Samuel Leroy Jackson (born December 21, 1948) is an American actor and film producer. He achieved prominence and critical acclaim in the early 1990s with films such as Goodfellas (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Patriot Games (1992), Amos & Andrew (1993), True Romance (1993), Jurassic Park (1993) and his collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino including Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), Django Unchained (2012), and The Hateful Eight (2015). He is a highly prolific actor, having appeared in over 100 films, including Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Unbreakable (2000), Shaft (2000), The 51st State (2001), Black Snake Moan (2006), Snakes on a Plane (2006), and the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999–2005).
With Jackson's permission, his likeness was used for the Ultimate version of the Marvel Comics character Nick Fury. He has also played Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) as well as the TV show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
The actor has provided his voice to several animated films, television series and video games, including the roles of Lucius Best / Frozone in Pixar Animation Studios' film The Incredibles (2004), Mace Windu in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), Afro Samurai in the anime television series Afro Samurai (2007), and Frank Tenpenny in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004).
Jackson has achieved critical and commercial acclaim, surpassing Frank Welker as the actor with the highest-grossing film total of all time in October 2011, and he has received numerous accolades and awards. He is married to LaTanya Richardson, with whom he has a daughter, Zoe. Samuel L. Jackson is ranked as the highest all-time box office star with over $4.9 billion total US box office gross, an average of $69.1 million per film.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Elizabeth (née Montgomery) and Roy Henry Jackson. He grew up as an only child in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father lived away from the family in Kansas City, Missouri, and later died from alcoholism. Jackson only met his father twice during his life. Jackson was raised by his mother, who was a factory worker and later a supplies buyer for a mental institution, and by his maternal grandparents and extended family. According to DNA tests, Jackson partially descends from the Benga people of Gabon.
Jackson attended several segregated schools and graduated from Riverside High School in Chattanooga. Between the third and twelfth grades, he played the French horn and trumpet in the school orchestra. During childhood, he had a stuttering problem. While he eventually learned to "pretend to be other people who didn't stutter" and use the curse word motherfucker as an affirmation word, he still has days where he stutters.
Initially intent on pursuing a degree in marine biology, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. After joining a local acting group to earn extra points in a class, Jackson found an interest in acting and switched his major. Before graduating in 1972, he co-founded the "Just Us Theatre".
After the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackson attended the funeral in Atlanta as one of the ushers. Jackson then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest march. In a Parade interview Jackson revealed: "I was angry about the assassination, but I wasn't shocked by it. I knew that change was going to take something different – not sit-ins, not peaceful coexistence."
In 1969, Jackson and several other students held members of the Morehouse College board of trustees (including a nearby Martin Luther King, Sr.) hostage on the campus, demanding reform in the school's curriculum and governance. The college eventually agreed to change its policy, but Jackson was charged with and eventually convicted of unlawful confinement, a second-degree felony. Jackson was then suspended for two years for his criminal record and his actions. He would later return to the college to earn his Bachelor of Arts in Drama in 1972.
While he was suspended, Jackson was employed as a social worker in Los Angeles. Jackson decided to return to Atlanta, where he met with Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and others active in the Black Power movement. Jackson revealed in the same Parade interview that he began to feel empowered with his involvement in the movement, especially when the group began buying guns. However, before Jackson could become involved with any significant armed confrontation, his mother sent him to Los Angeles after the FBI told her that he would die within a year if he remained with the Black Power movement.
Jackson initially majored in marine biology at Morehouse College before switching to architecture. He later settled on drama after taking a public speaking class and appearing in a version of The Threepenny Opera. Jackson began acting in multiple plays, including Home and A Soldier's Play. He appeared in several television films, and made his feature film debut in the blaxploitation independent film Together for Days (1972). After these initial roles, Jackson proceeded to move from Atlanta to New York City in 1976 and spent the next decade appearing in stage plays such as The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running, which both premiered at the Yale Repertory Theater. At this point in his early career, Jackson developed addictions to alcohol and cocaine, resulting in him being unable to proceed with the two plays as they continued to Broadway (actors Charles S. Dutton and Anthony Chisholm took his place). Throughout his early film career, mainly in minimal roles in films such as Coming to America and various television films, Jackson was mentored by Morgan Freeman. After a 1981 performance in the play A Soldier's Play, Jackson was introduced to director Spike Lee who would later include him in small roles for the films School Daze (1988) and Do the Right Thing (1989). He also played a minor role in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas as real-life Mafia associate Stacks Edwards and also worked as a stand-in on The Cosby Show for Bill Cosby for three years.
