Maybe one way Freeman stays youthful is by learning new skills, tackling each one obsessively until he masters it. He rode until he became an adept horseman. Then for years, if he wasn’t working, he could be found on his ketch Sojourner, which he sailed around the Caribbean. “Some people feel insignificant out at sea,” he says. “I feel the most significant, like I have wings.”
Five years ago he got even closer to sprouting wings, taking flying lessons. He and his best friend, Bill Luckett—Freeman’s partner in Madidi and other Clarksdale ventures—teamed up to buy a twin-engine Cessna 414 and a Cessna Citation jet. They fly together frequently, on fishing trips to Montana or business jaunts to New York or Los Angeles, trading off on the controls. And recently Luckett introduced Freeman to golf. “Morgan had never picked up a golf club,” Luckett says. “He took to it like a duck to water; he has a beautiful golf swing. Once he gets onto something, he’s on it.”
Freeman’s family life, which he once described as “convoluted,” has stabilized. He and Myrna pursue their own interests; if he’s not working, he’s usually flying somewhere, while she loves to take care of the Charleston house and garden. When asked now what the key is to his long marriage, Freeman lets out a big laugh. “Sh-t, I don’t know,” he says.
He knows what kind of father he has been, though: “Not much, I don’t think. When my kids were growing up, I was off working. Two of them I didn’t even have any truck with at all.” Once his two sons, who were raised by their mothers, became adults, he established relationships with them. Alfonso, an actor, has a small part playing his son in The Bucket List. “He’s in St. Louis right now rehearsing for Othello,” says Freeman with pride. Saifoulaye, a stay-at-home dad, lives in Michigan; daughter Deena, a hairdresser for films, is in South Carolina.
“In my opinion he was a great father,” says Morgana. “He’ll say he wasn’t, and I can’t say his being away a lot didn’t make it hard, but we learned to deal with it. When he was there, he was there, and his words were always very helpful.”
Freeman has no desire to slow down his work pace—“I love moviemaking,” he says. He will produce and star in a film about Nelson Mandela that tells the story of the 1995 rugby World Cup, held in South Africa. “That’s gonna be a real challenge,” he says. He hopes to persuade Clint Eastwood to direct, which would afford him the pleasure of joining two of the three people he says he most admires: Mandela, Eastwood, and the Dalai Lama.
The suffocating midday heat has abated, and Freeman has a date with Luckett at the local golf course. Luckett, a lawyer, is the hands-on impresario of an ever-increasing network of business and charitable ventures that enmeshes Freeman in Mississippi. They founded Madidi and the nearby Ground Zero Blues Club partly for selfish reasons: they both love great food and good music, and there was no place local to go. Clarksdale, known as the birthplace of the blues, has long attracted pilgrims who come to see the sleepy crossroads town where such greats as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Ike Turner all lived, performed, or recorded; even Elvis played here as a youngster. “This town is legendary, but there was nothing here to support the legend,” explains Freeman. He and Luckett admit they lose money on both the restaurant and the club, but their losses are offset by profitable investments, including in real estate.
Freeman is low-key about his charitable endeavors, but through his Rock River Foundation he has given millions to 4-H clubs, Teach For America, and other educational institutions. While most of his efforts are dedicated to the Mississippi Delta region, after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 Freeman helped the Grenada Relief Fund, established to rebuild the devastated Caribbean island.
More than five decades ago, when he left Mississippi, Freeman couldn’t imagine ever wanting to return. But around 1990, with his mother growing older, he moved back to spend time with her. By then she was living in what had been her parents’ house in Charleston, and Freeman bought adjacent land to build his own home next door