Denzel Washington may be known as one of America’s most beloved actors, but there’s a side of Washington many haven’t seen.
Denzel Washington believes in God. And if you meet him in person, you’ll quickly learn that he’s unashamed to tell you so.
But Washington doesn’t claim to be a perfect Christian. In fact, he admits that many of his life’s deepest struggles are what caused him to turn to Christ.
Denzel Washington was born on December 28, 1954, in Mount Vernon, New York. Denzel’s father, Reverend Denzel Hayes Washington, Sr., was a Pentecostal minister and his mother, Lennis “Lynne” Washington, was a beautician and beauty parlor owner.
Raised in a loving Christian home, Denzel Washington says growing up in the fear of the Lord is something that he values deeply in life.
Denzel shared, “My father, my earthly father, Denzel Washington Sr. was a pastor for the Church of God in Christ for 60 years. I know he’s smiling in heaven, seeing his son doing the best I can do today, by the grace of God.
Today, he’s one of America’s most beloved actors. But Washington’s life wasn’t always easy. Denzel severely struggled through school as he received poor grades and his future looked pretty bleak.
To make matters worse, shortly after turning 14, his parents divorced and young Denzel went on to live with his mother. Heartbroken and spiraling out of control, Denzel started down a dangerous and rebellious path. The young Washington was constantly getting into fights and staying out on the streets.
Desperate to save her son, Denzel’s mother sent him to a private preparatory school, Oakland Military Academy in New York — a decision that God used to transform his life forever.
“That decision changed my life,” Washington later said, “because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going. The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.”
Unlike many other actors of our day, Denzel didn’t grow up aspiring to be anything grande. In fact, Denzel’s challenging childhood led him to believe that he would never truly amount to anything. Until one day, a woman from church approached him and gave him a word of encouragement.
Denzel recalled back on the day that changed his life forever,”Now mind you I was 20 years old, with a 1.7-grade point average and had flunked out of school. She said, ‘You are going to preach,’” shared Washington. “In this 40-year journey, I guess she was right. Through my work I have spoken to millions of people.”
With a new-found hope, Denzel enrolled into Fordham University. There, he played basketball as a guard and studied medicine. However, he soon realized that he lacked passion to be a doctor.
Rather than waste time and money, Denzel decided to took a semester off school and accepted a position as the creative arts director at an overnight summer camp, Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. As fate would have it, Denzel’s time there would later prove to change the trajectory of his life forever.
While working at the summer camp, Denzel directed various activities– which included organizing skits for the children. And as it turned out, young Washington had a natural knack for acting.
In his book, Denzel wrote “The counselors there put on a talent show for the kids. So I put together these little poems and rhymes and skits for the kids in my cabin, and we stood up on stage and did our bit. After the show this guy named Miles Joyce came up to me and said, ‘Man, you ever thought about being an actor?”
Denzel returned to Fordham with a new-found interest in acting and in 1977, Washington earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Denzel went on to receive a scholarship to attend graduate school at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. But it didn’t take long for Denzel get into acting. After just one year of grad school, Washington returned to New York City to take a stab at his professional acting career.
Just four years after Denzel began acting, Washington made his first Hollywood appearance in the film Carbon Copy (1981). Playing the role of Roger Porter, a long-lost, illegitimate son of a white corporate executive. The film was a breakout success and is still considered an American classic to this day.
In 1982, Washington shared an Obie Award for his role in the Off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company production, A Soldier’s Play. That next year, Denzel was casted as Dr. Philip Chandler on the NBC hospital drama St. Elsewhere.
In the 1989 historical masterpiece, Glory, Denzel played a former slave who joined an all-black Civil War regiment. The most powerful scene in the movie and arguably one of the best scenes in cinema history, was when Washington shed a single tear while being whipped for being accused of running away.
His emotional performance left America in awe, and Denzel later went on to win his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Washington revealed, ”I remember walking around before that scene, just praying and calling on the spirits of all the slaves, because I didn’t know how to play it…I went out there with an arrogance. I spit on the ground. I had this attitude and this strength and it all came out of this meditation. It wasn’t calculated. It was organic. That whip actually hurt, but I was like, Don’t let him win.”
Through the 1990s, Denzel continued to rise as one of America’s most beloved actors. Washington co-starred in big budget productions such as The Pelican Brief (1993), Philadelphia (1993),Crimson Tide (1995), The Preacher’s Wife (1996) and Courage Under Fire (1996), a role for which he was paid $10 million.
