Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Tommy Lee Jones - Biography

A combination of raw talent and one of the most formidable - and best recognised - faces in film has helped Tommy Lee Jones reap nearly $2 billion at the box office. Take away his Oscar and the superstar credentials, however, and he's simply a rancher to his Texan neighbours. And that's just the way he likes it.

tommy lee jones 1b
Share this:

Tommy was born in San Saba, west Texas, on September 15, 1946. His parents - father Clyde C Jones worked in the oil fields while mother Lucille Marie Scott was variously employed as a beautician, school teacher and policewoman - married and divorced twice during his childhood. After his father accepted a job in Libya, Tommy then aged 13 stayed behind as he'd won a sports scholarship to exclusive boarding school St Mark's in Dallas. It was what he describes as a ''hell of a culture shock''. Brought up with little in the way of material wealth the youngster was accustomed to settling playground feuds with his fists. ''At St Mark's one was expected to be a gentleman. It took a while to learn that, to figure out that I was in a different world," he said later. Despite the difference in upbringing to his well-off classmates, Tommy's natural sporting talents helped him fit in, playing American football, soccer and baseball and riding horses. It was at St Mark's that he became interested in literature, discovered theatre and began performing in plays. He won a scholarship to study literature at Harvard, where he famously shared a room with future US vice-president Al Gore, with whom he is still friends today. The athletic student continued to combine his love of sports with acting by joining repertory theatres performing everything from Shakespeare to Pinter during summer breaks from uni. After graduating in 1969 he moved to New York where it took him just ten days to land a role on Broadway in A Patriot For Me. The following year he made his film debut as Ryan O'Neal's roommate in Love story. In 1971 he married his first wife Kate Lardner, the granddaughter of a famous sports writer, who had two children from a previous marriage. He continued to work on and off in theatre and appeared in daytime soap opera One Life To Live as Dr Mark Toland from 1971-1975. Two years later he came to the attention of showbiz circles with his memorable portrait of Howard Hughes in 1977 TV film The Amazing Howard Hughes. After seven years in the Big Apple he and Kate decided to relocate to LA for his film career and Tommy was soon was cast opposite Laurence Olivier in 1978 flick The Betsey. His marriage to Kate broke down the same year and he went on to marry photographer Kimberlea Cloughey with whom he has two children - Austin Leonard, born 1982, and Victoria Kafka, born in 1991. That marriage also ended in divorce and in 2001 he married third wife Dawn Laurel, a camera assistant. Tommy's breakout role was as Doolittle Lynn, the ambitious husband of country and western singer Loretta Lynn, in the 1980 biographical film The Coal Miner's Daughter. It put him on the map and provided the turning point his career needed. In 1983 he won a best actor Emmy for his performance as murderer Gary Gilmore in a TV adaptation of The Executioner's Song and in the same year featured in pirate adventure Nate And Hayes. It was in the Nineties that he truly came into his own with a string of blockbusters. The decade had only just got underway when he received his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Clay Shaw in JFK. Suddenly he was in the big league earning big bucks. ''I started to make more money, and after a while it dawned on me that I could live anywhere I wanted to,'' he recalls. ''So in my wisdom I went home to Texas''. The coveted Academy Award came in 1993 for best supporting actor in The Fugitive, while other high profile movies such as Batman Forever and Men In Black helped make him one of Hollywood's most bankable stars. A lifetime in front of the camera led to an interest behind the scenes and in 2005 Tommy directed his first feature film The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada about a Texas rancher, played by himself, who sets out to avenge the murder of his friend. It was well received at the Cannes Film Festival and won him the best actor gong. In 2007 he proved he was still at the top of his game with two acclaimed performances. His portrayal of a grieving father searching for his missing son in In The Valley Of Elah won him a best actor Oscar nomination. He also earned plaudits for his role in Oscar-nominated film No Country For Old Men. When not making movies the eighth-generation Texan, who's an expert horseman and polo player, breeds cattle and horses on a ranch three miles from where he was born. The locals know him as ''a rancher, a neighbour'', he says. ''I don't expect any of them have seen my recent films." He has three other ranches, plus properties in Palm Beach and Buenos Aires.

More Profiles

See more