Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood. Known for his calm demeanor and signature voice, Freeman is currently the most in-demand narrator. Some of his most famous movie roles are “Hoke Colbum” (Driving Miss Daisy), “Eddie” (Million Dollar Baby) and “Red” (The Shawshank Redemption). In reality, the larger-than-life persona of Morgan Freeman extends way beyond acting. He is also a cookbook publisher, an apiculturist, a pilot, and an awesome golf player. Keep reading this article to find out 10 such amazing but lesser-known facts about Morgan Freeman.
1. Morgan Freeman made his acting debut at the age of nine in a school play. But his talent for acting was discovered at the age of 12 when he was forced into a drama production as a punishment for teasing a girl.
Born on June 1, 1931, Morgan Freeman was the youngest child of barber Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Sr. and schoolteacher Mayme Edna. During his childhood days, Freeman was enamored by movies. Even though money was scarce, he used to scrape together enough money to watch movies. His first acting on stage was at the age of nine at Broad Street High School in Mississippi. He played the lead role in the school play.
The next time he acted on stage was actually a punishment rather than choice. Freeman was 12 years old at that time and studying in junior high school. He had a crush on a girl in his school and one day he pulled out a chair from under her as a tease. As a punishment, he was ordered to participate in the school’s drama competition. To everyone’s surprise, Freeman proved to be a natural on the stage and ended up winning the best actor award. (1,2)
2. Morgan Freeman turned down a drama scholarship because he dreamed of being an Air Force fighter pilot. He joined US Air Force, spent four years as a tracking-radar repairman, rose to the rank of airman 1st class, but left after his gut instinct told him it was time to go.
During his school days, Morgan Freeman fell in love with cinema, especially war films. These movies filled him with excitement, and teenage Morgan watched every movie that had an airplane in it. Entranced by the idea of flying, he turned down a partial scholarship for drama from Jackson State University and joined the United States Air Force. For about four years he worked in the military as a radar technician. Then, he was promoted to the rank of airman 1st class.
After promotion, he got the chance to train as a fighter pilot. But as soon as he sat in the cockpit, he felt as if he was sitting in the nose of a bomb. In Morgan Freeman’s own words, “I had this very clear epiphany. You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.” Acting on this gut feeling of his, Freeman left the Air Force in 1959. (1, 2, 3)
3. In 1959, Freeman arrived in Los Angeles where he worked as a transcript clerk at the Los Angeles City College to support his acting lessons. His first paid show business job was a dancer at the 1964 World’s Fair.
Morgan Freeman quit the US Air Force in 1959 and moved to Los Angeles. There, he took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse and dancing lessons in San Francisco. Since he was struggling to make ends meet, he took up a job as a clerk typist at Los Angeles City College.
In the early 1960s, he moved to New York City. There he worked as a dancer at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was his first paid job in show business. Freeman then moved to San Francisco where he became a member of the Opera Ring musical theater group. In 1965, he appeared as an extra in the film The Pawnbroker. (source)
4. Morgan Freeman didn’t appear in a movie until age 34 and didn’t get a big role until he was 52 in Driving Miss Daisy and Glory.
After struggling for about 10 years, Morgan Freeman got his first break in 1971 in the movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow?. He slowly gained popularity in American media through the children’s TV show, The Electric Company. Acting for a television show proved to be a grueling and demanding life for Freeman. In 1976, The Electric Company was canceled. By this time, his personal life was in a fix and got divorced from his wife Jeanette in 1979.
A year after his divorce, he got a part in the movie Brubaker. After this movie, Freeman hoped that a steady stream of film work would follow. But it didn’t happen, and he was forced to retreat back to television. For two years he acted in the soap opera Another World.
Morgan Freeman’s fortune began changing in 1987 when he was cast in the film Street Smart. His role as a volatile pimp, “Fast Black,” earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His first big break came two years later in the 1989 movie, Driving Miss Daisy and earned Freeman a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and a second Oscar nomination. The same year he again gained acclaim for his role as “Sergeant Major Rawlins” in Glory. By the 1990s, Freeman’s career began achieving new heights. Two of his most notable movies since then are The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). (1, 2)
5. Freeman earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 65. He currently owns three private aircraft: a twin-engine Cessna 414, a Cessna Citation 501/SP, and a six-seater Emivest SJ30.
