Morgan Freeman was born on June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the son of Mayme Edna (née Revere; 1912–2000), a teacher, and Morgan Porterfield Freeman, a barber who died on April 27, 1961, from cirrhosis. He has three older siblings. According to a DNA analysis, some of his ancestors were from Niger. Freeman was sent as an infant to his paternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi. He moved frequently during his childhood, living in Greenwood, Mississippi; Gary, Indiana; and finally Chicago, Illinois. When Freeman was 16 years old, he almost died of pneumonia.
Freeman made his acting debut at age nine, playing the lead role in a school play. He then attended Broad Street High School, a building which serves today as Threadgill Elementary School, in Greenwood, Mississippi. At age 12, he won a statewide drama competition, and while still at Broad Street High School, he performed in a radio show based in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1955, he graduated from Broad Street, but turned down a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University, opting instead to enlist in the United States Air Force and served as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman, rising to the rank of Airman 1st Class. Freeman's service portrait appears in his character's funeral scene in The Bucket List.
After four years in the military, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse and dancing lessons in San Francisco in the early 1960s and worked as a transcript clerk at Los Angeles City College. During this period, Freeman also lived in New York City, working as a dancer at the 1964 World's Fair, and in San Francisco, where he was a member of the Opera Ring musical theater group. He acted in a touring company version of The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and also appeared as an extra in the 1965 film The Pawnbroker. Freeman made his off-Broadway debut in 1967, opposite Viveca Lindfors in The Nigger Lovers (about the Freedom Riders during the American Civil Rights Movement), before debuting on Broadway in 1968's all-black version of Hello, Dolly! which also starred Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.
He continued to be involved in theater work and received the Obie Award in 1980 for the title role in Coriolanus. In 1984, he received his second Obie Award for his role as the preacher in The Gospel at Colonus. Freeman also won a Drama Desk Award and a Clarence Derwent Award for his role as a wino in The Mighty Gents. He received his third Obie Award for his role as a chauffeur for a Jewish widow in Driving Miss Daisy, which was adapted for the screen in 1989.
Although his first credited film appearance was in 1971's Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow?, Freeman first became known in the American media through roles on the soap opera Another World and the PBS kids' show The Electric Company (notably as Easy Reader, Mel Mounds the DJ, and Vincent the Vegetable Vampire[clip]).
During his tenure with The Electric Company, "(i)t was a very unhappy period in his life," according to Joan Ganz Cooney. Freeman himself admitted in an interview that he never thinks about his tenure with the show at all. Since then, Freeman has considered his Street Smart (1987) character Fast Black, rather than any of the characters he played in The Electric Company, to be his breakthrough role.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Freeman began playing prominent supporting roles in many feature films, earning him a reputation for depicting wise, fatherly characters. As he gained fame, he went on to bigger roles in films such as the chauffeur Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy, and Sergeant Major Rawlins in Glory (both in 1989). In 1994, he portrayed Red, the redeemed convict in the acclaimed The Shawshank Redemption. In the same year he was a member of the jury at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.
He also starred in such films as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Unforgiven, Seven, and Deep Impact. In 1997, Freeman, together with Lori McCreary, founded the film production company Revelations Entertainment, and the two co-head its sister online film distribution company ClickStar. Freeman also hosts the channel Our Space on ClickStar, with specially crafted film clips in which he shares his love for the sciences, especially space exploration and aeronautics.
After three previous nominations—a supporting actor nomination for Street Smart, and leading actor nominations for Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption—he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Million Dollar Baby at the 77th Academy Awards. Freeman is recognized for his distinctive voice, making him a frequent choice for narration. In 2005 alone, he provided narration for two films, War of the Worlds and the Academy Award-winning documentary film March of the Penguins.
