Wise Facts About Morgan Freeman

October 19, 2023 | Carl Wyndham

Wise Facts About Morgan Freeman

“Get busy living or get busy dying". Got that right, Mr. Freeman.

As one of the most versatile and well-respected actors in Hollywood, Morgan Freeman is known for his many iconic film roles. And at the age of 79, he’s showing no sign of slowing down.

Read on to learn a few facts about one of the enduring good guys of Hollywood.

1. Baby Of The Family

Born June 1, 1937, in Memphis, Tenn., Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr. was the baby in a family of five siblings. His father was a barber and his mother, Mayme Edna, was a schoolteacher.


2. Humble Beginnings

Not long after he was born, Morgan's parents relocated to Chicago. While his parents struggled to find work, Freeman stayed with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi until he was six years old. Following his grandmother's passing, Freeman relocated to reside with his mother, who had parted ways with her husband.

Morgan Freeman FactsWikimedia Commons

3. Early Influences

As a child, Freeman spent tons of time scraping together money to go to the movies; he has said some of his earliest matinee idols were actors like Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor.

The West Wing factsGetty Images

4. The Chair That Changed A Life

When Freeman was in junior high school, he pulled a chair from underneath a girl he had a crush on. As punishment, he was ordered to take part in his school’s drama competition. To his surprise (and probably his teachers), the 12-year-old was a natural on stage, taking top honors in the program.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, Carl Lender

5. The Wild Blue Yonder

After graduating from school, Freeman attended Los Angeles City College and then joined the U.S. Air Force in 1955, hoping it would lead to a career in the skies. But after four years of working as a mechanic, he decided not to re-enlist. "I had this very clear epiphany," he told AARP Magazine. "You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this". He left the Air Force and moved to Hollywood to pursue his dream of acting.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, GoArmy

6. His First Big Break

Freeman's first big break came in 1967, when he joined the cast in the first all-African American stage production of Hello, Dolly!, a musical in which he starred alongside such greats as Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway and Ernestine Jackson. That was a good year for him; Freeman also married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, his first wife, that same year.

Morgan Freeman FactsGetty Images

7. "Hey, You Guyyyyyyyyys!"

Freeman’s first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow, but his first real exposure to national audiences was his time as part of The Electric Company (1971-77), a children’s TV show made by the same people who created Sesame Street. For six seasons and 780 episodes, Freeman and the rest of the cast sang and performed comedy skits to encourage younger students to read. Among his regular characters were disc jockey Mel Mounds, Count Dracula and Easy Reader (“a first-class, genuine reading freak”).

Shawshank Redemption FactsShutterstock

8. Paying His Dues

While The Electric Company provided consistent employment, Freeman was aspiring to venture into movies. His career got a boost when he secured the role of an incarcerated individual in the 1980 Robert Redford film Brubaker. However, the anticipated film roles did not materialize for Freeman, leading him to return to television. He found roles on soap operas like Ryan's Hope and Another World, along with featuring in TV films including one centered around a Prophet, where he embodied civil-rights leader Malcolm X.

Morgan Freeman FactsBrubaker(1980), 20th Century Fox

9. Chatting With The Insane

While on the set of Brubaker, Morgan Freeman had some noteworthy encounters with the inmates. "During the filming of Brubaker, we were in a correctional facility housing the criminally insane". They said, don't talk to the inmates. Well, what do you do if a guy accused of butchering his family comes up and speaks to you? You don't refuse to talk to him".

Morgan Freeman FactsBrubaker(1980), 20th Century Fox

10. A Star Is Born

As the 1980s rolled on, Freeman started getting recognized for roles in which he played mentors and people in positions of authority (something that would become a theme for him as the years went on). But the role he says was his favorite was that of Fast Black, a vicious pimp in 1987’s Street Smart. “That one was about as far away from me as I can get,” he once said. That role earned him his first Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) and a glowing review from film critic Pauline Kael, who went so far as to ask the world: “Is Morgan Freeman the greatest American actor?”

Shawshank Redemption FactsShutterstock

11. Dress For Success And Make Someone Else Pay For It!

“The first real role I had in a movie I played a pimp [in Street Smart] – this was in the late ‘80s – and the costume designer at the time said, ‘So, how do you see yourself?’ And at the time, all the pimps in the movies were wearing platform shoes, crushed velvet, robes, this and that. I said, ‘None of that.’ And she said, ‘Armani?’ I said yes, so she actually wiped out her costume budget buying me an Armani (suit)".

