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Robert Earl Jones (February 3 1910September 7 2006) was an Americanmarker actor. He is best known for his roles in the films The Cotton Club and The Sting and as the father of actor James Earl Jones.


Early life

Born in Mississippimarker, the specific location of his birth is unclear as some sources indicate Senatobiamarker, while others suggest nearby Coldwatermarker. Additionally, his date of birth has been variously reported by different sources as between 1900 and 1911. The most likely date is 1910 as reported by the United States Social Security Administration.


Jones, a grade-school dropout, was a sharecropper, and boxing prizefighter before making his way, via Chicagomarker, to New York Citymarker and a career on stage and in film. Under the name "Battling Bill Stovall", he was a sparring partner of Joe Louis.

Altogether Jones appeared in more than twenty films, including The Cotton Club (1984) and The Sting (1973). Jones was a living link with the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, having worked with Langston Hughes early in his career. In New York in the 1930s Jones worked with young people on the Works Progress Administration, the largest New Deal agency, through which he met Langston Hughes, who cast him in his 1938 play, Don't You Want to Be Free?

Jones told the New York Times in 1974:

Jones' career started in 1939 with a small role as a detective in the 1939 film Lying Lips. Jones acted mostly in crime movies and dramas after that, with such highlights as Cold River and One Potato, Two Potato. Jones also appeared in several other noted films over the span of his career: Witness, Trading Places, and The Cotton Club. Jones appeared in the Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting, as Luther Coleman, an aging grifter whose con is requited with murder leading to "the sting". Although he never achieved the fame enjoyed by his son, James, Jones found a comfortable niche in Hollywoodmarker with steady work from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

Toward the end of his life, Jones was noted for his stage portrayal of Creon in a 1988 musical version of the Oedipus legend, The Gospel at Colonus. He also made appearances in the long-running TV shows Lou Grant and Kojak. His last film was in the 1992 drama Rain Without Thunder. One of his last stage roles was in a 1991 production of Mule Bone by Hughes and another figure from the Harlem renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston.

Though blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, he was ultimately honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the U.S. National Black Theatre Festival.

Personal life

Jones died at his home in 2006, in Englewood, New Jerseymarker, of natural causes.

  • Ronald Earl Jones, father
  • Rebecca Sunden-Jones, mother
  • Brian Jones, brother
  • Mary Jones, sister
  • John Earl Jones, brother
  • Ruth Connoly, wife
  • James Earl Jones, son
  • Matthew Earl Jones, son
  • Flynn Earl Jones, grandson





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