Freeman appeared as God in the hit film Bruce Almighty and its sequel, Evan Almighty, as well as Lucius Fox in the critical and commercial success Batman Begins and its sequels, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. He starred in Rob Reiner's 2007 film The Bucket List, opposite Jack Nicholson. He teamed with Christopher Walken and William H. Macy for the comedy The Maiden Heist, which was released direct to video due to financial problems with the distribution company. In 2008, Freeman returned to Broadway to co-star with Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher for a limited engagement of Clifford Odets's play, The Country Girl, directed by Mike Nichols.
He had wanted to do a film based on Nelson Mandela for some time. At first he tried to get Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom adapted into a finished script, but it was not finalized. In 2007, he purchased the film rights to a book by John Carlin, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. Clint Eastwood directed the Nelson Mandela bio-pic titled Invictus, starring Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as rugby team captain Francois Pienaar.
In 2010, Freeman co-starred alongside Bruce Willis in Red. In 2013, Freeman appeared in the action-thriller Olympus Has Fallen, the science fiction drama Oblivion, and the comedy Last Vegas. In 2014, he co-starred in the action film Lucy.
In 2015, Freeman played the Chief Justice of the United States in the season two premiere of Madam Secretary (Freeman is also one of the series' executive producers).
Freeman made his directorial debut in 1993 with Bopha! for Paramount Pictures.
In July 2009, Freeman was one of the presenters at the 46664 Concert celebrating Nelson Mandela's birthday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Freeman was the first American to record a par on Legend Golf & Safari Resort's Extreme 19th hole.
Effective January 4, 2010, Freeman replaced Walter Cronkite as the voiceover introduction to the CBS Evening News featuring Katie Couric as news anchor. CBS cited the need for consistency in introductions for regular news broadcasts and special reports as the basis for the change. As of 2010, Freeman is the host and narrator of the Discovery Channel television show, focused on physics outreach, Through the Wormhole.
He was featured on the opening track to B.o.B's second album Strange Clouds. The track "Bombs Away" features a prologue and epilogue (which leads into a musical outro) spoken by Freeman. In 2011, Freeman was featured with John Lithgow in the Broadway debut of Dustin Lance Black's play, 8, a staged reenactment of Perry v. Brown, the federal trial that overturned California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage. Freeman played Attorney David Boies. The production was held at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York City to raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
In 2015 Freeman directed "The Show Must Go On," the season two premiere of Madam Secretary.
From his early life, Freeman has two extramarital children; one of them is Alfonso Freeman.
Freeman was married to Jeanette Adair Bradshaw from October 22, 1967, until November 18, 1979.
He married Myrna Colley-Lee on June 16, 1984. The couple separated in December 2007. Freeman's attorney and business partner Bill Luckett announced in August 2008 that Freeman and his wife were in divorce proceedings. On September 15, 2010, their divorce was finalized in Mississippi.
Freeman and Colley-Lee adopted Freeman's stepgranddaughter from his first marriage, E'dena Hines, and raised her together. On August 16, 2015, 33-year-old Hines was murdered in New York City.
In 2008, the TV series African American Lives 2 revealed that some of Freeman's great-great-grandparents were slaves who migrated from North Carolina to Mississippi. Freeman discovered that his Caucasian maternal great-great-grandfather had lived with, and was buried beside, Freeman's African-American great-great-grandmother (in the segregated South, the two could not marry legally at the time). A DNA test on the series stated that he is descended in part from the Songhai and Tuareg peoples of Niger.
In a 2012 interview with TheWrap, Freeman was asked if he considered himself atheist or agnostic. He replied, "It's a hard question because as I said at the start, I think we invented God. So if I believe in God, and I do, it's because I think I'm God." Freeman later said that his experience working on The Story of God with Morgan Freeman did not change his views on religion.
Freeman lives in Charleston, Mississippi, and New York City. He owns and operates Ground Zero, a blues club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He formerly co-owned Madidi, a fine dining restaurant, also in Clarksdale.
At age 65, Freeman earned a private pilot's license. He owns or has owned at least three private aircraft, including a Cessna Citation 501 jet and a Cessna 414 twin-engine prop. In 2007, he purchased an Emivest SJ30 long-range private jet and took delivery in December 2009. He is certified to fly all of them.
