Washington won a full-ride scholarship to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, though he returned to New York after a year to pursue acting professionally. He had previously appeared in several stage shows, but his first on-screen role came in 1977 with Wilma’s made-for-television movie. Several smaller stage and screen roles soon followed, but Washington got his big break in 1982 when he landed a spot on the successful medical drama St. Elsewhere. He starred as Dr. Phillip Chandler for the show’s entire six-year run.
Washington’s star rose quickly as he showed off his incredible talent in movies like Malcolm X, The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia, and Courage Under Fire. He was soon earning major paychecks for his movie performances. In 1995, he took home $7.5 million for Virtuosity’s science fiction film. The 1998 films Fallen and The Siege, along with his Oscar-winning performance in 2001’s Training Day, earned him a cool $12 million each. Today Denzel Washington earns upwards of $60 million every year.
In 1988, Washington received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the anti-Apartheid film Cry Freedom, and in 1989, he won that same award for his performance in Glory.
In 1992, he received a Best Actor nomination for his performance in Malcolm X, and in 1999, he was nominated again and won a Golden Globe for The Hurricane. In 2002, he finally won the Academy Award for Best Actor Motion Picture for his role in Training Day, becoming only the second African-American actor to win Best Actor. That year, he also appeared in the Disney football drama Remember the Titans, which earned over $100 million at the box office and garnered him a Black Reel Award and an NAACP Image Award, both for Best Actor. In 2016, Denzel was presented with the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globe Awards.
For her work as Denzel Washington’s on-screen wife, Viola Davis received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, while he took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor. Wounded, Washington confessed his faith in God during his acceptance speech.
Although he never finished graduate school, the actor has received three honorary doctorate degrees. The first was in 1991 from his alma mater, Fordham University, for having “impressively succeeded in exploring the edge of his multi-faceted talent.” In 2007 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Morehouse College, and in 2011, the University of Pennsylvania bestowed him with an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.
In 2002, Washington stepped behind the camera to direct Antwone Fisher; he has since directed The Great Debaters (2007) and Fences (2016). He has also produced several movies, including The Book of Eli and The Equalizer (he played as Robert McCall), and several television programs.
Commedia dell’arte: Mississippi Masala (1996), Much Ado About Nothing (1996), Philadelphia (1997), The Blue Dress (1998), Man on Fire, and Crimson Tide (1995) are just a few examples (1995). After that, he collaborated with director Tony Scott on other hit films.
His portrayals of historical figures like civil rights activist Malcolm X in Malcolm X (1992), anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987), narcotics trafficker Frank Lucas in American Gangster (2007), and coach Heisman in Coach Heisman: The Legend Continues (2007) have all been critically acclaimed.