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Samuel L. Jackson - Biography

Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most prolific, highest grossing actors of all time

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 13: Samuel L. Jackson attends Marvel Studios' New Series "Secret Invasion" Launch Event at El Capitan Theatre on June 13, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Bryony Gooch
US Writer
Updated: May 9, 2024
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When judges at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival left the screening of Spike Lee's Jungle Fever there was one performance they couldn't stop talking about. Indeed they were so impressed with the young actor's portrayal of a drug-addict, they decided to create a new award category in its honour.

And so it was that the then-unknown Samuel Leroy Jackson became the first recipient of the festival's best supporting actor gong. Receiving the award was especially important for Samuel, as the role was of personal significance to him. He had just undergone rehabilitation for his own substance abuse problems. 

Early life

The charismatic performer was born on 21 December, 1948, in Washington DC, but raised by his grandmother in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The move south would prove a decisive factor in his life, as the aspiring thespian was deeply affected by the censorship there of black characters in movies. 

Upon finishing high school he enrolled at the predominantly African American Morehouse College and got involved in the black power movement. In one famous incident the fiery student took several of the members of the board of trustees hostage to protest the lack of black representation. The debacle resulted in his expulsion, but he returned two years later to complete a degree in drama. 


His first professional acting work was with the Black Image Theatre, where he was noted for his hypnotic stage presence. His work with the company also resulted in him meeting three of the most important figures in his life Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman and actress LaTanya Richardson, who would later become his wife. Friends say the young Samuel had plenty of passion, but not much faith he could make it in Tinseltown. Spike convinced him otherwise, however, and the pair made a series of well-received collaborations. 

When a high-spirited young director called Quentin Tarantino spotted his work, and asked Samuel to appear in a new project, his ticket to the big time was secured. Few could forget his chilling performance as the bible-quoting killer in Pulp Fiction, and critics the world over heralded a major new talent. 

The actor's doubts about his chances in Hollywood were also quashed, when his work was recognised with an Oscar nomination. The movie marked his arrival as a leading man, and films like The Negotiator, Changing Lanes and SWAT have further confirmed that status. Samuel's staying power should come as no surprise, as he is also recognised as one of Tinseltown's hardest working performers. 

He has lensed over 100 films since 1994's Pulp Fiction, making him one of the most prolific figures in the industry. "I love acting, I'll never get bored of this," he said. "There are so many different parts to play out there." 

Highly prolific, Jackson's films have collectively grossed over $27 billion, making him the highest-grossing live-action actor of all time as of 2021. He has featured in numerous franchises, from Star Wars to the Avengers through his role of Nick Fury. 

Acting remains a joy for the star. "It’s easy, you know, you don’t shoot more than two and a half pages a day. Piece of cake. You don’t have to learn anything from beginning to end, even though I know all the lines. I know everybody’s lines. When I go to work, I have fun."

Personal life

And his talents aren't limited to acting, as the father-of-one is also an accomplished golfer and trumpeter. But it is his success as a family man he is most proud of. "We have been together for 32 years and married for 22," he says of LaTanya. "My recipe for a happy marriage? I let her shop all that she wants. She has a blank cheque, which she uses. If we do have some kind of conflict, I stop and think what part I played in it." 

Their daughter Zoe was born in 1982.

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