On this day in 1954, the Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington, who will go on to star in such movies as Malcolm X and Training Day, is born in Mount Vernon, New York. In 2002, for his performance as a corrupt cop in Training Day, Washington became the first black man to win the Best Actor Academy Award since 1964, when Sidney Poitier received the award for Lilies of the Field.
Washington graduated from Fordham University and studied acting at the American Conservatory Theatre. He first gained notice in Hollywood for his role as Dr. Philip Chandler on the popular TV medical drama St. Elsewhere, which originally aired from 1982 to 1988. Washington received his first Oscar nomination, in the Best Supporting Actor category, for his performance as the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1987’s Cry Freedom. He won his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar two years later, for his portrayal of a runaway slave who joins the Union Army in the 1989 Civil War-era film Glory.
During the 1990s, Washington established himself on Hollywood’s A-list as an actor who could shine in serious dramas as well as blockbuster thrillers. He collaborated with the director Spike Lee on Mo’ Better Blues (1990), the biopic Malcolm X (1992), which earned Washington a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the title role, and He Got Game (1998). He also appeared in such movies as Mississippi Masala (1991), Philadelphia (1993), with Tom Hanks, and the biopic The Hurricane (1996), which earned Washington another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a boxer falsely convicted of murder. He also starred in such hit thrillers as The Pelican Brief (1993) and Crimson Tide (1995).
After his historic win for Training Day, Washington went on to star in Man on Fire (2004) with Dakota Fanning, Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006) with Jodie Foster, and American Gangster (2007) with Russell Crowe. Washington, who in 1996 was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” stepped behind the camera to direct 2002’s Antwone Fisher, in which he co-starred with Derek Luke in the story of a navy officer who confronts his troubled past. More recently, he helmed 2007’s The Great Debaters, in which he also starred as an inspiring debate coach at an African-American university in the 1930s.