While completing these films, Jackson's drug addiction had worsened. After previously overdosing on heroin several times, Jackson gave up the drug in favor of cocaine. After seeing the effects of his addiction, his family entered him into a New York rehab clinic. When he successfully completed rehab, Jackson appeared in Jungle Fever, as a crack cocaine addict, a role which Jackson called cathartic as he was recovering from his addiction. Jackson commented on the transition, "It was a funny kind of thing. By the time I was out of rehab, about a week or so later I was on set and we were ready to start shooting." The film was so acclaimed that the 1991 Cannes Film Festival created a special "Supporting Actor" award just for him. After this role, Jackson became involved with multiple films, including the comedy Strictly Business and dramas Juice and Patriot Games. He then moved on to two other comedies: National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 (his first starring role) and Amos & Andrew. Jackson then worked with director Steven Spielberg, appearing in Jurassic Park.
After a turn as the criminal Big Don in the 1993 Quentin Tarantino-penned True Romance directed by Tony Scott, Tarantino contacted Jackson for the role of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. Jackson was surprised to learn that the part had been specifically written for him: "To know that somebody had written something like Jules for me. I was overwhelmed, thankful, arrogant – this whole combination of things that you could be, knowing that somebody's going to give you an opportunity like that." Although Pulp Fiction was Jackson's thirtieth film, the role made him internationally recognized and he received praise from critics. In a review by Entertainment Weekly, his role was commended: "As superb as Travolta, Willis, and Keitel are, the actor who reigns over Pulp Fiction is Samuel L. Jackson. He just about lights fires with his gremlin eyes and he transforms his speeches into hypnotic bebop soliloquies." For the Academy Awards, Miramax Films pushed for the Best Supporting Actor nomination for Jackson. For his performance, Jackson received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. In addition, he received a Golden Globe nomination and won the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Role.
After Pulp Fiction, Jackson received multiple scripts to play his next role: "I could easily have made a career out of playing Jules over the years. Everybody's always sending me the script they think is the new Pulp Fiction." With a succession of poor-performing films such as Kiss of Death, The Great White Hype, and Losing Isaiah, Jackson began to receive poor reviews from critics who had praised his performance in Pulp Fiction. This ended with his involvement in the two successful box office films, Die Hard with a Vengeance, starring alongside Bruce Willis in the third installment of the Die Hard series, and A Time to Kill, where he depicted a father who is put on trial for killing two men who raped his daughter. For A Time to Kill, Jackson earned an NAACP Image for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and a Golden Globe nomination for a Best Supporting Actor.
Quickly becoming a box office star, Jackson continued with three starring roles in 1997. In 187 he played a dedicated teacher striving to leave an impact on his students. He received an Independent Spirit award for Best First Feature alongside first-time writer/director Kasi Lemmons in the drama Eve's Bayou, for which he also served as executive producer. He joined up again with Tarantino and received the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival and a fourth Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of arms merchant Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown. In 1998, he worked with other established actors such as Sharon Stone and Dustin Hoffman in Sphere and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, playing a hostage negotiator who resorts to taking hostages himself when he is falsely accused of murder and embezzlement. In 1999, Jackson starred in the horror film Deep Blue Sea, and as Jedi Master Mace Windu in George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In an interview, Jackson claimed that he did not have a chance to read the script for the film and did not learn he was playing the character Mace Windu until he was fitted for his costume (he later said that he was eager to accept any role, just for the chance to be a part of the Star Wars saga).
On June 13, 2000, Jackson was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7018 Hollywood Blvd. He began the next decade in his film career as a Marine colonel put on trial in Rules of Engagement, co-starred with Bruce Willis for a third time in the supernatural thriller Unbreakable, and starred in the 2000 remake of the 1971 film Shaft. Jackson's sole film in 2001 was The Caveman's Valentine, a murder thriller in which he played a homeless musician. The film was directed by Kasi Lemmons, who previously worked with Jackson in Eve's Bayou. In 2002, he played a recovering alcoholic attempting to keep custody of his kids while fighting a battle of wits with Ben Affleck's character in Changing Lanes. He returned for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, seeing his minor supporting role develop into a major character. Mace Windu's purple lightsaber in the film was the result of Jackson's suggestion; he wanted to be sure that his character would stand out in a crowded battle scene. Jackson then acted as an NSA agent alongside Vin Diesel in xXx and a kilt-wearing drug dealer in The 51st State. In 2003, Jackson again worked with John Travolta in Basic and then as a police sergeant alongside Colin Farrell in the television show remake S.W.A.T. A song within the soundtrack was named after him, entitled Sammy L. Jackson by Hot Action Cop. Jackson also appeared in HBO's documentary Unchained Memories, as a narrator along many other stars like Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg. According to reviews gathered by Rotten Tomatoes, in 2004 Jackson starred in both his lowest and highest ranked films in his career. In the thriller Twisted, Jackson played a mentor to Ashley Judd. The film garnered a 2% approval rating on the website, with reviewers calling his performance "lackluster" and "wasted". He then lent his voice to the computer-animated film The Incredibles as the superhero Frozone. The film received a 97% approval rating, and Jackson's performance earned him an Annie Award nomination for Best Voice Acting. He then went on to do a cameo in another Quentin Tarantino film, Kill Bill: Volume 2.
