Denzel Washington is an American actor celebrated for his engaging and powerful performances. Throughout his career he has been regularly praised by critics, and his consistent success at the box office helped to dispel the perception that African American actors could not draw mainstream white audiences.
Washington was born on December 28, 1954, in Mount Vernon, New York. His father, Denzel Hayes Washington Sr. (1909–1991), a native of Buckingham County, Virginia, was an ordained Pentecostal minister, and also worked for the New York City Water Department and at a local department store, S. Klein. His mother, Lennis "Lynne" (née Lowe; born 1924), was a beauty parlor owner and operator born in Georgia and partly raised in Harlem.
When he was 14, his parents divorced.
Washington attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon until 1968. His mother sent him to a private preparatory school, Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York. After Oakland, Washington next attended Mainland High School, a public high school in Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1970 to 1971. He was interested in attending Texas Tech University: "I grew up in the Boys Club in Mount Vernon, and we were the Red Raiders. So when I was in high school, I wanted to go to Texas Tech in Lubbock just because they were called the Red Raiders and their uniforms looked like ours."
Washington earned a B.A. in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. At Fordham, he played collegiate basketball as a guard under coach P.J. Carlesimo. After a period of indecision on which major to study and taking a semester off, Washington worked as creative arts director at an overnight summer camp, Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. He participated in a staff talent show for the campers and a colleague suggested he try acting.
Returning to Fordham that fall with a renewed purpose, Washington enrolled at the Lincoln Center campus to study acting, and where he was given the title roles in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones and Shakespeare's Othello. He then attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he stayed for one year before returning to New York to begin a professional acting career.
On May 18, 1991, Washington was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Fordham University, for having "impressively succeeded in exploring the edge of his multifaceted talent". In 2011, he donated $2 million to Fordham for an endowed chair of the theater department, as well as US$250,000 to establish a theater-specific scholarship at the school. He also received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Morehouse College on May 20, 2007. and an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania on May 16, 2011.
After several successful stage performances in California and New York, he made his screen debut in the comedy Carbon Copy (1981). He first began to receive national attention for his work on the television drama St. Elsewhere (1982–88). For the film Cry Freedom (1987), he portrayed South African activist Stephen Biko, and he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Two years later he won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance as a freed slave fighting in the Union army in the American Civil War film Glory (1989).
Washington’s skill as an actor and his popular appeal as a leading man were firmly established in the 1990s. He gave memorable performances in the romantic comedy Mississippi Masala (1991), the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing (1993), the courtroom drama Philadelphia (1993), the hard-boiled mystery Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), and the military thriller Crimson Tide (1995). The latter was the first of several popular movies he made with director Tony Scott. During this time he also frequently worked with director Spike Lee, starring in Mo’ Better Blues (1990), He Got Game (1998), and most significantly Malcolm X (1992). Portraying the civil rights activist Malcolm X, Washington gave a complex and powerful performance and earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor. He received a second best-actor nomination for his portrayal of boxer Rubin Carter in the film The Hurricane (1999).
In Training Day (2001), Washington played a corrupt and violent police detective, the performance for which he became only the second African American actor (the first was Sidney Poitier) to win an Oscar for best actor. After starring in director Jonathan Demme’s 2004 update of the 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate, Washington reteamed with Lee for the crime drama Inside Man (2006). He later appeared as a drug kingpin opposite Russell Crowe’s determined narcotics officer in American Gangster (2007) and as a dispatcher caught in the middle of a subway train hijacking in Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009).
In 2010 Washington starred in the postapocalyptic action drama The Book of Eli and collaborated again with Scott on the action thriller Unstoppable. He subsequently portrayed a rogue CIA agent in South Africa in the spy thriller Safe House (2012) before giving an Oscar-nominated performance in Flight (2012) as a heroic airplane pilot hiding a substance-abuse problem. The action comedy 2 Guns, in which Washington played a covert drug-enforcement operative, followed in 2013. After playing a mysterious vigilante in the action thriller The Equalizer (2014), Washington starred in The Magnificent Seven (2016), a remake of the 1960 classic western. In 2017 he starred in Roman J. Israel, Esq., portraying an idealistic Los Angeles lawyer who begins to question his principles. For his performance, Washington received his eighth Oscar nomination for acting.
Additionally, Washington directed and appeared in the biographical films Antwone Fisher (2002), about a U.S. serviceman with a troubled past, and The Great Debaters (2007), about an inspirational debate coach at an African American college in the 1930s.
In addition to his film work, Washington occasionally acted onstage. In 2005 he starred as Brutus in Julius Caesar. Five years later he appeared in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, a family drama set in the 1950s that explores issues of identity and racism. For his performance, Washington won a Tony Award in 2010. He later directed and starred in a film adaptation (2016) of the play, and his performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
Washington is the son of a Pentecostal preacher and a gospel singer. He grew up in an extremely religious household. He said:
"My father was a Pentecostal minister for 50 years. We would say prayers for everything and end with, ‘Amen, God is love…’ The fundamental message is in the Bible, which I’ve read three times from front to back… If you don’t practice love, you’re missing the point. I believe in love thy neighbor."
