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‘Gorge’ Washington: Exploring the life and career of Denzel Washington

Few African-American actors have had as storied a career as Denzel Washington. With a success-packed CV stretching back more than 40 years, the much-loved thespian has consistently been celebrated for his engaging, tour-de-force performances, abiding charisma and down-to-earth personality. Indeed, the 66-year-old New York native has forged his own path in the entertainment industry, breaking down stereotypes and proving the dramatic strength and box-office attraction of black male leads time and time again. For his efforts, he’s been showered with countless awards and critical acclaim, with a sterling Hollywood reputation that few of his contemporaries – of any race – could hope to match.

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Despite being in the limelight for decades, the famed actor has been notoriously tight-lipped about his private life. Yet, the man who has found success in bringing the stories of true-life characters to the big screen has had an equally interesting life away from the cameras. From his allegedly misspent youth to his struggle with a higher calling, some of the lesser known facets of Denzel Washington’s life certainly merit exploring…


A Hard Start
The actor’s staggeringly successful career is one that few could have imagined, let alone Washington himself. Born on 28 December, 1954, in Mount Vernon, New York to Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., an ordained Pentecostal minister, and Lennis, a beauty parlour owner, his upbringing was anything but easy. Following his parents’ divorce during his teen years, his strongest memories are of seeing his single mother scramble to put food on the table. Yet, despite the struggles, he still cites his parents as being true role models, saying: “My father was a preacher – a kind, spiritual person. My mother owned a beauty shop. She was a go-getter and wanted more for us kids. My parents were inspirations by example.”

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Flirting with Crime
Growing up on the streets of Mount Vernon, Denzel fell in with a crowd of rambunctious teens and often got into trouble with the law. Recalling this, he says: “I was what they call ‘throwing rocks at the penitentiary’, but I never hit it. I never got caught… but I also knew right from wrong, so I never wanted to go too far.” Nevertheless, his put-upon mother managed to scrape together enough money to get him away from temptation, sending him to boarding school in upstate New York.

Denzel-Washington-2019-AFI-Life-Achievement-Award-Gala
Realistic Portrayals
Since the ’80s, the talented thespian has consistently won widespread critical acclaim for his portrayal of important real-life figures. Most notable among these were 1987’s Cry Freedom, where he played South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, his role as Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X in the eponymous 1992 biopic, football coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans (2000), and gritty drug kingpin Franc Lucas in 2007’s American Gangster.

gafencu magazine celebrity feature 'Gorge' Washington Exploring the life and career of Denzel Washington
Perfect Beauty
A scientific article, Biological Basis on the Perceptions of Beauty, published in Newsweek during the ’90s, singled out the actor as being a prime example for the “perfection of beauty”. The study, which cited facial symmetry as being a key indicator of attractiveness, pointed to his perfectly centred nose, aligned eyes, lips and ears as modelling the highest standards of facial beauty.

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Award Winner
Across his 40-odd-year career, Washington has accumulated a whole host of accolades for a variety of roles. Key among these are two Academy Awards (he was the first African-American to be accorded such an honour), three Golden Globes, a Tony Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. In 2016, he was even the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award from the Golden Globes jury for his “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”.

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Director’s Chair
After decades of starring on the silver screen, in 2002, he stepped behind the cameras for the first time and made his directorial debut with the highly-biographical film Antwone Fisher. Five years later, he returned to the director’s chair for another biographical movie, The Great Debaters. After a long hiatus, 2017 saw him star and direct in a third film, Fences, which went on to be nominated for Best Picture at that year’s Academy Awards.

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Prophesy Fulfilled
While the Training Day star was a struggling 20-year-old student at Fordham University, he had his fortune told at his mother’s beauty salon. A customer there scribbled a note that said: “You’re going to speak to millions of people. You’re going to do great things” and handed it to him. Though sceptical at the time, his fortunes changed and he still has that piece of paper today.

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Family Man
Standing in stark contrast with the oft-lurid personal lives of Hollywood’s elite, Washington’s home life is refreshingly normal, something that he sees as a point of pride. In fact, he’s even been quoted as saying: “Acting is just a way of making a living, but family is life.” He’s been married to wife Pauletta, whom he met on the set of the TV film Wilma, for an amazing 37 years. Together, the couple have four children.

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Preacher, Preacher
The Hollywood A-lister has never been shy when it comes to sharing his strong belief in the Christian faith and championing how it has positively impacted on every aspect of his life. What is less known, though, is that at one point, he considered foregoing acting to become a preacher, even going so far as to ask his pastor about how to make the change. Though he ultimately decided to remain an actor, motivational speaking has also become a big thing for him over recent years. Explaining why, he says: “I’ve always understood that I’ve been blessed to be put in this situation and I’m more than happy to take advantage of it and preach, if you will, about what God has done in my life.”


Black Panther Maker
A true believer in giving back to the community, the actor has a long history of donating funds to a range of causes, including college scholarship funds for black youths. One of the students he sponsored, unbeknownst to him, was the late Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman. At the 47th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony celebrating the venerable star, the younger actor even went so far as to say: “There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington.”

2021-03-15T17:35:59+00:00 March 15, 2021|Entertainment|