Morgan Freeman FactsStreet Smart(1987), Cannon Group

12. We’re Starting To See A Pattern Here…

Freeman captivated audiences in Street Smart, and went on to impress in Clean and Sober (playing a strict but supportive drug rehabilitation counselor), Lean on Me (portraying a stern yet encouraging high school principal), and Glory (acting as a robust yet supportive officer in the first all-black volunteer unit in U.S. history). But it was his role as Hoke, the kindly chauffeur hired to drive Miss Daisy in 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, that propelled him into the Hollywood A-list and earned him his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (and first Oscar nomination for Best Actor).

Morgan Freeman FactsGetty Images

13. “Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying”

The 1990s were very good years for Freeman. After a fun role as one of Robin’s Merry Men in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Freeman delivered powerful performances in such films as Se7en, Unforgiven, Amistad and Deep Impact. But the movie Freeman has cited as his favorite, 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption, almost didn’t include him: in the story on which the film is based, his character, Red, was a middle-aged Irishman, and major-league actors like Clint Eastwod, Harrison Ford and Robert Redford were considered for the part. But director Frank Darabont has maintained he always had Morgan Freeman in mind for the role because of his authoritative presence, calm demeanor and deep voice.

Morgan Freeman FactsRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves(1991), Morgan Creek Productions

14. Commitment To His Craft

In The Shawshank Redemption, the scene where Andy (Tim Robbins) converses with Red in the correctional facility yard while Red is pitching a baseball took nine hours to film. Freeman pitched that baseball for the entire nine hours without a word of complaint. He showed up for work the next day with his arm in a sling.

Morgan Freeman FactsThe Shawshank Redemption(1994), Castle Rock Entertainment

15. Are You There, God? Oh… Hi, Morgan!

Speaking of authoritative presences, it probably surprised no one when Freeman was cast to play God in the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carrey’s everyman character is literally given the power of God. Jack Nicholson was originally approached for the role, but he passed on it.

Morgan Freeman FactsBruce Almighty(2003), Spyglass Entertainment

16. What Do You Think He Charges For Voicemail Messages?

Freeman’s calm, authoritative voice makes him a big “get” for documentary filmmakers looking for the right narrator for their projects. In 2005, Freeman narrated March of the Penguins, the Oscar-winning nature documentary that went on to earn more at the box office than all of the Best Picture nominees that year. Freeman recorded all the narration for the 80-minute documentary in one day.

Morgan Freeman FactsGetty Images

17. Best. Year. Ever.

2005 was a huge year for Freeman. Aside from his work on March of the Penguins, his  team-up with Clint Eastwood on 2004’s Million Dollar Baby (in which he plays an ex-prize fighter helping to hone the skills of a young female boxer) earned him his first Oscar at the 2005 Academy Awards. He also lent his voice to Steven Spielberg's 'Worlds at Conflict' (2005) and portrayed Lucius Fox in Batman Begins (2005), featuring as Bruce Wayne's technical aide and ally in his quest against wrongdoing. Freeman would assume this role twice more in the film trilogy.

Morgan Freeman FactsGetty Images

18. Ancestry

In 2008, the TV series African American Lives 2 revealed that his Caucasian great-great-grandfather had lived with, and was buried beside, his African-American great-great-grandmother (the two could not legally marry at the time, in the segregated South).

Morgan Freeman FactsPicryl

19. That Must Keep Him Pretty “Buzzy”

Freeman is a beekeeper with more than two dozen hives. After hearing about the decline of honeybees and its impact on the environment, in 2014 Freeman turned his 124-acre ranch in Mississippi into a beekeeping sanctuary.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, D. Miller

20. How He Chooses His Film Roles

“I like being eclectic,” he has said about his film choices. “The more varied the better; the wider the range. I’ve been sucked into a kind of mold of a good guy and that’s actually almost beyond my ability to control. But other than that, a good story and an interesting character is all I am looking for".