When Denzel’s parents divorced when he was 14, Denzel admits to rejecting his religious briefly. He also says that the power of his religious feelings overwhelmed him at one point and he backed away:
"I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. I know it’s real. I was in the room. My cheeks blew up, I cried like a baby, and it scared me to death. It kind of scared me off (of religion). I backed up and went the other direction."
Now, Denzel is one of Hollywood’s most devout Christians. His faith has influenced the roles he’s played and the fact that he’s been married to the same woman since 1983, a lifetime by Hollywood standards. Washington currently attends the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. In 1995, he donated US$2.5 million to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ facility in Los Angeles. Washington says he reads the Bible daily.
He has considered becoming a preacher. He stated in 1999, "A part of me still says, 'Maybe, Denzel, you're supposed to preach. Maybe you're still compromising.' I've had an opportunity to play great men and, through their words, to preach. I take what talent I've been given seriously, and I want to use it for good."
Washington is an Independent voter. He hasn’t spoken too much about his political views. Washington was a staunch Obama supporter during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Washington gave $30,800 to the Obama campaign that year and defended the president after 2010’s mid-term elections ushered in a Republican Congress, saying:
"I don’t think it’s just directed at Obama, I think people are frustrated. You’ve got to blame somebody, and he’s the boss – he’s got the big target on his head. I think there’s a desire for checks and balances, so now there’s a Republican party in Congress, and a Democratic party in the Senate, and a Democratic president, I think it now forces them all to work together."
And in a strange move, not common among Hollywood stars, Washington officially endorsed a Democratic mayoral candidate in his hometown of Mount Vernon, New York.
He’s a staunch Democrat, but with perspective and class. During the Bush war years, Denzel wouldn’t put down the president, but rather stated his concern for the troops coming home from battle. He said:
"Are they getting the support and love they need from us? And maybe that story’s being told, but I sure haven’t seen it that much in the news. Yeah, they’re pointing fingers about who was right and whose wrong and who started what and where the weapons of mass destruction. But these kids are coming home."
"You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That's a part of it."
"Acting is just a way of making a living, the family is life."
"I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you're prepared for it."
"I'd be more frightened by not using whatever abilities I'd been given. I'd be more frightened by procrastination and laziness."
"My mother used to tell me man gives the award, God gives the reward. I don't need another plaque."
"If I am a cup maker, I'm interested in making the best cup I possibly can. My effort goes into that cup, not what people think about it."
"I never really had the classic struggle. I had faith."
"If you don't trust the pilot, don't go."
"If you have an enemy, then learn and know your enemy, don't just be mad at him or her."
"My mother never gave up one me. I messed up in school so much they were sending me home, but my mother sent me right back."
Washington has served as the national spokesperson for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993 and has appeared in public service announcements and awareness campaigns for the organization. In addition, he has served as a board member for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1995. Due to his philanthropic work with the Boys & Girls Club, PS 17X, a New York City Elementary School decided to officially name their school after Washington.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Denzel Washington is open, very intelligent and empathic.
His height is 5’11.75’’ (182.2 cm), weight - 80 kg (176 pounds), shoe size - 11 US. Denzel has black hair and brown eyes. Though most men his age cannot even boast of a fit figure, Denzel still maintains a well-chiselled body with outlined biceps and abs. However, this figure is as a result of much hard work. Denzel has always held his health and fitness in a very high esteem. He regularly works out at the gym and maintains a strict and healthy diet.
During a game of basketball as a kid, Washington broke his pinky finger. It is still crooked and bent 45 degrees from his other fingers. His pinky finger was never set back right.
Denzel has the perfect face. Newsweek did a piece in the 1990s on facial symmetry, as this is an indicator of attractiveness. The author used Washington as a prime example of perfection. The symmetry of one’s face is what makes one the most attractive. The article was called "Biological Basis of the Perceptions of Beauty,” and Washington had the factors that makes him perfect. He had the perfectly centered nose perfectly aligned eyes, lips, and ears.
Sport & Clubs
Washington has been a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers since childhood.
For his role in The Book of Eli, Washington studied Martial Arts under a Bruce Lee protégé, and he performed all of his own stunts in the hand-to-hand fight scenes.
His workout schedule is pretty tight and intense for men half his age as it involves close to a dozen rounds of boxing throughout the week for 5 days.
He loves dogs.
Music & Bands
Denzel Washington is an Eminem, Nas and Jay-Z fan.
He also loves classical music.
On June 25, 1983, Washington married Pauletta Pearson, whom he met on the set of his first screen work, the television film Wilma. The couple have four children: John David (b. July 28, 1984), a former football player with the United Football League's Sacramento Mountain Lions (and before that, college football at Morehouse); Katia (b. November 27, 1986) who graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2010; and twins Olivia and Malcolm (b. April 10, 1991). Malcolm graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in film studies, and Olivia played a role in Lee Daniels's film The Butler. In 1995, Denzel and Pauletta renewed their wedding vows in South Africa with Archbishop Desmond Tutu officiating.