Kennedy Center Honors: Morgan Freeman
Sunday, December 7, 2008; Page M06
He had the relentlessness of a Captain Ahab, which is what it took. Morgan Freeman's voyage seemed endless.
He watched as other actors began bolting Manhattan for Los Angeles and coveted television and film offers in the '60s and early '70s. He was stuck on a kids' show in the city.
It was better than hauling his clothes around and bunking with friends as he once had to do. But the voyage of Morgan Freeman remained rocky.
He turned 40 in 1977, and was still without a major film role. Sidney Poitier was 31 when he got his first starring role in "The Defiant Ones"; Denzel Washington, 27 when he got his first big part in "Carbon Copy."
"Fortunately," Freeman says, recalling those early challenges, "you're not by yourself struggling. The great thing about New York was that there was a brotherhood, a tight-knit group of actors hanging together."
He'd get a role onstage, knock the critics for a loop, only to see the show close. Acquaintances began to wonder if he'd ever break out, if he'd get beyond being another journeyman actor. Time was creeping up Freeman's back. He turned 50 in 1987.
And that was the year that Fast Black came into his life. He was the pimp Freeman played in "Street Smart," a movie that starred Christopher Reeve and Kathy Baker. Freeman was billed sixth but flat-out stole the movie. He got a surprising Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
He wasn't anybody's ingenue -- this was a grown man who had been knocking about for years. Finally, the movie roles started to roll in: "Clean and Sober" in 1988; "Lean On Me," "Glory" and "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1989; "The Shawshank Redemption" in 1994; and "Seven" in 1995. A slew of documentary voice-overs, including "March of the Penguins," made his voice instantly recognizable, not unlike Louis Armstrong or James Earl Jones.
He was nominated for an Oscar three times before winning the Best Supporting Actor statue for "Million Dollar Baby" in 2005. America watched as Morgan Freeman, the little-known actor, suddenly, and not so suddenly, became Morgan Freeman the movie star.
Now come the Kennedy Center Honors.