GettyImages-71001130 Morgan FreemanGetty Images

21. Nice Guy Onscreen, Nice Guy Offscreen

When he’s not busy being the good guy in his movies, Freeman is being a nice guy in the real world. Through Rock River Foundation, an organization he started, Freeman has donated millions to educational programs. He has also raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and in 2004 he helped organize relief funds for hurricane victims in Grenada.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, Alan Light

22. Actor, Philanthropist, Beekeeper… Blues Lover?

In May 2001, Freeman teamed up with two Memphis businessmen to open Ground Zero, a blues club in Clarksdale, MS, not far from his place in Charleston, MS. It got its name from the fact Clarksdale has been historically referred to as “ground zero” for the blues.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, Nathan Congleton

23. It Pays To Plan Ahead

In 1998, a friend built Freeman a special cabinet with an area reserved for an Academy Award, complete with a plaque that said “No Parking. Reserved for Oscar". Freeman finally got the chance to fill that spot when he took home the statue in 2005 for his role in Million Dollar Baby.

GettyImages-52252548 Morgan Freeman, best actress Hilary SwankGetty Images

24. Like A Class Reunion, Only With Lego

Freeman continues to gain fans with his work, showing no signs of slowing down.  In 2014’s The Lego Movie, he lent his voice to Vitruvius, the wise old man who believes in Emmett. It was Morgan’s first time acting in an animated role, but it was like old home week for him and the rest of the cast: he had previously worked with Liam Neeson in Batman Returns, he and Dave Franco (Wally) worked together in 2013’s Now You See Me, and he and Chris Pratt (Emmett) both appeared in 2008’s Wanted.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

25. Awards? Build A Bigger Cabinet.

Aside from his Oscar… and his Golden Globe wins… and his Cecil B. DeMille Award… and his AFI Life Achievement Award… in 2016 U.S. President Barack Obama presented Freeman with a National Medal of Arts. During the ceremony, Obama said Freeman was being honored for his outstanding work as an actor, director and narrator: “His iconic stage and screen performances have brought to life characters from the whole spectrum of the human experience, moving audiences around the world, and influencing countless young artists".

GettyImages-508367756 Morgan FreemanGetty Images

26. That’s Dr. Freeman, Thank You Very Much

Perhaps because they can’t wait to hear his voice at their commencement ceremonies, Freeman has amassed a fine collection of honorary degrees from educational institutions, including Rhodes College, Brown University and Boston University.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, Jeremy Sorrells

27. Talkin’ ‘Bout My Veneration…

In 2008, Freeman became a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, earning his medal alongside Barbra Streisand, George Jones, choreographer Twyla Tharp and the members of The Who.

GettyImages-83945874 Kennedy Center HonorsGetty Images

28. Not A Fan Of His Own Movies 

“I find it difficult to watch myself… I find it boring,” he once told an interviewer. Lucky for the rest of us, then, he’s in the minority on that opinion.

morgan freeman factsWikimedia Commons

29. Don’t Bet Money Against Him In A Golf Game

Morgan Freeman is the first American to record a par on the “Extreme 19th” hole at Legend Golf & Safari Resort in Limpopo, South Africa. It’s the highest and longest par 3 hole in the world.

Morgan Freeman FactsFlickr, Nathan Congleton

30. Well-Earned recognition

Morgan Freeman was presented with the Chaplin Award in 2016, at 78 years old, to applaud his enduring commitment to cinema. You can check out the video below.

GettyImages-524238396 morgan freemanGetty Images

31. How He Really Feels About Being The Good Guy

Freeman takes a positive approach to the idea that he has spent a lot of his career typecast as good guys and father figures: “As an actor, you like to be well rounded. But the industry puts you in a niche. I don't think Sidney [Poitier] ever successfully played a bad part. Fonda did once in Once Upon a Time in the West, but it was the only time he played a really bad guy. Gary Cooper never did. Clark Gable never did. So you’re in good company when you get packaged as Mr. Good Guy".

GettyImages-55710291Getty Images

32. A Sojourn In Confinement, With Honor

A man of honor and loyalty, Morgan Freeman found himself confined during his service in the Air Force as he steadfastly stood by his friend. "Have you ever been in confinement? I have. I was a kid. I was in the Air Force and I'd gone with a friend of mine to Los Angeles. When we left the base, he left his Class-A pass sitting on the table. We were hitchhiking because he was out of money. I had a little money, but I didn't want to take the bus and leave him. Law enforcement halted us on the freeway. He asked both of us for ID and I had mine and my friend didn't have his. The cop said, 'Well, we're gonna have to call the shore patrol because we don't know if you're AWOL.' He told me, 'You got money--you take a bus.' I said, 'I'm with him.' So I was incarcerated for four days.

Morgan Freeman FactsShutterstock

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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