Childhood & Early Life
Joe Morton was born as Joseph Thomas Morton Jr. in Harlem, New York City on October 18, 1947. His father Thomas Morton Sr. served in the U.S. Military as an intelligence officer, while his mother Evelyn Morton worked as a secretary.
His father’s service in the military took Joe all over the world, including Germany and Japan. His father passed away when he was 10 years old; and after that, he and and his mother settled in New York permanently.
With his father no longer around, Joe needed new interest to keep himself busy and playing the guitar was one of his favorite ones. He also began acting in plays at his school - ‘Andrew Jackson High School’. During his school days, he wrote a few songs and wanted to become a musician.
Following his high school graduation, he enrolled in the ‘Hofstra University’ to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He attended a few classes, but he somehow kept visiting the drama department and became inspired to the point of changing his major from psychology to drama.
His mother and grandmother, who were sponsoring his education, were not very happy by this decision. They argued that there was no room for a black man in the entertainment industry. However, Joe’s determination kept him in the drama department, for which he went on to give many performances.
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During his college years, Joe Morton performed in many notable plays and made a name for himself. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he acted in many popular Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
He made his debut in the 1967 Off-Broadway production of the musical ‘Hair’. He later worked in the Broadway version of the musical and followed it up with appearances in other Broadway plays, such as ‘Salvation’ and ‘Raisin’. For the latter, he was nominated for a ‘Tony Award’ and won a ‘Theatre World Award’.
In 1977, he made his film debut in ‘Between the Lines’, in which he played a supporting character called Ahmed. The critical and commercial success of the film inspired the makers to render it into a sitcom.
Much before his film career began, Joe had made his television debut with a guest role in the series ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1970). He followed it up with more guest roles in series, such as ‘Bracken’s World’ and ‘Search for Tomorrow’.
He played the supporting role of detective Rich in the 1982 mystery film ‘The Clairvoyant’. More small parts in films, such as ‘Trouble in Mind’ and ‘Crossroads’, followed. In the late 1980s, he was seen playing pivotal roles in the science fiction film ‘Stranded’ and the dance film ‘Tap’.
Joe’s television career furthered in the 1970s with guest roles in series, such as ‘M-A-S-H’ (1976) and ‘What’s Happening!!’ (1976). In 1975, he played a guest role in the series ‘Sanford and Son’ and started appearing as Hal Marshall in the series ‘Grady’. He played the latter role until 1976, appearing in a total of 10 episodes of the show.
He regularly started appearing as Raymond Geeter on the 1978 series ‘Watch Your Mouth’. He played this role in 26 episodes of the series. The series was taken off-air only after one season.
In the 1980s, he appeared in many television films, such as ‘Hostile Witness’, ‘Alone in the Neon Jungle’ and ‘Death Penalty’.
Joe played a major role of a researcher named Miles Dyson in the science fiction action film ‘Terminator 2: The Judgement Day’. Not only was the movie a huge hit critically and commercially, it also won many awards.
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Despite playing many critically acclaimed roles throughout his film career, Joe’s talents were never quite recognized at the award functions.
In 1994, he played one of the very few lead roles of his career in the romantic comedy/drama film ‘The Inkwell’. Later in the 1990s, he appeared in key roles in films like ‘Lone Star’ and ‘Mutiny’.
He was seen in a supporting role in the Will Smith-starrer biographical film ‘Ali’ in 2001. The film was a huge critical success, but failed to generate much interest among moviegoers.
In the 2000s, Joe worked in films, such as ‘Bounce’ ‘Paycheck’, ‘Stealth’ and ‘Back in the Day’. On the television front, he appeared in one episode each of the series ‘JAG’, ‘House’ and ‘Boston Legal’.
He was a regular cast on the series ‘Eureka’, appearing in 76 episodes from 2006 to 2012. He also directed a few episodes of the show. During this time, he was seen playing a supporting role in 11 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’.
He played the notable role of Eli Rowan Pope in the political thriller series ‘Scandal’, in which he appeared in 88 episodes. For his performance on the show, he was honored with a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ and three ‘NAACP Image Awards’.
Joe was seen playing Doctor Silas Stone in the DC films ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016) and ‘Justice League’ (2017).
Presently, he is starring in the CBS series ‘God Friended Me’ as Rev. Arthur Finer. The comedy-drama show started airing in May 2018, and was renewed for another season in January 2019.
Family & Personal Life
Joe Morton married Nora Chavooshian on October 6, 1984, and the couple has three children together. Their marriage ended in a divorce in 2006.
He is currently in a long-term relationship with actress Christine Lietz.
In an interview, he revealed that he has faced racism all his life right since his childhood. His father was a military officer; and according to Joe, nobody liked taking orders from a black man. The versatile actor further faced racism during his early acting career when he was offered only black-specific roles.