Denzel Washington is an Academy award-winning actor, director and producer best-known for his roles in ‘Glory’, ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘The Hurricane’. As an actor, he is known for his penchant for taking on challenging roles and portraying them to perfection. Growing up in a predominantly African-American suburb, young Denzel had witnessed many of his friends take up the path of drugs, crime and violence. He is certain that he too would have ended up like them had it not been for his mother, a poor single parent, who sent him to Oakland Military Academy to learn some discipline. Determined to make something worthy of his life, the boy completed high school and studied journalism before embarking on a professional acting career. He got his first big break when he was chosen to play the role of Dr. Philip Chandler in the NBC medical drama series, ‘St. Elsewhere’. He played several minor roles in films before ‘Cry Freedom’ happened in 1987. His portrayal of anti-apartheid social activist Steve Biko established him as a talented character actor. More challenging roles followed and the actor went on to earn several Academy award nominations, winning two of them. He frequently collaborated with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott.
Childhood & Early Life
Denzel Washington was born to Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., a Pentecostal minister and Lennis, a beautician. He has two siblings.
He attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary School till 1968. His parents divorced when he was 14 and he began to get involved in street violence. In order to instill some discipline in him, his mother sent him to Oakland Military Academy.
He went to Fordham University upon graduating from high school and earned a B.A. in Drama and Journalism in 1977. He realized his love for acting after working as a creative arts director at a summer camp.
He attended American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, for one year before returning to New York.
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After appearing in some television commercials and programs, he made his feature film debut in 1981 with the comedy film ‘Carbon Copy’. It was followed by a 1982 television movie, ‘License to Kill’.
Over the decade he appeared in many films like ‘A Soldier’s Story’ (1984), ‘Power’ (1986), and ‘The Mighty Quinn’ (1989).
His first big success came in 1989 with the release of the drama war film ’Glory’ in which he played Private Silas Trip. He won many awards for this role.
He played the title role in ‘Malcolm X’ (1992), a biographical motion picture directed by Spike Lee. He received an Academy award nomination for his portrayal of the Muslim African-American human rights activist.
The decade of 1990 was a very productive period for the talented actor. He played the lawyer Joe Miller in the 1993 drama film ‘Philadelphia’ which was one of the first Hollywood movies to deal with issues like homosexuality, AIDS, and homophobia.
In 1995, he starred as Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter in ‘Crimson Tide’. The movie was set in post-Soviet Russia during a period of political turmoil. It received positive reviews from critics.
His most successful movie of 1990s was ‘The Hurricane’ (1999) in which he played Rubin Carter, a boxer arrested for triple homicide. Denzel’s performance was highly appreciated and he won many awards.
One of his most memorable performances was as Detective Alonzo Harris in the 2001 crime drama, ‘Training Day’. He played an antagonist in this movie—a role that earned him critical appreciation and numerous awards.
His other memorable movies of the 2000s include: ‘Antwone Fisher’ (2002), ‘Inside Man’ (2006), and ‘The Great Debaters’ (2007).
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One of his most recent films, ‘Flight’ (2012), revolves around the story of a complicated character, William Whitaker, who is an airline pilot struggling with alcoholism. Denzel was nominated for an Academy award for this role.
‘Glory’ (1989) was a drama war film that won him his first Academy Award. He played the role of Private Silas Trip which was widely appreciated by the critics.
He played the antagonist in the critically acclaimed film, ‘Training day’ (2001). The story dealt with narcotic drug detectives, and Washington received accolades for portraying a role that was very different from his usual roles.
Awards & Achievements
He received the Academy Award for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Private Silas Trip in the war film ‘Glory’ in 1989.
He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2001 for his role of Detective Alonzo Harris in the crime drama, ‘Training day’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Pauletta Pearson in 1983. They have four children. There were reports of the couple splitting up a few years ago due to Denzel’s cheating with other women. However, the couple remains married to this day.
He was named The Sexiest Man Alive by the People’s Magazine in 1996.
He is only other black actor after Sidney Poitier to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.