again. And he began to stutter.
He thought it best to stay mostly quiet, and he did just that from ages 8 to 15.
Poetry Changed His Life
Thanks to sympathetic teachers, James could write his answers and soon displayed a talent for writing poetry.
One day, a teacher forced him to recite one of his poems in front of the class — from memory to prove he’d written it. He did it without a stutter.
That breakthrough and more poetry recitals helped him “regain the power of speech.”
On To Broadway and Hollywood
James Earl Jones started his acting career on Broadway with three lines (and he stuttered one of them). He landed his first significant Hollywood role in 1964, and a few years later, he won a Tony.
Despite delivering perfect lines onstage, his acceptance speech was challenging. He has since surmised that strong emotions worsen his stutter.
His success in flawless execution is done with excellent preparation. He struggles with alliteration and the letter M, so he works with writers to eliminate those from his lines.
How Stuttering Helped Him Become a Great Actor
Having a stutter led to exceptional listening skills that today help him bring a focus to acting that others lack.
For more about James Earl Jones and how he overcame his stutter to become a Hollywood legend, click here: