Although he worked as an actor and comedian for many years, it wasn't until 2005 that Jamie Foxx became hugely famous. In the 1990s Foxx was primarily known as a stand-up comic with an uncanny knack for mimicking almost anyone. He was also a regular on television, appearing on the comedy-sketch show In Living Color and starring in his own self-titled top-rated sitcom from 1996 to 2001. Foxx eventually branched out into film, at first appearing in low-budget, forgettable fare like 1997's Booty Call. But there was more to Foxx than slapstick, and he proved it beginning in 1999 with a head-turning performance in director Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. In 2005 Foxx made unlikely Hollywood history by becoming the first African American performer to be nominated for two Academy Awards in the same year. He was in the running for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the suspense-thriller Collateral; he was also a contender for Best Actor for his performance in the movie Ray. The thirty-seven-year-old Foxx nabbed the Best Actor Oscar, making him only the third African American male to take home the coveted gold statue.
America's foremost funnyman and Oscar winner had a bittersweet childhood. Jamie Foxx was born Eric Bishop on December 13, 1967, in the tiny town of Terrell, Texas, population fourteen thousand. His father and mother, Shaheed Abdullah and Louise Annette Talley, were very young when they had their son and soon felt overwhelmed by the burden of parenthood. When Foxx was just seven months old he was officially adopted by his maternal grandparents, Mark and Esther Talley. Esther Talley had a profound impact on her adopted son, and in interviews Foxx credits her as being his inspiration. "My grandmother was 60 years old when she adopted me," Foxx remarked to Josh Tyrangiel of Time. "She ran a nursery school and had a library in the house. She saw me reading early, saw I was smart and believed I was born to achieve truly special things."
A devout Christian, Talley did not allow nonreligious music in her house, but she did push Foxx to take piano lessons from an early age. The boy showed such talent that when he was thirteen years old he was making up to three hundred dollars a month playing piano at events around town. By the time he was fifteen, Foxx was musical director and choir leader at Terrell's New Hope Baptist Church. The budding musician also showed he had talent on the gridiron. In high school he played quarterback
" Everything is right under your finger in life; all you have to do is take time out to find which notes to playto make music. The music will be your life. You just have to put the work to it."
on the Terrell Tiger's football team, and he became a local hero when he was the first player to pass for more than one thousand yards. Foxx was a shining star, but his biological parents did not take part in the glory. Although they lived only twenty-eight miles away in Dallas, they rarely visited their son. "I was making the Dallas Morning News, and my father never came down," Foxx told Tyrangiel, "That's weird. That absence made me angry. It made me want to be something."
After high school the talented teen won a piano scholarship from the United States International University in San Diego, California. During the week, Foxx studied under Russian teachers alongside top phenomenons from around the world. He spent his weekends in Los Angeles shopping for a record deal and haunting local comedy clubs. In 1989, Foxx felt confident enough to try his hand at stand-up. He started out doing dead-on impersonations of some of his favorite comedians, such as Bill Cosby (1937–) and Richard Pryor (1940–), who he had watched on television while growing up. Soon Foxx became a regular on the comedy club open-mic circuit, and he dropped out of college to pursue a career full time. To make ends meet, he worked part-time as a janitor and as a shoe salesman at Thom McCann.
One night Foxx literally had a life-altering experience when he signed up to be a fill-in at a comedy club called the Improv in Santa Monica, California. A television crew was on-hand filming an HBO special, and to ensure that he would be called on, the ambitious comedian wrote four different made-up names on the sign-up sheet—all girls' names, since he had noticed that girls tended to be chosen by the emcees. When Jamie Foxx was called, the name Eric Bishop was relegated to the past. "Eric Bishop is Clark Kent," Foxx told Josh Young of Variety, "Jamie Foxx is Superman." The newly named Foxx became successful enough to quit his day jobs and devote himself to performing seven nights a week.
After making it on the local scene, it was time for Superman to take the next step and conquer television. In 1991, along with hundreds of other hopefuls, Foxx auditioned for a new TV series called In Living Color, a comedy-sketch program that was a launching pad for other top-notch performers, including Jim Carrey (1962–), Jennifer Lopez (1970–), and Damon (1961–) and Keenan Ivory Wayans (c. 1958–). Foxx appeared on the critically acclaimed show until 1994, when the series was cancelled, and became known not only for his impersonations, but for his wildly original and outrageous characters, especially one called Ugly Wanda.
While working on In Living Color, Foxx branched out into other areas of television. He played a recurring character named Crazy George on the Fox sitcom Roc; he was also a featured performer on various network comedy specials. Foxx was even asked by HBO to star in his own one-man comedy concert, which aired in 1993 as Jamie Foxx: Straight From the Foxxhole. Foxx was on such a roll that after Color was cancelled he went into the recording studio and produced a twelve-track rhythm and blues album called Peep This. He not only produced the 1995 album, Foxx also wrote and sang each of the songs. Peep This topped at number twelve on the Billboard charts.
