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Toasting Morgan Freeman

A pictorial celebration of the actor's life

  • Robert Trachtenberg

    A Pictorial Toast to Morgan Freeman

    Morgan Freeman, 2017’s Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award honoree, takes us back to his journey from being a U.S. air force officer in the mid-1960s to becoming one of America’s most celebrated actors.

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  • Courtesy of Morgan Freeman

    Radio Flyer

    I went into the Air Force with the idea of being a fighter pilot, but they made me a radar mechanic. I’m about as mechanical as a doorknob, and my test scores qualified me to be an electronic countermeasures operator, but they weren’t having that. As I understand it, General Curtis LeMay didn’t want anybody black in there. Eventually, I decided my attraction to being a fighter pilot was all movie stuff, so I said: “Never mind.”

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  • Courtesy of Morgan Freeman

    On Point, 1962

    I came out to Los Angeles and started taking classes at L.A. City College. A teacher said, “You move very well, so you should really study dance because actors who sing and dance are what they call triple threats.” This was 1962, and I danced until about 1967. I was in a production of West Side Story. I danced at the 1964 World’s Fair. With dance, you have to be all in. On The Electric Company, in the mid-1970s, they wanted me to do some ballet move, and I almost wrecked myself. You can’t just throw your legs up in the air.

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  • Courtesy of Morgan Freeman

    Smooth Mover, 1964

    Oh, this is Mr. Cool. Taken while I was on tour with The Royal Hunt of the Sun. That was the way I dressed on tour. And I was a smoker. Was I a lady-killer in those days? Big time. Big time. Tall and good looking, that was my secret. We went to 14 cities. A lot of the places were colleges, so it was a feeding ground. But then the show ended, and there was no work. The magic wore off. I got a job at Nedick’s, which was like McDonald’s before McDonald’s caught on. The lady-killer? He started selling hot dogs.

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  • Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

    Counting the Hours, 1971

    I did more than 700 episodes of The Electric Company over five years. This was Season 1, because Bill Cosby did only the first season, and, yeah, I was as shocked as everyone by the recent news about him. We all got along great, but by the third year, I began to hate myself for not having the gumption to quit. I was on my way to becoming Captain Kangaroo. No, no, no. I’d come home and my wife would hand me a glass full of scotch and water. One day, she said, “You need to quit this. Have you ever tried marijuana?” From there, it was a gradual but definite weaning from alcohol to Mary Jane.

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  • Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

    Exit to Stardom, 1987

    I’m 50 years old, playing off-Broadway opposite the incredible Dana Ivey. Driving Miss Daisy changed everything. We heard Warner Bros. was making the movie, but they never hire New York actors. 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.”

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  • Tom Gates/Getty Images

    And That’s the Way It Is, 1988

    This was at Sardi’s in New York. That’s Walter Cronkite on the left. The guy with the beard is director James Brooks. There’s Jack, of course. I believe that we first met that night. I told him how much I really enjoyed his work, going all the way back to Five Easy Pieces. He said we should do something together. Years later, Rob Reiner called me and said, “I’d love for you to do The Bucket List.” I said, “Fine, but only if Jack Nicholson will do it with me.” We called Jack. Jack said yeah, and that was that. 

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  • Courtesy of Morgan Freeman

    Dear Mama, 1992

    That’s my little, short mom — Mayme Edna. What do you say about Mama? Mama was born in Itta Bena, Miss. She had four boys and one girl. Mama was a rolling stone. She liked to go. She had a very strong moral streak: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m a mama’s boy, but I got in trouble with her a lot, usually for doing something neglectful. I remember we were living close to the bone in this Chicago tenement, and she made banana pudding. I lit the oven and never took the pie out. Let’s just say I can still hear her hollering. 

