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Jamie Foxx Biography - Prepared for the Stage, Made a Name for Himself, Continued Success in Film and Music

comedy television comedian actor

1967—

Comedian, actor, singer

Foxx, Jamie, photograph. © 2004 Landov LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.

In the ever-shifting, multimedia world of Hollywood entertainment, the art of juggling talents has always paid off. Comedian, actor, singer, and producer Jamie Foxx has helped to affirm this, scoring successes on the stage, the screen, on television, and in the recording studio. A dynamic and easily likable performer, Foxx has rapidly moved from obscurity to the helm of a highly rated television series for the WB network, and shows no signs of decreasing his activity. "As a comedian, as an actor, you've got to make things happen," Foxx told People magazine. "I want to have a lot of things in the air," he added.

Prepared for the Stage

Jamie Foxx was born Eric Bishop on December 13, 1967, in Terrell, Texas, to stockbroker Shaheed Abdullah and Louise Annette Talley—now surnamed Dixon through remarriage—in the small town of Terrell, Texas. Foxx's parents quickly found themselves overwhelmed by the demands of child rearing, and at the age of seven months, he was adopted by his maternal grandparents, Mark and Esther Talley. Foxx rarely saw his biological parents throughout his childhood, so he felt no affect from their divorce when he was six years old. Fortunately, his new family, including two half sisters and a stepbrother, provided a loving, supportive environment, and his childhood was a trauma-free one.

At a very young age, Foxx showed evidence of his flair for performing and entertaining. At five years old, he started piano lessons, immersing himself both in the language of music and in the often-shocking experience of facing an audience—crucial skills for his future career. While performing in a talent competition at Terrell High School, his peers noticed Foxx's magnetic stage presence. "He was singing, and the women just moved to the front to be near him," ex-classmate Chris Barron recalled to People. Although the teenage Foxx was a standout in his local church choir who embarked on an academic pursuit of music at the U.S. International University in San Diego, California, it was comedy, not music, that gave Foxx his break.

Like many small-town celebrities in waiting, Foxx dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to enter directly, working from the very bottom up. With no formal experience and no connections, the struggling Foxx soon ended up peddling shoes in a Thom McAn shoe store outlet, and sat in at local comedy clubs on amateur nights in hopes of performing himself. He quickly noticed a pattern of gender in the roster of comedians which he decided to use to his advantage. As he confessed to Jet magazine, "[t]hree girls would show up and 22 guys would show up. They had to put all the girls on who were on the list to break up the monotony." Foxx, still named Eric Bishop, began signing unisex monikers on audition lists in hopes of being taken for a woman. The ploy soon worked. On his twenty-first birthday, Foxx and his friends were attending a San Francisco nightclub, and the young comedian flooded the entry list with fabricated, ambiguous names. When the master of ceremonies called out, "Jamie Foxx…Is she here?," Foxx responded in a resonant, masculine tone, to everyone's surprise, and stepped to the microphone.

Made a Name for Himself

From this first comedy performance, which garnered a standing ovation from the audience, it was evident that Foxx could rely on talent, not gimmicks, to sustain a career in entertainment. Nonetheless, he retained the assumed name that had helped finagle his comedy debut, perhaps in part as an acknowledgement of a new life. "I loved my old name," he told People. "But Eric Bishop was Clark Kent. And Jamie Foxx is Superman." With a new name, a boosted level of confidence, and one auspicious stage outing, the newly dubbed Foxx stormed the Los Angeles comedy circuit, winning the Black Bay Area Comedy Competition in 1991, and quitting his job as a shoe clerk to perform up to seven nights per week. On stage, he began to develop a sassy, outrageous persona, as well as a repertoire of characters he would use later in his career, including "Wanda, the Ugly Woman." In addition, his impersonations of celebrities such as fellow comedian/actor Bill Cosby and prizefighter Mike Tyson were marked by a perfect balance of mimicry and exaggeration. Foxx had elevated his entertainment with rehearsed artistry and contagious energy. And yet while he had become a hero within the Southern California comedy scene, Foxx was quickly becoming a television "Superman."

Aspiring to expand beyond a local audience, Foxx auditioned alongside several hundred other comedians for a part in an ensemble cast of a new television comedy for the Fox television network entitled In Living Color. Foxx landed the role, and in 1991 joined the cast of the highly rated show that would last several seasons and help elevate the careers of future stars' Jim Carrey, Tommy Davidson, and the Wayans Brothers. The show followed a short sketch comedy format, with an exuberant, outrageous attitude perfect for Foxx's style of comedy. Adapting his material for television, Foxx was able to translate his stand-up characters into favorites of television comedy, and quickly developed a nation-wide fan base. Not only was In Living Color a kindling fire for Foxx's popularity, it also provided the growing funnyman an opportunity to hone his comic skills among his contemporaries. "Damon [Wayans] taught me the importance of having a little attitude," he remarked to People about one of his co-stars. "And Jim [Carrey] taught me goofiness," he added.

