Today, the man with what is probably the most famous voice in the world turns 81. James Earl Jones was born on this date in 1931 in Mississippi, and — believe it or not — was functionally mute for eight years of his childhood due to embarrassment over his stutter. Fortunately for him and for the world, he overcame his childhood speaking issues to become a great actor and to give voice to, among other characters, one of the most famous movie villains of all time.
I refer, of course, to Darth Vader, a role for which he was initially (at his request) uncredited for Episodes IV and V until their “special edition” release in the late ’90s. Tremendous credit must be given to David Prowse for his excellent physical portrayal of Vader — it can’t be easy to act when your entire body is covered by a suit and nobody can see your face at all. But it’s safe to say that Vader would not have attained his status as one of the most iconic bad guys in movie history had anyone else but James Earl Jones given him voice.
While that would certainly be enough to enshrine Jones forever in the annals of geek history, his contributions didn’t stop there: He was also the villain Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, and his first movie role ever was in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant nuclear war satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And, while it’s debatable whether it qualifies as geeky or not, he gave a great performance as the Salinger-esque Terence Mann in Field of Dreams.
Please join all of us at GeekDad in wishing James Earl Jones a very happy 81st birthday!
[A version of this post was published last year on this date.]