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    POTUS Power, 1998

    Oh, yeah. Deep Impact. Some people thought Hollywood wasn’t ready for a black president, but I didn’t consider it. I’m not a professional black actor; I’m a professional actor. I can remember only once in the movies playing black, and that was Driving Miss Daisy. As for politics today, I supported Hillary in the election, and now it feels like we are jumping off a cliff. We just have to find out how we land. I’m not scared, though. I’m holding out hope that Donald Trump has to be a good president. He can’t not be. What I see is a guy who will not lose. 

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  • Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Frozen, 2005

    Not only have I not been to Antarctica, I’m not going. It’s too cold. Penguins are fine. I saw a bunch of them in the Galápagos. To me, March of the Penguins was just another day’s work. Because that’s precisely how long it took me to do the voice-over.  

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  • Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

    All That Glitters, 2005

    The truth? It was anticlimactic. I was up for best actor three times. The Oscar for Million Dollar Baby was for best supporting [actor]. 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. 

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  • James Patterson/Getty Images

    Home Sweet Home, 2005

    That’s me in my comfort zone. I own this blues club called Ground Zero in Clarksdale, Miss., where I live. We needed good music there because the place has everything else: It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. It’s green. I started going to Mississippi in the 1970s, after my folks moved back there. I couldn’t do New York anymore — living in a cave, concrete everywhere. I get to have a normal life in Mississippi. Nobody bothers me. I stay home. I golf with friends. I go have dinner. I survived inner-city South Side of Chicago, which was a hellhole, and worked hard over the years. I figure I owe it to myself to have some peace at this point in life. 

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  • Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

    Hero, 2009

    I’d been trying to make a movie about Madiba for 15 years. When his book Long Walk to Freedom was published and someone asked who should play him in the movies, he called me out. So we got in touch and stayed in touch. I went to his house in Johannesburg. I said, “If I’m going to do this, I need to get to know you. I need to be able to touch you.” I would go and watch him and listen to him until I could capture that Madiba spirit. One day, his assistant, Zelda, came to the Invictus set. She said, “How did he get here before me?” She thought I was Mandela. What did I take away from him? Well, yes, he’s a hero, but he’s also just a guy. He has all this courage, and that’s what it takes to be Mandela. You can do anything with enough kindness and compassion. 

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  • Leon Bennett/WireImage/Getty Images

    Taking Care of Business, 2010

    Lori McCreary and I have been working together since 1992, ever since Bopha! I wanted to have my own film company but had no time, inclination or knowledge. She had all that, and it’s been a fabulous partnership. At Revelations Entertainment, she’s my CEO and I’m president. She’s one of my closest and dearest friends. Our minds run on the same track. That’s what you want most in a partner.

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  • LEE CELANO/AFP/Getty Images

    Hands Down, 2011

    When I first came to Los Angeles and went to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and looked at all those footprints, handprints and names — that’s what I wanted. It’s very cool, even if I can’t always account for my success. When I remember the worst times, something like this is unimaginable. But then you’re on top of the world. I mean it’s just the way the mop flops. I happen to have been in some high-grossing movies and made a little money. But this was a good day. “Hey, Ma, look. I made it!”

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  • Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI

    Morgan Freeman and Family, 2011

    Well, let’s see. That’s [from left] my grandson, my oldest daughter, my son, grandson, granddaughter, great-grandson, youngest daughter. We’re not a get-together-on-Thanksgiving kinda family. My daughters fight like cats. I say, “You people want to be together, fine. Not here.” I think when someone in a family is famous, the downside is everybody expects things of you. But you have to make things happen on your own. When my son was younger, he said he wanted to be an actor and that I should introduce him to people. I said, “You should change your name. Don’t use Freeman.” He didn’t listen to me.

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  • Robert Trachtenberg

    A Priceless Prize, 2017

    At a certain point in life, if you’ve had some success, awards start to fall from the sky. But the Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award really means something. I started my movie career at the age of 50, and some of the best years have happened since then. I get a lot of pats on the back — they’re all over the place — but this one’s more than fun. It’s priceless.

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