Everything you need to know about Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman making a speech while wearing sunglasses
Morgan Freeman at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre's hand and footprint ceremony | Image: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

From Shakespeare to The Twilight Zone, The Shawshank Redemption to real-life prison breaks in Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman, Morgan Freeman has graced stage, film, and television in a varied and storied career that has seen him win multiple awards and acclaim.

The early years

Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis in 1937, the youngest of three siblings to Mayme Edna, a teacher, and Morgan Porterfield Freeman, a barber. Freeman made his stage debut in a play at the age of 9 and was 12 when we won a statewide drama competition (a competition he only entered as a punishment from a teacher at school). He was offered a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University when he graduated in 1955, but instead, he chose to pursue his other passion: flying, enlisting in the United States Air Force.

For four years, he worked as a radar technician and mechanic. However, by 1959, he had realised it wasn’t the work he wanted to be doing, so he left the Air Force and moved to Los Angeles. From there, he went back to acting, taking classes and small jobs as a dancer.

He moved to New York in the 1960s and got his first career break, a part in an all-African American production of Hey Dolly!

First marriage

The same year Freeman landed his role in Hey Dolly! he also married his first wife, Jeanette Adair Bradshaw. The pair had two children together, Deena and Morgana Freeman. (In total, Freeman has four children, including Alfonso and Saifoulaye Freeman.)

During their marriage, Freeman’s career started taking off. By the early 70s, he had begun appearing regularly on the children’s television show The Electric Company. For five years, Freeman worked on the show, as well as theatre productions, including a role in The Mighty Gents that earned him a Tony nomination. But when The Electric Company was cancelled in 1976, Freeman found himself no closer to the film work he wanted.

On top of that, his marriage to Bradshaw was struggling. In 1979, the couple divorced.


Hollywood breakthrough

A year later, Freeman finally got the film work he was after when he scored a part in Brubaker. Small parts in other films and television films followed, as well as two years on the soap Another World. However, Freeman’s real Hollywood breakthrough came in 1987, when he was cast in Street Smart, a role that brought him critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Second marriage

In 1984, Freeman married his second wife, Myrna Colley-Lee. Meanwhile, in his professional life, the roles and accolades kept coming. Driving Miss Daisy came in 1989, a role that earned him another Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe, and several other nominations and awards, as did the Civil War film Glory. By the 90s, there was The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, and Deep Impact.

The 90s also saw Freeman turn his attention to work behind the camera. In 1993, he made his directorial debut with Bopha! and in 1996, he founded the film production company Revelations Entertainment, with Lori McCreary. The aim of the company was to achieve greater representation on screen, while ‘revealing truth’.


Oscars and awards

By the early 2000s, Freeman was working steadily and garnering huge acclaim for his roles. And it was in 2005 that Freeman won his Oscar, taking it home for Best Supporting Actor in 2005, for his career-defining work in Million Dollar Baby.

However, while professionally, Freeman seemed untouchable, in his personal life, it was a different story. In 2007, he and Colley-Lee separated. A year later, Freeman was in a car accident that left his arm, shoulder, and elbow broken. He has suffered from fibromyalgia ever since. In 2010, his marriage to Colley-Lee officially came to an end when the pair divorced.

But away from his personal life, Freeman was once again seeing success. That same year, he won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for his role in Invictus, in which he played Nelson Mandela.


Activism

Away from his on-screen work, Freeman was also involved in humanitarian and charitable works. In 2004, the year before he won his Oscar, he helped form the Grenada Relief Fund to help victims of Hurricane Ivan in Grenada. The fund has now become PLANIT NOW, an organisation dedicated to providing resources for those that live in areas affected by severe storms and hurricanes.

A year later, he made Forbes’ list ‘Most Trustworthy Celebrities’, a list he’s been on every time it’s been published since.

With his daughter Morgana, he founded the Tallahatchie River Foundation, a not-for-profit that promotes early childhood education in the state of Mississippi. And in 2014, after he found out about the decline of honeybees, he turned his ranch into a bee sanctuary.


Recognition

Now in his 80s, Freeman has earned 65 wins and 83 nominations from various institutions across his career, earning accolades from the Golden Globes and American Film Institution to the African-American Film Critics Association and the Emmys.

His contribution to the industry across his career was recognised for the first time in 2006 when he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by Mississippi's Best Awards for his work in film and theatre. Four lifetime achievements awards followed, from the John F. Kennedy Centre, which picked him as a Kennedy Centre Honoree, the American Film Institute, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild.

He's also been given two honorary doctorates from Delta State University and Boston University and in 2014, was given the honour of the ‘Freedom of the City’ by the City of London.

They’re accolades that are richly deserved. Morgan Freeman has spent his life playing everyone from the President of the United States to a pimp, Nelson Mandela to God, and in so doing, has become one of the world’s most recognised and respected actors.