Foxx's hiatus from comedy, however, was short lived. In 1996 he helped create and produce a self-titled, half-hour sitcom for the WB network. The show, loosely based on Foxx's own life, centered on Jamie King, an aspiring actor from Terrell, Texas, who moves to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. While struggling to make it big, King works in a shady hotel owned by his aunt and uncle. For the next five years Foxx fans were treated to a weekly dose of their favorite comedian; Foxx also expanded his fan base since his television show, unlike his stand-up, was geared toward audiences of all ages. During its run, The Jamie Foxx Show was the highest-rated series on WB; in 1998 it also earned Foxx an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series. The Image Awards are given annually for outstanding achievement and performances of people of color.
His television show opened up a world of opportunities for Foxx. People in the entertainment industry got a glimpse of his versatility as an actor, a writer, and a musician. For example, during a final-season episode, Foxx, as Jamie King, sang a duet with legendary performer Gladys Knight (1941–). His television exposure also led Foxx to roles on the big screen, although the actor admitted that his early films were less than memorable. Pigeonholed as a comedian, Foxx found himself cast in light fare like Toys (1992) and low-budget, slapstick comedies such as Booty Call (1997). " Booty Call was not a choice," Foxx explained to Time magazine's Josh Tyrangiel. "It was what I did because I couldn't get work in anything better."
In 1999, thanks to another actor's loss, Foxx finally gained a chance to sink his teeth into a dramatic role when he was cast in Any Given Sunday, the latest offering from top Hollywood director Oliver Stone (1946–). Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (1971–) was Stone's original choice to play Willie Beamen, the cocky third-string quarterback, in his revealing look at the lives of professional football players, but when Combs backed out, he agreed to let Foxx audition. "I had strong feelings about [Foxx] the moment he read for us," Stone commented to Allison Samuels of Newsweek. "There was anger there that was needed, but also humor. Both worked perfectly together, and Willie got the edge he needed."
Despite giving what Samuels called a "winning, charismatic turn" in Sunday, other directors were not knocking down Foxx's door following the film's release. Foxx essentially spent 2000 turning down one mediocre role after another, knowing that he had to make a careful next move. When he auditioned for the role of trainer Drew "Bundini" Brown in 2001's Ali, Foxx knew he was a long shot. Ali director Michael Mann (1943–) also had his doubts, considering Bundini, who was the lifetime supporter of heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali (1942–), was a balding, potbellied, older man. But Foxx proved up to the challenge, and the muscular, thirty-four-year-old literally transformed himself into the stoop-shouldered, fast-talking Brown. As Oliver Stone wrote in Time, "The physicality was absolutely genuine."
Foxx received his first bit of Oscar buzz for his performance in Ali, although he was passed over for a nomination. He did, however, catch the attention of director Taylor Hackford (1944–), who was casting for his upcoming movie, Ray, an in-depth look into the life of legendary musician Ray Charles (1930–2004). The movie was a labor of love for Hackford, who had spent fifteen years working on the script and trying to find backers for the project. When he finally got the green light, the director needed just the right man for the lead. He found that man in Jamie Foxx. "I thought, this guy's got talent," Hackford told Josh Young of Variety. "I don't know whether he can carry a whole movie. I wouldn't know until we worked together, but he had the potential. He had the look, and once I realized he was a consummate musician, I never went anywhere else."
Foxx threw himself into the role, methodically preparing for months to fill Brother Ray's shoes. He dropped thirty pounds to achieve a lean look, worked at mastering Charles's keyboard technique, talked to the musician's family and close friends, and watched hours of videotaped interviews. "I used that as the DNA [genetic building block] to get the young Ray as we moved through the film," Foxx explained to Aldore Collier of Ebony. "It was just taking him, studying him and then crushing it down to where it's not an impersonation, but the nuances, how he talked to his kids, how he talked to his wife." One of the most difficult hurdles was effectively portraying a man who had been blind since the age of seven. Foxx practiced being blind by gluing his eyes shut and during the entire filming of the movie he wore a prosthetic device over his eyes, which really did render him blind for up to fourteen hours a day.
Perhaps the biggest thrill for Foxx came when he got the chance to spend some one-on-one time with Charles, who died just four months before the movie's October 2004 release. The two jammed together on the piano for almost an hour, and Foxx described the experience as incredible. By the end of the meeting Ray Charles had given his blessing to the film. According to the film's producer, Stuart Benjamin, who spoke with Clarissa Cruz of Entertainment Weekly, "It was a complete lovefest. Ray really, really embraced Jamie. He was comfortable that Jamie had the musical chops."
Audiences agreed and when Ray hit movie theaters they turned out in droves, helping the film rake in more than $20 million its opening weekend. Critics who previously doubted that the unproven comedian could handle such a weighty film had nothing but praise for Foxx's superior performance. Entertainment Weekly claimed that "Foxx energized the entire picture, quietly capturing the late musician's mannerisms, his tentative walk, and reflexive smile." And Ebony enthused, "Foxx effortlessly nailed down the nuances, the voice and the thrills and tears of the great singer's life." The biggest note of approval for Foxx, however, came from Charles's children. When they saw Foxx in character he reminded them so much of their father that they often had to leave the set. "That's when we knew we had something special," he told Ebony.
