It might look as though Denzel is out there making only films that would land him an Oscar or a Golden Globe. If anything, that is never even in the equation. As far as Denzel is concerned, he is making movies out of love and to glorify the one who gave him the ability to take on just about any role. Someone prophesied that he will speak in front of millions of people, travel the world, and become an inspiration to many. Judging by the way things are now going with Denzel, we couldn’t contest what the prophetess wrote he would accomplish one day.
Unlike most Hollywood biggies, Denzel does not consider himself a celebrity but more of a professional actor. By that he meant that he would rather lead a low-profile life, away from the glitz and glamour that forever haunt Hollywood stars. We must say that he has succeeded in that aspect because aside from movie plugs and occasional interviews, we don’t see much of Denzel. Sure he’d be the subject of controversy every now and then, but they just die down for lack of any word from him. Somehow, his silence does not encourage paparazzi to stalk him. Either that or he’s just the what-you-see-is-what-you-get type.
Denzel was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York City on 28 December 1954 to a preacher father and beauty salon owner mother. He’s got two more siblings, an older sister named Lorice and a younger brother named David. Preaching in two churches and having a couple of fulltime jobs took away most of Denzel Sr.’s time for his family. He was never there for the kids and was always out somewhere helping other families to fulfil his duties as a pastor. This imbalance would contribute to how Denzel feels towards his father. For Denzel, he was just a fleeting figure—there now, gone later.
His mother was just as busy as his father but she made time for her kids and was the one who ran the household. Lennis owns a beauty parlor and it was where Denzel met different types of people. This smorgasbord of personalities would influence him over time and would somehow shape the way he transitions from one role to another. He admits that he got his eloquence from his father, who he would watch as he preaches in the pulpit.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America
What his parents lacked, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America provided. He became involved with them from age six and has since then developed a close affinity to the organization. One of the mentors he considers is the man who ran the club back then, Billy Thomas.
Billy led by example. His possessed quiet strength and Denzel looked up to him as the kind of person he wanted to be, even going as far as trying to mimic his handwriting and the way he walked. There were so many things to admire about Billy that made him a positive driving force for the young Denzel, who was growing up a talented, but somehow, neglected child.
Denzel recounts how Billy would display school tokens sent by older members of the club who leave Mount Vernon for college studies. The colorful emblems of universities fascinated Denzel and gave him a reason to aspire to become someone the club would be proud of. Billy always told the kids that they can do whatever they set out to do and not even the skies could limit them. Those words lay the foundation on which Denzel built his dreams. But it was never about acting at all.
At 13 years old, Denzel started earning a living by working as an errand boy in a barber shop owned by his mother’s friend, Jack Coleman. Like Billy, Jack became one of the most influential figures in his life. Apart from the lessons he was taught by Jack, Denzel also learned from grown men just by listening to them talk and lie. It was where he mastered the art of hustling, which in a way had a lot acting elements involved to pull it off.
Going to a Boarding School and to Fordham
Denzel Sr. and Lennis divorced when Denzel was 14 years old. He never asked why. An adolescent New Yorker, Denzel began hanging around with kids parents won’t normally approve of. He started doing stuff he was taught not to do. It was so bad a crowd that his two friends served time for juvenile violations. For Denzel, however, they were just kids whose parents were too busy to care for.
Thankfully, her mother caught that just in time and did what she could to send him, Lorice, and David to a private boarding school. It didn’t matter that she had to break her back just to earn enough for her kids’ matriculation. Her priority was to get them out of Mount Vernon so they don’t end up getting screwed.
It proved to be a wise move. Lennis had such high hopes for Denzel, which kind put pressure on him because he honestly did not know what to make of his life. He subsequently enrolled in Fordham University where he initially took a course in Biology but soon shifted to Journalism. It’s clear that Denzel has no clear-cut plans as to which career path to take. He used to play for the school’s collegiate basketball team but he did not really think he’d excel in the sport. His grades weren’t doing so well until he was summoned by the school and told that he would have to be let go if he did not pull up his socks.
He decided to take a break from school and found his way to Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut, working in the production team as a creative arts director. He somehow liked the atmosphere of theater productions. One of his colleagues suggested he try his hands at acting. Going back to Fordham, he knew just what course was best for him. He enrolled in acting and later on completed his degree in 1977.
Meeting Pauletta and Making a Name
An opportunity to further hone his acting skills presented itself when he earned a scholarship to attend the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. In the same year he finished his degree from Fordham and got into ACT, he met Pauletta in the set of “Wilma,” a TV movie where he played the 18-year-old Robert Eldridge.
They would again meet at a party the following year, become friends, and eventually marry eight years later on 25 June 1983. The two would be parents to four children: John David Washington born on 28 July 1984, Katia Washington born on 27 November 1987, and twins Malcolm Washington and Olivia Washington born on 10 born April 1991.
His first Oscar nomination came in 1987 for “Cry Freedom” followed by a win for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie, “Glory.” The year after that he was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world clearly giving away how famous he has become. With fame came not only glory but also money. This enabled Denzel to give back.
In 1995 for instance, Denzel donated $2.5 million to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ. He also gave a million to Save Africa's Children and another million to Wiley College for the reliving of the school’s debate team. He saw their facilities as he was directing and acting in the film “The Great Debaters.” But he gave more to his alma mater, Fordham: $2 million for an endowed chair of the theatre department and $250,000 for a theatre-specific scholarship.
