For those who think 50 years old is too old to hit it big in Hollywood, think again. Morgan Freeman, an Air Force Veteran, logged many of those years on the Broadway stage, and behind the cameras of the small and big screens, before finally breaking out with his first Academy Award nomination.
After his nomination for “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1987, Freeman appeared in “Lean on Me,” “Glory,” “Invictus,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and "The Dark Knight Trilogy" before landing the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004.
And that first Oscar came at the age of 67.
Born in 1937, and growing up in Mississippi, Freeman filled his time watching heroic movies of America basking in the pride of victory after World War II. In 1955, that inspiration led Morgan to enlist in the U.S. Air Force after turning down a scholarship to Jackson State University, rising to Airman 1st Class.
But he never became the fighter pilot of his dreams. Instead, a change of heart led him to pursue an acting career.
“When I got in and started to live that life (in the Air Force), it occurred to me that I had been functioning with my romance with movies. I had seen all these war movies, but you are thinking reality when it is all make believe,” he said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey’s “Master Class.”
“When you made your choice, it is providence that is your guide. Good bad or indifferent, your fate lies in that,” Freeman added, describing his decision to move on to acting. The irony is that his last military post was in San Bernardino, just a short bus ride from Los Angeles where he moved to start his acting career.
Providence did not bring instant success. Like many aspiring actors, he struggled, even taking a gig as a dancer in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. By 1971, he found steady work and success when he appeared on the hit kids show on public television, “The Electric Company” for five seasons and over 700 episodes.
Freeman then accumulated many other roles during those years, including off-Broadway and Broadway, but it was not until 1987 when Freeman broke out with “Driving Miss Daisy,” although even getting the role took an ironic turn to prove that 50 years old was not “too young.”
“We heard Warner Bros. was making the movie, but they never hire New York actors,” he told AARP Magazine.“When the movie’s director, Bruce Beresford, came backstage, I said, ‘So, do I get the job?’ He said, ‘You’re kinda young.’ He wanted Sidney Poitier. But when they went to Sidney, Sidney said, ‘Go with the kid.’”
Finally: Flying and The Oscar
Flash forward 15 years later, amid movie stardom, when most stars stick to Los Angeles. It was then that Freeman chose to return to his roots in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he finally got the chance to fly, and to open the popular Ground Zero Blues Club with business partner and town Mayor Bill Luckett, himself a U.S. Army Veteran.
Luckett lured Freeman into the cockpit, where he had his first lesson in July 2002, earned his private pilot ticket in October, his instrument rating in May 2003, and quickly followed up with a multi-engine rating.
“I keep the statue at home in a little room in Mississippi that has tchotchkes in it, and all of the high-end awards are there: the Screen Actors Guild, the People’s Choice, Golden Globe. I’ve stopped waiting for the best actor Oscar because you get to a point where it’s better to be nominated over and over. It’s more fun that way. You get to stay in that crowd,” he told AARP.
Invictus Games 2016
And through it all, the military connection remains. Freeman, with his booming iconic voice, also narrated the opening ceremony for the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, with memorable words using the Games’ official motto “I AM”:
Your service sets an example
Your bravery inspires me
It is my honor now
To support and give you courage
To fight for you as you fought for us
To keep your family close beside
To take the steps you need to take
I AM here for you
In addition to his Oscar win with Million Dollar Baby and nomination with “Driving Miss Daisy,” Freeman also received Oscar nominations for his performances in “Street Smart” in 1987, “The Shawshank Redemption” in 1994, and “Invictus” in 2009. He also won a Golden Globe Award for “Driving Miss Daisy,” and a Screen Actors Guild Award for “Million Dollar Baby.”
Image Credit: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/movies-for-grownups/info-2017/morgan-freeman-stellar-life-through-pictures-photo.html#slide1