Every year since 1929 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored individuals for outstanding achievement in film. In the entertainment industry these Academy Awards, also known as Oscars, are considered to be very prestigious since winners are voted on by their peers. There are twenty-four categories, ranging from editing to writing, costuming to directing. The most anticipated categories for moviegoers, however, may be the acting categories, perhaps because celebrities have become such a mainstay in American culture.
The history of African Americans at the Oscars is a controversial one. Although Hattie McDaniel (1898–1952) won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1939, an African American was not nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category until 1969, when Rupert Crosse (1927–1973) was singled out, but did not win, for his performance in The Reivers. The first African American nominees in the Best Actor and Actress categories would not be tapped until the 1950s: Sidney Poitier (1927–) was nominated in 1958 for The Defiant Ones, Dorothy Dandridge (c. 1922–1965) in 1959 for Carmen Jones. As the twenty-first century progresses more African Americans have been honored at the Academy Awards, but the list of winners is still relatively small.
Hattie McDaniel; 1939; Best Supporting Actress; Gone with the Wind
Rita Moreno; 1961; Best Supporting Actress; West Side Story
Sidney Poitier; 1963; Best Actor; Lilies of the Field
Louis Gossett Jr.; 1982; Best Supporting Actor; An Officer and a Gentleman
Denzel Washington; 1989; Best Supporting Actor; Glory
Whoopi Goldberg; 1990; Best Supporting Actress; Ghost
Cuba Gooding Jr.; 1996; Best Supporting Actor; Jerry Maguire
Halle Berry; 2001; Best Actress; Monster's Ball
Denzel Washington; 2001; Best Actor; Training Day
Morgan Freeman; 2004; Best Supporting Actor; Million Dollar Baby
Jamie Foxx; 2004; Best Actor; Ray
From the moment Ray was released, Foxx was the top contender for a Best Actor Oscar, and on February 27, 2005, he proved predictions right when he took home the prize. He became only the third African American man, after Sidney Poitier (1927–) and Denzel Washington (1954–), to snag a Best Actor award. Foxx also made history by becoming the first African American to be nominated for an acting Oscar in two categories in the same year. For his role as Max, the mellow cabbie who is held hostage by a contract killer in Collateral, Foxx was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award. He lost out to veteran actor Morgan Freeman (1937–)—another popular African American actor— who won for his performance in Million Dollar Baby.
Foxx gave a poignant acceptance speech, thanking first and foremost his grandmother, who passed away in October 2004 at the age of ninety-five. According to Jet magazine, the talented entertainer from Texas called his adopted mother his first acting teacher since she always told him to "act like you got some sense." Foxx also thanked his eleven-year-old daughter, Corrine, and special thanks, of course, went out to Ray Charles.
Following his Oscar win Jamie Foxx was on fire. He had two movies slated for release in 2005: the war drama Jarhead and Stealth, an action-adventure blockbuster. Foxx also remained one of the top-grossing stand-up comedians in the United States, and in October of 2004 he signed a deal with J Records to release his next solo music album. "I will never do this much publicity in my life," he commented to Tyrangiel, "But this is kind of my moment here."
Foxx enjoys reaping the benefits of his fame, which included maintaining residences in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He also enjoyed a reputation as a playboy who loved to party with his posse of pals. At the same time, Foxx is a devoted family man. He shares his Los Angeles home with his two half-sisters, one of whom has Down syndrome (a form of mental retardation).
Foxx also believes that he has a responsibility to serve as a role model for young African Americans, and in the future is eager to take parts that can make a political statement. For example, in 2004 he appeared in the original television movie Redemption, which explored the inequality of treatment between African Americans and whites in prison. Foxx was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. (The Golden Globes are awarded each year by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press for outstanding achievement in film and television.) "For African American stars it's more than just getting our money and riding in our cars and getting behind those gates," Foxx explained to Variety magazine. "We have to give something. I know it sounds cliché, 'to give something back,' but it's really true—and you have to do it at your hottest."
Collier, Aldore. "Jamie Foxx: The Thrills and Tears of the Ray Charles Story." Ebony (November 2004): pp. 96–101.
Cruz, Clarissa. "Jamie Foxx: Ray." Entertainment Weekly (February 4, 2005): p. 26.
"Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman Win Best Acting Awards at Oscars." Jet (March 14, 2005): pp. 6–11.
"Jamie Foxx Tells How He Became Jamie Foxx." Jet (March 24, 1997): pp. 32–36.
Lynch, Jason. "Jamie Foxx: What You Need to Know." People (February 14, 2005): p. 79.
Mitchell, Elvis. "Jamie Foxx: Underestimated from the Start, He Always Had Something Special up His Sleeve." Interview (November 2004): pp. 92–99.
Samuels, Allison. "Crazy Like a Foxx." Newsweek (August 2, 2004): p. 54.
Stone, Oliver. "Mastering Any Given Part: Jamie Foxx." Time (April 18, 2005): p. 114.
Tyrangiel, Josh. "The Art of Being a Confidence Man." Time (October 18, 2004): p. 76.
Young, Josh. "Jamie Foxx's Oscar Hunt." Variety (October 4, 2004): pp. S46–52.