In National Geographic’s thought provoking documentary series The Story of Us, Oscar-winning legend Morgan Freeman explores the world in search of the answers to fundamental questions like why do societies seem so different, and how did human civilization develop?
As The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman airs in the UK on Nat Geo, we’ve unearthed some fascinating facts you probably don’t know about the iconic actor.
1. He became famous late in life
Although he made his film debut in 1960 and spent much of the 70s and 80s on and off-Broadway, Freeman didn’t become a household name until the age of 52, when he starred alongside Jessica Tandy in the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. Although he had been nominated for an Oscar for Street Smart in 1987, he was by no means considered a major star until he broke through in what is now considered a classic movie. He had originated the role of driver Hoke Colburn in the stage version of Alfred Uhry's play.
2. He was forced into acting
Morgan says he’d never really considering acting until when he was forced to appear in a school play as punishment for pulling a chair out from under a female classmate. Expecting to hate it, he clearly surprised himself by discovering a passion and undeniable talent for the craft.
3. He turned down a drama scholarship
Morgan was offered a drama scholarship at Jackson State University but instead opted to joined the US Air Force. He served in the USAF from 1955 to 1959 and didn’t return to studying acting until the early 1960s when he enrolled in university-level acting classes at LA City College.
4. He’s been nominated for five Oscars
Freeman had been nominated for acting roles in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption before he won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Clint Eastwood's 2005 film Million Dollar Baby. In 2009 he was nominated for the role of Nelson Mandela in another Eastwood film, Invictus.
5. He’s an in-demand narrator
As fans of The Shawshank Redemption will testify, Morgan's smooth, deep voice makes him the perfect narrator. He has since lent his mellifluous tones to many TV and movie dramas and documentaries, including War of the Worlds, Conan the Barbarian and March of the Penguins.
Freeeman came top in a poll to provide the voice for Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg’s smart home Al, and such is the power of his voice that he played God in comedy films Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty before he explored the meaning of life in Nat Geo's 2006 series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.
6. He supports marijuana legalisation
Morgan suffered serious injuries in a major car accident in 2008 and says he’s relied on medical marijuana to manage his pain ever since. He told The Daily Beast in 2015.
“Marijuana has many useful uses. I have fibromyalgia pain in this arm, and the only thing that offers any relief is marijuana. They’re talking about kids who have grand mal seizures, and they’ve discovered that marijuana eases that down to where these children can have a life. That right there, to me, says, ‘Legalise it across the board!’”
7. He’s published a cookbook
He’s clearly a man of many talents, including, if his published cookbook is anything to go by, knowing his way around the kitchen. Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause was published in 2006 to raise funds to help the victims of Hurricane Ivan. In addition to Freeman’s recipes, many other celebrities contributed including Kenny Chesney, Tom Hanks and Michael Douglas.
8. He’s worked as a professional dancer
And he can dance too! Freeman’s first entertainment gigs were actually as a professional dancer rather than an actor. Alongside his acting classes he studied dance for years and, strapped for cash, he took on a role as a dancer at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
9. He owns a blues club
Freeman co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club located in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Named in honour of Clarksdale's history as a centre of Delta Blues music, the club is a live music venue as well as a restaurant.
10. He’s been the victim of several online hoaxes
A quick Google of Freeman reveals that one of the top queries is by users asking when he died. Right now, 80-year-old Freeman is still very much alive and kicking – but there have been multiple online hoaxes over the years announcing his death.
The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman is on National Geographic, Sundays at 9pm.
Watch National Geographic on BT TV channel 317/373 HD.