Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. was born on December 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York. He is the middle of three children of a beautician mother, Lennis, from Georgia, and a Pentecostal minister father, Denzel Washington, Sr., from Virginia. After graduating from high school, Denzel enrolled at Fordham University, intent on a career in journalism. However, he caught the acting bug while appearing in student drama productions and, upon graduation, he moved to San Francisco and enrolled at the American Conservatory Theater. He left A.C.T. after only one year to seek work as an actor. His first paid acting role was in a summer stock theater stage production in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. The play was “Wings of the Morning”, which is about the founding of the colony of Maryland (now the state of Maryland) and the early days of the Maryland colonial assembly (a legislative body). He played the part of a real historical character, Mathias Da Sousa, although much of the dialogue was created. Afterwards he began to pursue screen roles in earnest. With his acting versatility and powerful presence, he had no difficulty finding work in numerous television productions.
On June 25, 1983, Washington married Pauletta Pearson, whom he met on the set of his first screen work, the television film Wilma. They have four children: John David (born July 28, 1984), also an actor and a former football player, Katia (born November 27, 1986) who graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2010, and twins Olivia and Malcolm (born 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, Washington and his wife renewed their wedding vows in South Africa with Desmond Tutu officiating.
Washington is a devout Christian,and 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.” In 1995, he donated US$2.5 illion to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ facility in Los Angeles.
Washington says he reads the Bible daily.
Washington has served as the national spokesman for Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993and 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.
In mid-2004, Washington visited Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston, where he participated in a Purple Heart ceremony, presenting medals to three Army soldiers recovering from wounds they received while stationed in Iraq. He also visited the fort’s Fisher House facilities, and after learning that it had exceeded its capacity, made a substantial donation to the Fisher House Foundation. Washington’s other charitable contributions include US$1 million to Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund in 1995 and US$1 million to Wiley College to resuscitate the college’s debate team.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) named Washington as one of three people (the others being directors Oliver Stone and Michael Moore) with whom they were willing to negotiate for the release of three defense contractors the group had held captive from 2003 to 2008.
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.
Denzel Washington has spent three decades in the top tier of Hollywood celebrity as a towering screen presence with limitless talent.
An ageless sex symbol who could have coasted on the strength of his charisma alone, Washington has consistently surprised over the course of his storied career, making bold acting choices while stretching himself as a director and producer. One of the most acclaimed and influential entertainers of all time, the six-time Oscar nominee has also been a tireless force off-camera, backing challenging films while offering opportunities to unheralded talents.
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Washington got his start on the stage before becoming a star on the NBC drama “St. Elsewhere.” His breakthrough movie role came with an Oscar-nominated performance in 1987’s “Cry Freedom.” He won Academy Awards for the civil war drama “Glory” and the crime thriller “Training Day,” while earning acclaim for collaborations with the likes of Spike Lee, Tony Scott, and Antoine Fuqua. In 2010 Washington won a Tony for the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which he adapted for the screen in 2016 as producer, director, and co-star.