In 2005, he starred in the sports drama, Coach Carter, where he played a coach (based on the actual coach Ken Carter) dedicated to teaching his players that education is more important than basketball. Although the film received mixed reviews, Jackson's performance was praised despite the film's storyline. Bob Townsend of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution commended Jackson's performance, "He takes what could have been a cardboard cliche role and puts flesh on it with his flamboyant intelligence." Jackson also returned for two sequels: XXX: State of the Union, this time commanding Ice Cube, and the final Star Wars prequel film, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. His last film for 2005 was The Man alongside comedian Eugene Levy. On November 4, 2005, he was presented with the Hawaii International Film Festival Achievement in Acting Award.
On January 30, 2006, Jackson was honored with a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theater; he is the seventh African American and 191st actor to be recognized in this manner. He next starred opposite actress Julianne Moore in the box office bomb Freedomland, where he depicted a police detective attempting to help a mother find her abducted child while quelling a citywide race riot. Jackson's second film of the year, Snakes on a Plane, gained cult film status months before it was released based on its title and cast. Jackson's decision to star in the film was solely based on the title. To build anticipation for the film, he also cameoed in the 2006 music video "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)" by Cobra Starship. On December 2, 2006, Jackson won the German Bambi Award for International Film, based on his many film contributions. In December 2006, Jackson starred in Home of the Brave, as a doctor returning home from the Iraq War.
On January 30, 2007, Jackson was featured as narrator in Bob Saget's direct-to-DVD Farce of the Penguins. The film was a spoof of the box office success March of the Penguins (which was narrated by Morgan Freeman). Also in 2007, he portrayed a blues player who imprisons a young woman (Christina Ricci) addicted to sex in Black Snake Moan, and the horror film 1408, an adaptation of the Stephen King short story. Later the same year, Jackson portrayed an athlete who impersonates former boxing heavyweight Bob Satterfield in director Rod Lurie's drama, Resurrecting the Champ. In 2008, Jackson reprised his role of Mace Windu in the CGI film, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, followed by Lakeview Terrace where he played a racist cop who terrorizes an interracial couple. In November of the same year, he starred along with Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes (who both died before the film's release) in Soul Men. In 2008, he portrayed the villain in The Spirit, which was poorly received by critics and the box office. In 2009, he again worked with Quentin Tarantino when he narrated several scenes in the World War II film, Inglourious Basterds.
In 2010, he starred in the drama Mother and Child and portrayed an interrogator who attempts to locate several nuclear weapons in the direct-to-video film Unthinkable. Alongside Dwayne Johnson, Jackson again portrayed a police officer in the opening scenes of the comedy The Other Guys. He also co-starred with Tommy Lee Jones for a film adaptation of The Sunset Limited.
Throughout Jackson's career, he has appeared in many films alongside mainstream rappers. These include Tupac Shakur (Juice), Queen Latifah (Juice/Sphere/Jungle Fever), Method Man (One Eight Seven), LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea/S.W.A.T.), Busta Rhymes (Shaft), Eve (xXx), Ice Cube (xXx: State of the Union), Xzibit (xXx: State of the Union), David Banner (Black Snake Moan), and 50 Cent (Home of the Brave). Additionally, Jackson has appeared in four films with actor Bruce Willis (National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Unbreakable) and the actors were slated to work together in Black Water Transit before both dropped out.
In 2002, Jackson gave his consent for Marvel Comics to design their "Ultimate" version of the character Nick Fury after his likeness. In the 2008 film Iron Man, he made a cameo as the character in a post-credit scene. In February 2009, Jackson signed on to a nine-picture deal with Marvel which would see him appear as the character in Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers as well as any other sequels they would produce. He reprised the role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Jackson said in an interview on February 11, 2015, that he only has two movies left on his Marvel contract following Ultron.
Among his more recent film roles, Jackson appeared in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, which was released December 25, 2012, Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, which was released in 70mm on December 25, 2015, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island, which was released on March 10, 2017.
Jackson is set to produce a live-action film adaptation of Afro Samurai, and is assuming the role of Sho'nuff in a remake of The Last Dragon. He will also star in the Brie Larson film Unicorn Store.
