James Earl Jones is one of the most accomplished and esteemed actors of our time. In addition to being a major player on Broadway, he’s appeared in more than 80 movies and is the voice of one of the most iconic villains on the silver screen. So where is he now? Is James Earl Jones still alive? Here’s an update on James Earl Jones’s health, as well as an overview of his remarkable career.
James Earl Jones Was Born In 1931
Born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, on January 17th, 1931, James Earl Jones is alive and is currently 91 years old. His father—who was Robert Earl Jones, one of the country’s first black film actors—left the family when his son was just a child. Fortunately, James Earl Jones’ grandparents stepped up and took him in as their own. “I was an adopted child of my grandparents,” Jones revealed in an interview with the American Academy of Achievement. “And I don’t know how I can ever express my gratitude for that because my parents would have been a mess.”
Though James Earl Jones didn’t end up seeing his father again until he was an adult, the Coming to America star says he was still influenced by his dad’s career. Despite having some notoriety, Robert Earl Jones struggled to make a living in Hollywood. This helped keep James Earl Jones grounded in terms of expectations in the industry.
“I never approached the show business from a sentimental point of view,” Jones told the American Academy of Achievement. “I never saw it as a romantic and glamorous place. I knew real show business from my father’s line…and I knew he was not very successful, but I didn’t know how good an actor he was. I found out later he was quite a wonderful actor who excelled in the element of simplicity. But because he was one, black, and then blacklisted because of his involvement with labor unions and so on during those years, he just didn’t get work.”
Jones’ Career Began Over 65 Years Ago
A graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, James Earl Jones started his career in theater in the late ’50s. Over time, he gained a reputation as a prominent Shakespearean actor, appearing in productions of Othello, Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet. He also worked on Broadway in the 1967 play The Great White Hope, which was adapted into a film in 1970. Jones won his first Academy Award for that performance, which kicked off a successful film career on top of his growing stage accomplishments.
Over the past six decades, Jones has appeared in scores of movies, including Claudine, Field of Dreams, Coming to America, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Cry, and Primary Colors. He’s also become world-famous for being the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars film franchise and was the voice of Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.
Jones has made guest appearances on tons of TV shows as well, including Mad About You, Frasier, Touch by an Angel, Will & Grace, Everwood, Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory. He even appeared on an early episode of Sesame Street back in 1969!
Over the span of his seven-decade career, James Earl Jones has racked up many awards. He’s earned three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards, one Grammy Award (for a spoken-word recording), and an honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. This makes him one of the few actors to have achieved EGOT status, winning all four of the major entertainment awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Other famous EGOTs include Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones, Mel Brooks, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Despite becoming legendary for his unmistakable voice, Jones says that he never imagined his speech would propel him into stardom. “I’m really not conscious that there is anything distinctive about it,” he said in his interview with the Academy of Achievement. “I just try to make words and communicate. I really didn’t have a voice growing up. I had a terrible stutter so I would be too embarrassed to talk. I really didn’t talk much until I got to high school thanks to a teacher, Donald Crouch.”
Is He Still Acting Today?
At 90 years old, James Earl Jones is still going strong. His latest stage performance was in a Broadway production of The Gin Game, which ran from 2015 until 2016. In 2019, he reprised his voice-over role as Mufasa in the live-action Lion King movie, and in 2021, he appeared in the long-awaited Coming to America sequel, Coming 2 America. Jones also continues to voice Darth Vader in Star Wars movies like Rogue One and The Rise of Skywalker—which is something the actor says he never expected to be doing for so long. When he first nabbed the voice-over job back in 1977, all he signed up for was a couple of hours of work.
“One of those summers that I was broke again, my agent called and said, ‘Do you want a day’s work doing some voiceover?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’” Jones explained in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “So I went to work, and we did it in two-and-a-half hours. I got paid seven thousand dollars for it. Nobody at that time knew that it would become a cult hit… I’m very happy to be a part of that cult, even though I didn’t get paid a lot for it.”
Is He Still In Good Health?
As far as we know, James Earl Jones is in good health for his age. While he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the mid-’90s, the actor learned to manage the chronic condition with diet and exercise, and he appears to continue to do so. “I can live to the extent that I can do all the work I used to do 10 years ago,” he said in a 2018 interview with Good Housekeeping. “I love working, and at my age, I still love being able to put in eight shows a week on a play or handle a long schedule if I’m doing film or television. I didn’t want that to stop, so I had to take responsibility with my condition.”
Jones also doesn’t seem to be fearful about getting older. In an email to USA Today on his 90th birthday, the actor said he was “feeling fantastic and grateful at 90 years old. Looking back at my life and extensive career, I am so proud of my work and accomplishments. I love growing older and wiser with time.”