Freeman was injured in an automobile accident near Ruleville, Mississippi, on the night of August 3, 2008. The vehicle in which he was traveling, a 1997 Nissan Maxima, left the highway and flipped over several times. He and a female passenger, Demaris Meyer, were rescued from the vehicle using the "Jaws of Life". Freeman was taken via medical helicopter to The Regional Medical Center (The Med) hospital in Memphis. Police ruled out alcohol as a factor in the crash. Freeman was coherent following the crash, as he joked with a photographer about taking his picture at the scene. His left shoulder, arm, and elbow were broken in the crash, and he had surgery on August 5, 2008. Doctors operated for four hours to repair nerve damage in his shoulder and arm. On CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight he stated that he is left handed but cannot move the fingers of his left hand. He wears a compression glove to protect against blood pooling due to non-movement. His publicist announced he was expected to make a full recovery. Meyer, his passenger, sued him for negligence, claiming that he was drinking the night of the accident. Subsequently, the suit was settled.
After becoming concerned with the decline of honeybees, Freeman decided to turn his 124-acre ranch into a sanctuary for them in July 2014, starting with 26 bee hives.
In 2004, Freeman and others formed the Grenada Relief Fund to aid people affected by Hurricane Ivan on the island of Grenada. The fund has since become PLANIT NOW, an organization that seeks to provide preparedness resources for people living in areas afflicted by hurricanes and severe storms. Freeman has worked on narrating small clips for global organizations, such as One Earth, whose goals include raising awareness of environmental issues. He has narrated the clip "Why Are We Here," which can be viewed on One Earth's website. Freeman has donated money to the Mississippi Horse Park in Starkville, Mississippi. The park is part of Mississippi State University and Freeman has several horses that he takes there.
Freeman endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy for the 2008 presidential election, although he stated that he would not join Obama's campaign. He narrates for The Hall of Presidents with Barack Obama, who has been added to the exhibit. The Hall of Presidents re-opened on July 4, 2009, at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Freeman joined President Bill Clinton, USA Bid Committee Chairman Sunil Gulati, and USMNT midfielder Landon Donovan on Wednesday, December 1, 2010, in Zurich for the U.S. bid committee's final presentation to FIFA for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. On day 4 of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Morgan Freeman provided the voiceover for the video introduction of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Freeman has publicly criticized the celebration of Black History Month and does not participate in any related events, saying, "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history." He says the only way to end racism is to stop talking about it, and he notes that there is no "white history month." Freeman once said in an interview with 60 Minutes's Mike Wallace, "I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man." Freeman supported the defeated proposal to change the Mississippi state flag, which contains the Confederate battle flag. Freeman sparked controversy in 2011 when, on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, he accused the Tea Party movement of racism.
In reaction to the death of Freddie Gray and the 2015 Baltimore protests, Freeman said he was "absolutely" supportive of the protesters. "That unrest [in Baltimore] has nothing to do with terrorism at all, except the terrorism we suffer from the police. [...] Because of the technology—everybody has a smartphone—now we can see what the police are doing. We can show the world, Look, this is what happened in that situation. So why are so many people dying in police custody? And why are they all black? And why are all the police killing them white? What is that? The police have always said, 'I feared for my safety.' Well, now we know. OK. You feared for your safety while a guy was running away from you, right?"
Morgan Freeman has been nominated for an Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award five different times, each time for the same film for each award. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on Million Dollar Baby, and the Golden Globe for Best Actor with Driving Miss Daisy. Likewise, he has four Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) nominations, and one win for Million Dollar Baby.
On October 28, 2006, Freeman was honored at the first Mississippi's Best Awards in Jackson, Mississippi, with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his works on and off the big screen. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts and Letters from Delta State University during the school's commencement exercises on May 13, 2006. In 2013, Boston University presented him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. On November 12, 2014, he was bestowed the honour of Freedom of the City by the City of London.
In August 2017, he was named the 54th recipient of the SAG Life Achievement award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.