In addition to films, Jackson also appeared in several television shows, a video game, music videos, as well as audiobooks. Jackson had a small part in the Public Enemy music video for "911 Is a Joke". Jackson voiced several television show characters, including the lead role in the anime series, Afro Samurai, in addition to a recurring part as the voice of Gin Rummy in several episodes of the animated series The Boondocks. He guest-starred as himself in an episode of the BBC/HBO sitcom Extras. He voiced the main antagonist, Officer Frank Tenpenny, in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Jackson also hosted a variety of awards shows. He has hosted the MTV Movie Awards (1998), the ESPYs (1999, 2001, 2002, and 2009), and the Spike TV Video Game Awards (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012). In November 2006, he provided the voice of God for The Bible Experience, the New Testament audiobook version of the Bible. He was given the lead role because producers believed his deep, authoritative voice would best fit the role. He also recorded the Audible.com audiobook of Go the Fuck to Sleep. For the Atlanta Falcons' 2010 season, Jackson portrayed Rev. Sultan in the Falcons "Rise Up" commercial.
He also appeared in the Capital One cash-back credit card commercials.
Jackson has said that he chooses roles that are "exciting to watch" and have an "interesting character inside of a story", and that in his roles he wanted to "do things [he hasn't] done, things [he] saw as a kid and wanted to do and now [has] an opportunity to do". Throughout the 1990s, A.C. Neilson E.C.I., a box office tracking company, determined that Jackson appeared in more films than any other actor that grossed $1.7 billion domestically. For all the films in his career, where he is featured as a leading actor or supporting co-star, his films have grossed a total of $2.81 to $4.91 billion at the North American box office, placing him as the seventh (as strictly lead) or the second highest-grossing movie star (counting supporting roles) of all time; behind only that of voice actor Frank Welker. The 2009 edition of The Guinness World Records, which uses a different calculation to determine film grosses, stated that Jackson is the world's highest grossing actor, having earned $7.42 billion in 68 films.
In 1980, Jackson married actress and sports channel producer LaTanya Richardson, whom he met while attending Morehouse College. The couple have a daughter, Zoe (born 1982). In 2009, they started their own charitable organization to help support education. Jackson has said he attends each of his films in theaters with paying customers, saying: "Even during my theater years, I wished I could watch the plays I was in – while I was in them! I dig watching myself work." He also enjoys collecting the action figures of the characters he portrays in his films, including Jules Winnfield, Shaft, Mace Windu, and Frozone.
Jackson is bald but enjoys wearing wigs in his films. He said about his decision to go bald: "I keep ending up on those bald is beautiful lists. It's cool. You know, when I started losing my hair it was during the era when everybody had lots of hair. All of a sudden I felt this big hole in the middle of my afro, I couldn't face having a comb over so I had to quickly figure what the haircut for me was." His first bald role was in The Great White Hype. He usually gets to pick his own hairstyles for each character he portrays. He poked fun at his baldness the first time he appeared bald on The Tonight Show, explaining that he had to shave his head for one role, but then kept receiving more and more bald roles and had to keep shaving his head so that wigs could be made for him. He joked that "the only way I'm gonna have time to grow my hair back is if I'm not working".
Jackson has a clause in his film contracts that allows him to play golf during film shoots. He has played in the Gary Player Invitational charity golf tournament to assist Gary Player in raising funds for children in South Africa. Jackson is a keen basketball fan, supporting the Toronto Raptors and the Harlem Globetrotters. He supports the soccer team Liverpool F.C. since appearing in The 51st State. He also supports Irish soccer team Bohemian F.C.
Jackson campaigned during the 2008 Democratic Primary for Barack Obama in Texarkana, Texas. He said: "Barack Obama represents everything I was told I could be growing up. I am a child of segregation. When I grew up and people told me I could be president, I knew it was a lie. But now we have a representative... the American Dream is a reality. Anyone can grow up to be a president." Jackson also said: "I voted for Barack because he was black. That's why other folks vote for other people – because they look like them". He compared his Django Unchained character, a villainous house slave, to black conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, saying that "I have the same moral compass as Clarence Thomas does".
In June 2013, Jackson launched a joint campaign with the charity Prizeo in an effort to raise money to fight Alzheimer's disease. As part of the campaign, he recited various fan-written monologues and a popular scene from the AMC series Breaking Bad. In August 2013, he started a vegan diet for health reasons, explaining that he is "just trying to live forever", and attributes a 40 lb weight loss to his new diet. He launched a campaign called "One for the Boys", which teaches men about testicular cancer and urges them to "get themselves checked out".
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