"When I dropped out of pre-med, I had to do something worth doing for the rest of my life because I figured going into the Army meant the end of my life. I figured I'd go into the drama department and at least I'd meet some girls, which I had not had the experience of romance at that point in my life."
A beloved and renowned actor, James Earl Jones has earned acclaim for his versatility, resonant voice, and eloquence. Estranged from his parents early in life, he moved in with his grandparents at age five. The shock was so great that he developed a stutter which would impact his early life and acting career ; he was so embarrassed by it that he remained functionally mute until high school. Jones has said that part of overcoming the stutter involved thinking very carefully about what he's going to say before speaking. He eventually attended the University of Michigan and declared pre-med as his major and enrolled in ROTC, a group in which he excelled. He discovered that pre-med wasn't his passion and switched to drama, and graduated in 1955.
After graduating from university, Jones was recruited into the Army. The Korean War was gaining momentum so he fully expected to see combat. He was commissioned in 1953 and attended Officers Basic Course and became a second lieutenant. Afterwards, he attended Ranger School which he claims to have washed out of. Despite the intensity of the military action in Korea, Jones and his unit were sent to construct a cold-weather training command in Colorado near Leadville. His battalion focused on training full-time, and Jones was promoted to first lieutenant before being discharged.
Jones left the military for two reasons. A superior officer recommended that he take time to himself to decide whether or not he wanted to pursue the military as a full-time career. Secondly, he believed that reenlisting was a viable option in case acting couldn't sustain him financially. In light of his success as an actor, Jones never participated in further military service.
After the military, Jones became a successful actor in television, film, and on stage. In his long and illustrious career, he's been nominated for numerous Emmy, Golden Globe, Tony and Academy Awards, with two Emmy wins, two Golden Globe wins, and an honorary Oscar to his credit. Along the way, he's inhabited roles in many famous films, including Darth Vader from the Star Wars series, Thulsa Doom from Conan the Barbarian, Lt. Lothar Zogg in Dr. Strangelove, King Zamunda in Coming to America, Mufasa in The Lion King, and even the "voice" of CNN. With no signs of slowing down, Jones continues to act to this day.