Denzel’s work in critically-acclaimed films continued simultaneously, with roles in Malcolm X (1992) and The Hurricane (1999) garnering him Oscar nominations for Best Actor, before finally being awarded the prize in 2002 for his lead role in Training Day (2001).
The 2000s was also a very successful decade for Washington. Denzel starred in his largest-grossing film to date, Remember The Titans and Americans fell in love all over again with his unique ability to unite the nation and abolish the horrific lines of racism. Washington went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Dramatic Movie.
Denzel also made history in 2001 by winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in the film, Training Day. Here he played Detective Alonzo Harris, a rogue Los Angeles cop with questionable law-enforcement tactics. With his powerful performance, he became the second African-American performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Washington shared, ”I was never asked to play the heavy…I guess they thought I was the noble, nice guy.”
As it’s been said before, Washington paved the way for African American actors by proving he could carry a film like Training Day, in which the main character’s race is a tangential factor at most, and win a Best Actor Oscar in the process, the first being Sidney Poitier who also received an Honorary Academy Award that night.
But success in Hollywood wasn’t the only gift that acting gave Denzel. In June of 1983, Washington married the love of his life, Pauletta Pearson.
And despite being celebrities, Denzel and Paulette have beat the odds and stayed together for over 33 years. The couple renewed their vows in 1995, and their steadfast love is a refreshing sight to behold — especially in Hollywood these days.
“We live in a time — and it’s not for me to judge anyone — when people give up too easy,” Denzel recently shared, exhibiting the same persistent spirit that prompted him to ask Pauletta to marry him three times before she finally accepted his proposal.
The lovebirds first met on the set of the television film Wilma and after tying the knot, went on to have four children together — 32-year-old son John, 29-year-old daughter Katia and 15-year-old twins Olivia and Malcolm.
When asked for some marriage advice, Denzel replied, “Oh – if you’re a guy – two phrases. One is ‘yes, dear’ and the other is ‘honey, you’re right.’”
On a more serious note, Denzel continued, “You have to work at it. Not give up on each other. It’s a commitment. Be patient. Be good friends first. And stick together. You gotta work at it. I’ve been married 33 years. It’s not all a honeymoon, it’s not all flowers and roses, but if you’re friends and partners and committed, you’ll be okay. And everybody’s got advice for you – don’t listen.”
But not only is Denzel a devoted husband and family man, but he also considers his Faith the most important aspect of his life. And recently, the world-renown actor has sounded more like a pastor when he takes the podium.
Denzel shared, “In 2015, I said I’m no longer just going to speak through my work. I’m going to make a conscious effort to get up and speak about what God has done for me.”
Denzel is unashamed of his faith in Jesus Christ, and also credits his success to the faithful prayers of his mother.
Washington revealed, “I remember saying to my mother at a time when I was feeling myself, ‘Ma did you ever think that I was going to become this…’ She said ‘boy, do you know all the people who have been praying for your behind… all the prayer cloths, and prayer meetings…’ And she made me clean the windows.”
As the son of a Pentecostal preacher who pastored for 60 years, Denzel Washington has maintained his Christian faith throughout his successful career and takes every opportunity to share it.
“There’s never been a time where God didn’t direct, protect, and correct me,” Washington passionately testified. “There may have been times where I was less than faithful to Him, but He had faith in me.” And when asked about his thoughts on the Bible, Denzel replied, “I read from the Bible every day, I read my Daily Word.”
At a commencement speech earlier this year, Denzel passionately encouraged graduates to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ.
The world-renown actor shared, “Number one, put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me and everything you think I’ve accomplished and everything you think I have… everything I have is by the grace of God, understand that. It’s a gift.”
Washington continued, “Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time.”
The actor urged the graduates to devote themselves to a lifestyle of prayer saying, “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say ‘thank you.’ Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding,” he said. “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”
Despite Denzel Washington’s unparalleled success, three Golden Globe awards, two Academy Awards, and Tony Award, he remains a humble man of faith who honors his wife and loves his children; that is someone who’s truly worth admiring.
“Faith and optimism can add years to your life. A bad attitude is like a flat tire. Until you change it, you’re not going anywhere.” – Denzel Washington
Praise God for amazing men in Hollywood like Denzel Washington! While listening to Denzel’s inspiring story, I just couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah 17:7 which reads,
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”
Thank you, Denzel Washington, for sharing your inspiring message of hope in Jesus Christ! America needs more men of faith like you! Please share if you agree!