Six facts you didn’t know about Morgan Freeman
As one of Hollywood’s most legendary actors, Morgan Freeman is known around the world for starring in several iconic films. Perhaps his most memorable role came as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, a fatherly, contraband-smuggling prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption, who unknowingly helps the film’s protagonist escape.
Morgan Freeman's new executive produced documentary, 761st Tank Battalion: The Original Black Panthers, tells the true and largely forgotten story of the first Black armored battalion to serve in combat during World War II. The 761st Tank Battalion — better known as the Black Panthers — was the only Black tank unit to see combat, and they played a significant role in military operations against Nazi Germany. However, as they fought for their nation overseas, they were simultaneously fighting against racism, segregation and inequality back home in the very country they were risking their lives to protect. Despite facing unprecedented adversity, these brave men lived up to their tenacious motto, “Come Out Fighting,” and their unit became one of the most accomplished tank battalions in U.S. military history.
The two-hour documentary series will be aired in October on Sky HISTORY.
To get you in the mood for the ground-breaking new show, here are six facts about Morgan Freeman that you don’t already know.
His first acting role was a form of punishment
A 12-year-old Morgan Freeman was punished for causing a disruption in class after pulling a chair from underneath the girl he had a crush on. It’s good to hear that even an A-Lister had the same flirting techniques as the rest of us when we were that age. His teacher instructed him to take part in the school’s drama competition as a unique form of punishment.
To everyone’s surprise Freeman won and thus began a lifelong love of acting. We all owe an incredible debt to the teacher who gave him a punishment that was a lot more useful than a lifetime sentence in the Shawshank State Prison.
Shawshank was the first film he narrated
Morgan Freeman is known around the world for his dulcet tones and soothing voice that many people can only dream of. In fact, his voice was one of the main reasons that he got his role in The Shawshank Redemption. In the original novella, penned by Stephen King, Ellis Redding was a ginger-haired Irishman, clearly a description that does not match Freeman.
However, director Frank Darabont always wanted him to play the part because of his deep and authoritative voice. The Shawshank Redemption is the first film that Freeman is credited as ‘Narrator’ on, but he has since gone on to narrate many documentaries and movies. These include March of the Penguins and War of the Worlds.
He is an expert beekeeper
There is a startling theory that if bees were to become extinct then the entire population of humankind would be wiped out within four years. Upon hearing this potentially devastating factoid, Morgan Freeman decided he was going to do his bit to help. In 2014, he converted a 124-acre ranch he owns in Mississippi into a dedicated bee sanctuary. It’s not known exactly how many bees live on the ranch, but it could be up to two million.
Freeman has promised that he has no intention of harvesting honey. In fact, the only time he visits the hives is to bring food. He also trusts the bees so much that he never wears a beekeeping suit or hat.
He is known for his never-ending charity work
The legendary actor’s charitable efforts don’t stop at looking after bees because he has also done plenty to help other people in need. He set up the Rock River Foundation to provide underprivileged children with the education and resources they need to pursue a healthy and productive life. Freeman has also led numerous fundraisers to assist in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Hurricane Ivan in Grenada.
As the very humble man that he is, Freeman has previously stated that he doesn’t view these efforts as charity. Rather, he feels his philanthropy work as a vocation and just something that he must do.
There was a time that he spent a brief stint in jail
You will probably be very surprised to learn that, despite Morgan Freeman’s ‘nice guy’ demeanour, he has actually spent time in jail himself. However, you won’t be surprised to hear that this only happened because he refused to abandon a friend.
During his time in the Air Force, Freeman and a pal travelled to Los Angeles while on permitted leave. They were hitchhiking due to a lack of funds when they were stopped by local police who suspected they were AWOL. Freeman had his pass, but his friend had left his in his room. The pair spent four days in jail, despite Freeman being given the option to travel on by himself, while their stories were verified. Thankfully, they didn’t try any daring escapes of their own.
He suffers from paralysis in his left hand
Morgan Freeman suffered a broken left arm, elbow and shoulder after being involved in a serious car crash in 2008. This led to him having paralysis in his fingers and needing to intermittently wear a compression glove to ensure blood doesn’t pool in his hand.
This isn’t the first time he suffered a noticeable injury in his left arm. While filming a scene for The Shawshank Redemption, in which his character is tossing a baseball, Freeman had to do take after take after take. In fact, the scene took nine hours to get right, and he was forced to throw the ball non-stop. Freeman is an incredible professional and didn’t complain once, although he did turn up the next day wearing a sling.
Morgan Freeman: Biography
From Shakespeare to The Twilight Zone, The Shawshank Redemption to real-life prison breaks in Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman, Morgan Freeman, the executive producer of 761st Tank Battalion: The Original Black Panthers 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.