From 1995, he began serving as Board Member for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, something that he delights doing up to now. He made history in 2000 when he won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Movie for his film "The Hurricane," a biopic of the boxer Rubin Carter 36 years after Sidney Poitier did. He would again win an Oscar, this time as Best Actor for “Training Day.”
In 2005, he was ranked number 39 on the list of the Greatest Movie Stars of All Time in their Stars in Our Constellation feature by Premiere Magazine and made it to number 17 the following year in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time as Malcolm X. For two consecutive years (2006 and 1007), Denzel was voted as America's Favorite Movie Star in the Harris Polls. To prove his versatility, he did “Fences,” which earned him a Tony Award in 2010. He currently is the African-American actor with the most number of Oscar nominations and most wins (one Best Supporting Actor and two Best Actor awards).
Much ado was also made about his physical appearance, which we admit is only proper. In 2002, he ranked number 1 in the 50 Most Beautiful People list by People Magazine. He is also number 59 on VH1's 100 Hottest Hotties.
A Devout Christian
With everything that he has accomplished, Denzel gives all the glory to God who gave him his innate talent for acting. Asked what he is most proud of, he said:
"I'm careful about the word "proud"; I'm happy to have read the Bible from cover to cover. I'm on my second go-round—I read one chapter a day. Right now I'm digging John. He just had dinner with Mary, and things are about to take a turn for the worse. I tried to instill spirituality into The Great Debaters. Remember that old church prayer, God, we come before You, knee bowed and body bent, in the humblest way we know how?" (Source: Oprah.com)
He also puts a lot of value on parenting. If there is anything that really makes him happy, it’s shaping his children into God-fearing individuals who know what they want and do the right thing. He has a favorite quote to tell his children whenever they find themselves at a crossroads: "We do what we have to do so that we can do what we want to do."
So let us close with what Denzel wrote in his autobiography, a verse from Proverbs 22:6 that reads, “Train up a child in a way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Artists for a New South Africa
- Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
- Elevate Hope Foundation
- Elton John AIDS Foundation
- Entertainment Industry Foundation
- Farm Sanctuary
- Fisher House Foundation
- Fulfillment Fund
- Keep A Child Alive
- Luke Neuhedel Foundation
- Nelson Mandela Children's Fund
- Project Angel Food
- Save Africa's Children
- Stand Up To Cancer
- Treatment Action Campaign
- Wiley College
- The Gathering Place (an AIDS hospice)
Awards and Achievements
- 1982: Received the Distinguished Ensemble Performance Obie Award
- 1987: Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Cry Freedom)
- 1989: Won Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Glory
- 1990: Chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world
- 1995: Donated $2.5 million to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ
- 1995: Ranked number 77 in Empire magazine's 100 Sexiest Stars in film history
- 1995: Began serving as a board member for Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- 1996: Received the Harvard Foundation Award
- 1996: Hailed by People Magazine as the Sexiest Man Alive
- 2000: The first Black to win a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Movie in 36 years
- 2000: Won a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival
- 2001: Won Academy Awards: Best Actor for Training Day, making him the second African-American performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actor
- 2001: Named by E! as one of the top 20 entertainers
- 2002: Named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People by People Magazine
- 2002: Ranked number 40 in Premiere's 2003 annual Power 100 List
- 2003: Ranked number 28 in Premiere's 2003 annual Power 100 List
- 2005: Ranked number 39 on a list of the Greatest Movie Stars of All Time in their Stars in Our Constellation feature by Premiere Magazine
- 2006: Ranked number 17 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time as Malcolm X
- 2006: Voted as America's Favorite Movie Star in the Harris Polls
- 2006: Donated 1 million dollars for Save Africa's Children
- 2007: Voted as America's Favorite Movie Star in the Harris Polls
- 2010: won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (Fences)
- Holds the record (six so far) for most Oscar nominations and most wins (two so far) by an actor or actress of African descent
- Donated $1 million to the Children's Fund of South Africa and $1 million to Wiley College to resuscitate the college's debate team
- Donated $2 million to Fordham for an endowed chair of the theatre department and $250,000 for a theatre-specific scholarship to Fordham
- Ranked #59 on VH1's 100 Hottest Hotties
- "Glory" and "Philadelphia" were included in the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time
- 1991: Awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Fordham University
- 2007: Awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities from Morehouse College
Wikipedia (Denzel Washington)
Reader's Digest (Denzel Washington Interview: Devoted to Family and Faith)
IMDb (Biography for Denzel Washington)
Fordham University (Denzel Washington Returns to Acting Roots)
Google Books (A Hand to Guide Me)
Herald Scotland (All ready for a storm)
The Guardian (Will talent out this time?)
The New York Times (COMMENCEMENTS; Fordham Graduates Urged to Defend the Poor)
The Huffington Post (Denzel Washington and Wife, Pauletta Withstand Divorce Rumors and Promote Black Love)
Ace Showbiz (Denzel Washington Biography)
The Biography Channel (Denzel Washington Biography)
Los Angeles Times ('2 Guns': The surprising consistency of Denzel Washington)
GQ (The GQ&A: Denzel Washington)
Oprah.com (Oprah Talks to Denzel Washington)
Look to the Stars (Denzel Washington Charity Work, Events and Causes)