The American Film Institute announced this week that actor Morgan Freeman will receive their next Lifetime Achievement Award in June 2011. Each year the AFI selects one of film’s most influential actors or filmmakers to bestow the very prestigious award. Previous awardees have included Director Steven Spielberg, Director John Ford, actor Tom Hanks and so forth. Actor Morgan Freeman will be the 39th recipient. The announcement of this award has created another Facebook campaign for Freeman to narrate his own film montage. Facebook’s last petition to cast Betty White on Saturday Night Live proved to win over producer Lorne Michaels and generated one the highest rated shows from the late night series. But to understand the reason fans would like Freeman to narrate his own montage (which would normally seem taboo), it is important to know the history of this amazing performer and his rise to fame to become a Hollywood Icon.
Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937. He was educated at the Los Angeles Community College and worked in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 through 1959. He worked as an actor on two off-Broadway productions before moving to television. Freeman did not rise to fame and fortune as a young actor. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he paid his dues. Much of his early days were on the children’s TV show “The Electric Company.” After his stint in children’s television he moved on to supporting roles on prime time television starring in “Attica,” and “Death of a Profit.” As his work in television escalated he started to win roles in film.
Not until he was cast in the film Street Smart at the age of fifty did Freeman start receiving attention from Hollywood for his work. From what was a mediocre career as a working actor, his performance as a thug gave Freeman the attention to move from mere obscurity and gave him his first nomination for an Academy Award. Two years later he followed with two incredible performances. The first is the supporting role as the dutiful chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy and the second is the moving performance as a Union soldier in Edward Zwick’s film Glory. His performance in Driving Miss Daisy earned him a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor and another Academy Award Nomination.
In 1992, Freeman starred in his first film directed by Clint Eastwood. This role with the all-star cast, Unforgiven, was a very successful western and was nominated for nine Oscars. Although Freeman’s role was not recognized, it was the beginning of an on-screen partnership with Clint Eastwood.
In just another two years, Freeman would again please critics and win over filmgoers for his performance in the prison film The Shawshank Redemption. Freeman’s performance of an inmate, resigned to a life-time in prison, not only was another heart-breaking performance, but initiated Freeman to the part of film narrator. His calm, ethereal voice was an integral part of the success of this film. This performance again was recognized by The Academy and became Freeman’s first Oscar-winning performance and his first recognized performance as a leading character.
In 1997, Freeman appeared in the Steven Spielberg film Amistad. This role as a former slave, although small, continued to add to his resume. Over the next few years Freeman remained busy, starring in Nurse Betty, Along Came a Spider, High Crimes and The Sum of All Fears. In 2003, Freeman found the ultimate job playing God alongside funny-man Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty.
Morgan Freeman has become the go-to actor in Hollywood to get the job done. And his speaking voice has been a major factor in his career ascension. Being a mature man, brought Freeman a sense of honesty, wisdom and an ability to become the story teller as in his role in the second film with Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. This role earned Freeman his second Oscar, winning best performance in a supporting role.
In the following year, Freeman’s narrating experience did him well as he narrated the hugely popular documentary March of the Penguins. It was Freeman’s ability to humanize the life and journey of the Emperor penguin that contributed to the film’s huge success and its various awards.
There doesn’t seem to be a role that has been too big for Morgan Freeman. He has played God to Jim Carrey and portrayed Nelson Mandela so well that it’s almost difficult to tell them apart. He is also able to show his fun side with his big, bright smile going toe-to-toe with Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List. And again he will have much fun playing a retired CIA agent in Red, out in theater soon this month.
It was probably beyond Morgan Freeman’s childhood dreams to lead the life he has. He has brought a dimension of humility and humanity to his roles that have set him apart from his peers. He has indeed proved that determination and persistence in a career that is loved can have benefits beyond measure. Who better to narrate the journey of such an incredible life, but the man himself.