"I like being eclectic. The more varied the better; the wider the range" says actor Morgan Freeman of his choice of roles. "I've been sucked into a kind of mold of a good guy and that's actually almost beyond my ability to control. But other than that, a good story and an interesting character is all I am looking for."
In the course of his lengthy career Morgan has certainly proved his versatility, moving from children's TV through song-and-dance man in Hello Dolly
to Shakespearean thespian.
But it is probably for his performances in a string of well-regarded movies, from Driving Miss Daisy
to The Shawshank Redemption
, that the actor is best known.
Born on June 1, 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee, to father Morgan Sr, a barber, and mother Mayme Edna - a cleaner - Morgan was still an infant when he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi.
Upon her death, when he was six, the actor spent the several years travelling with his mother, moving from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee, and finally to Greenwood, Mississippi, where they eventually settled down.
Morgan's acting career began at junior high school, when he was forced to participate in the school's drama competition bid in punishment for trying to gain the attention of a girl called Barbara by pulling her chair out from under her.
"We do this play about a family with a wounded son just home from the war," Morgan recounted later in life. "We win the state championship, and dadgummit, I'm chosen as best actor. All because I pulled that chair out from under Barbara."
His nascent acting talent may have drawn the attention of others, but Morgan was still set on pursuing his dream of being a jet fighter pilot, and when he graduated from high school he joined the US Air Force. Disappointed at being limited to duties as a mechanic and radar technician, he bided his time until demob day and then headed for Hollywood to discover whether acting might be his thing after all.
Success was slow in coming, however. He took acting classes from which, by his own admission, he gained little, before moving to New York in the early Sixties. There, he supported himself with a series of day jobs while auditioning for theatrical roles.
A part in Hello Dolly
in 1968, led to the role of hip, good-humoured Easy Reader on the US children's TV show The Electric Company
, in which he appeared from 1971 to 1976.
In 1980, Morgan landed a part opposite Robert Redford
and seven years later won his first Oscar nomination for a supporting role as the volatile pimp Fast Black in Street Smart
. Then came 1989's Driving Miss Daisy
. Morgan's portrayal of the good natured chauffeur a character he had also played on stage brought him a Best Actor Oscar nomination and finally made him a star.
Stellar performances in hit movies such as Outbreak
followed and the actor picked up a third nomination for his portrayal of Red, a prison lifer in 1994's The Shawshank Redemption
. His transition to lead was complete, and he went on to headline the 1997 thriller Kiss The Girls
and its sequel Along Came A Spider
Along the way, he hasn't been afraid to take supporting roles in superior movies and won praise for his work in the 1996 thriller Seven
and Steven Spielberg
the following year. His treatment of Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby
, then garnered him the ultimate accolade, an Academy Award, in 2005.
And he was back in the Oscar spotlight five years later, when his captivating performance as Nelson Mandela in Invictus
put him up for a best actor trophy.
Career success has allowed Morgan to indulge his favourite hobby sailing, and he has piloted his 38-foot yacht throughout the Caribbean and North Atlantic. He's usually accompanied on those trips by his second wife, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, and E'Dena Hines one of his ten grandchildren.
The fact that acclaim came late in life doesn't bother the actor. "Success comes when it comes," says Morgan. "I had a career for 30 years; a 30-year career is not bad. I often think I'm probably lucky that I wasn't a wild success early on, coming up through the 1970s. I could have very easily burned out."