After gaining success in Hollywood, Freeman moved back home to Mississippi. Moving there reignited his passion for flying that he once had during his teenage years. In Mississippi, he flew multiple times with his partner and long-time pilot, Bill Luckett, who owns a Seneca. Soon, he realized that he was ready to become a pilot. He began his first lesson in July 2002. In October 2002, he earned his private pilot ticket.
Two years later, in October 2004, Freeman bought a Cessna 414, and the next year in September 2005, he bought a Cessna Citation 501. In 2007, he added a long-range private jet Emivest SJ30 to his fleet. Over the years, Freeman had flown a wide variety of aircraft including a Bell helicopter, L-39, and MiG 17. (1, 2)
6. Prompted by a phone call from his friend, Freeman published a cookbook Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause to raise money for the victims of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.
Actor Morgan Freeman once claimed that he cooks only out of necessity, and if he could, he would avoid cooking altogether. Surprisingly, Freeman is actually a cookbook author and publisher. It all started when he received a call for help from his Grenadian friend, Champie Evans. The Caribbean country, Grenada, was ravaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. In order to raise funds to help rebuild the country, Freeman established the Grenada Relief Fund. He also started the cookbook and decided that his portion of proceeds from the book’s sales would all go to the relief fund.
The cookbook is titled Morgan Freeman & Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause. The book contains recipes and stories from 15 celebrities about visiting and spending time on the Caribbean Island. (source)
7. In 2008, a TV series African American Lives 2 revealed that Freeman is part descendant from the Songhai and Tuareg peoples of Niger.
Morgan Freeman’s maternal great-great-grandfather was Caucasian, and his great-great-grandmother was an African American. He discovered this fact in 2008 during the TV series African American Lives 2. During this show, it was also revealed that some of his great-great-grandparents were slaves who migrated from North Carolina to Mississippi.
After a DNA analysis, it was found that some of his ancestors were from Niger. The test also suggested that a little over one-quarter among all of his African ancestors came from an area that spreads over current-day Senegal to Liberia. Also, three-quarters of Freeman’s African ancestors are from the Congo-Angola region. (source)
8. In 2008, the fingers of Freeman’s left hand were paralyzed during a car crash. A year later, he went on to become the first American to record a par on the Legend Golf & Safari Resort’s extreme 19th hole while playing golf one-handed.
On the night of August 3, 2008, Morgan Freeman was traveling in a 1997 Nissan Maxima. He was traveling with a female passenger, Demaris Meyer, when he suffered a major automobile accident near Ruleville, Mississippi. The accident broke his arm, left shoulder, and elbow. On August 5, 2008, Freeman underwent surgery to repair the nerve damage in his shoulder and arms. Doctors operated for four hours, but the surgery did not restore movements in the fingers of his left hand. Freeman now wears a compression glove to prevent blood pooling due to non-movement.
Freeman is left-handed, and the accident restricted the movements in the fingers in his left hand. But not even the accident could dampen Freeman’s indomitable spirit. He had played golf on Legend Golf & Safari Resort one-handed and became the first American to record a par on its extreme 19th hole. (source)
9. Concerned about the rising colony collapse disorder among honeybees, Morgan Freeman became an apiculturist in 2014. His 124-acre ranch in Mississippi houses 26 beehives.
Loss of natural food source and various other factors have led to a rapid decline in the population of wild bees. When Morgan Freeman came to know about this, the environmentalist in him took a grand step. He brought 26 hives in his Mississippi ranch and began raising bees. His ranch contains clovers, lavender, magnolia trees, and various other floras which provide a natural food source for the bees.
In 2014, Freeman revealed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that he doesn’t wear any special outfit to protect himself from the bees. It’s because he resonates with the bees and can go near them without any protective gear. (1, 2, 3)
10. Morgan Freeman has been nominated for and won more awards than the total number of movies in which he’s starred.
Morgan Freeman has received numerous awards for both career achievements and humanitarian works. He had been nominated five times for Academy Awards and Golden Globes. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie Million Dollar Baby. The movie Driving Miss Daisy earned him a Golden Globe in the Best Actor category. In total, Freeman has been nominated 79 times and has won 61 times.
In 2006, Freeman was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Mississippi’s Best Awards. He also received the American Film Institute’s 39th Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, and in the same year, Boston University presented him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. He is also a recipient of the SAG Life Achievement award. (1,2)