James Earl Jones will receive the 2017 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, honoring an illustrious career that spans six decades on the New York stage.
A revered figure among the Broadway community, the 86-year-old veteran has appeared in 20 productions since making his debut in 1958 in Dore Schary's Sunrise at Campobello. He won Tony Awards for best actor in a play in 1969 for Edwin Sherin's The Great White Hope, and in 1987 for August Wilson's Fences.
Jones' Broadway productions over the years have included a 1973 revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh; a 1974 production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men; the 1978 solo play Paul Robeson; and a 1982 Othello, in which he played the title role opposite Christopher Plummer as Iago and Dianne Wiest as Desdemona.
He has remained active on Broadway in the 2000s, appearing in On Golden Pond (2005), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008), opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy (2010), The Best Man (2012), You Can't Take It With You (2014), and most recently, The Gin Game (2015), co-starring with Cicely Tyson.
"When I came to New York to study acting, my father - the actor Robert Earl Jones - took me on a 'Grand Tour'," said Jones in a statement. "The first night was to the opera Tosca starring Leontyne Price. I loved the singing, but I didn't understand the format of opera. The second night was Swan Lake starring Margot Fontaine. The movement of the bodies just seemed like magic. The third night was Pal Joey. I was captivated by the warmth of the light on stage. I was not inspired to sing and dance, but I knew I wanted to be in the warmth of the stage light. The fourth night was Arthur Miller's The Crucible. By contrast, it created a cold world, coldness between human beings, but the ideas that Arthur Miller was able to evoke onstage were blazing hot. I knew I wanted to be a part of this and to explore the stage."
Jones, of course, has had a parallel career as a screen actor and is perhaps best known for his booming voice as Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise and as Mufasa in The Lion King. He received an honorary Oscar in 2011.
Nominations in competitive categories for the 71st Annual Tony Awards will be announced May 2. The ceremony will air live June 11 on CBS from New York's Radio City Music Hall, hosted by Tony winner Kevin Spacey.