In Living Color proved to be a gateway of opportunity for Foxx, catapulting him into numerous engagements in both television and film. During the show's run, Foxx managed to portray a recurring character on the series Roc, also on the Fox network, in addition to making guest appearances on stand-up specials. In 1993, HBO invited him to create a one-man concert program, and the result was Jamie Foxx: Straight from the Foxxhole. The uncensored nature of cable television allowed him to return to the style of his earliest material, and the program fared well. Foxx even juggled his motion picture debut into his demanding television schedule, acting alongside veteran comedian Robin Williams in the family feature Toys.

At a Glance …

Born Eric Bishop on December 13, 1967, in Terrell, TX; son of Shaheed Abdullah and Louise Annette Dixon; adopted by grandparents Mark and Esther Talley. Education: Attended U.S. International University, San Diego, CA, 1986-88.

Career: Comedian, 1990–; actor, director, and producer, 1991–; musician, 1994–.

Awards: Black Bay Area Comedy Competition, 1991; Image Award, for The Jamie Foxx Show, 1998; Image Award, for Ali, 2002; Black Reel Award, for Ali, 2002.

Addresses: Agent—The Gersh Agency, 232 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

By the time In Living Color ran its final season in 1994, Foxx's resume was impressive enough to establish himself securely in the comedy world. However, in the following year Foxx took a brief vacation from comedy and made an impressive return to his performing roots—music. Still under the Fox studios banner, he released a full-length album of 12 R&B tracks, all of which he wrote, sang, and produced. The record climbed to #12 on Billboard magazine's sales charts, and received warm reviews from music critics. Easily slipping back into the vocal training of his youth, Foxx had successfully given life to yet another branch of his career.

Continued Success in Film and Music

After a brief period of respite, Foxx plunged back into film and television with full force. In 1996, he played supporting roles in the films The Truth About Cats and Dogs and The Great White Hype, the latter gaining Foxx critical merit for his portrayal of a smalltime boxing manager. But once again, it was television comedy that helped push his popularity. Moving from the Fox network to the WB (Warner Brothers) network, Foxx helped create and produce a program that was different from most of his work to date. With The Jamie Foxx Show, WB launched a family-oriented situation comedy, starring a decidedly adult comedian. The combination worked.

Prior to The Jamie Foxx Show, the comedian attracted backlash from critics who objected to Foxx's sometimes shocking comic arsenal, especially for his negative discussion of women. Taking this into consideration, Foxx decided to create a show "[l]ike I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show," he explained to Mediaweek magazine. "They were clean and still funny. If you try to be on the edge you cut lots of people out," he continued. His efforts were received as planned, and the series became the WB network's highest-rated series, scoring heavily among younger audiences and women. The show, in which Foxx essays the semi-autobiographical portrait of a struggling actor eking out a living as a worker at a shady hotel, is the product of a diverse creative team, made up of men and women, blacks and whites, which strives for a fresh, universal appeal. "You don't have to be gimmicky, you don't have to fall back on stereotypes," Foxx told Mediaweek. "It's not a conveyor belt. We try to handcraft the show," he added. Alongside many programs that thrive on a barrage of sexual innuendos alone, The Jamie Foxx Show was a refreshing surprise and a marked sign of growth for its star. The Jamie Foxx Show aired for five seasons on the WB Network and won Foxx an Image Award in 1998. The reruns of the comedy show are played in syndication and remain popular with fans.

His work on The Jamie Foxx Show led to a variety of roles that proved Foxx was more than just a comedic actor. But acting continued to be the mainstay of his professional life. His part in Any Given Sunday in 1999 featured Foxx's true talent: versatility. In his role as Willie Beamen, a third-string quarterback, Foxx deftly switches from being uncertain to cocky, and back again. Foxx also wrote and performed two songs for the movie's soundtrack. Foxx had made a name for himself among producers as a serious actor and won the critics' attention in 2002 with his role in Ali. For his part as Muhammad Ali's trainer, the director Taylor Hackford told Newsweek that "Jamie was the best thing about that movie." Hackford directed Foxx in the 2004 movie Ray. Foxx played the title role of Ray Charles. In preparation for his role, Foxx spent hours with Charles before his death, learning his unique mannerisms and speech patterns. He used his talent as a comic to mimic Charles, but did so with such sympathy and understanding that his characterization of Charles stunned viewers. Foxx told Ebony that Charles' children saw him acting in some scenes and said, "Man, that's my daddy." Charles' long-time friend Quincy Jones told Newsweek that Foxx "nailed" his depiction of Charles. "It's interesting that Jamie started out as a comic, because that's not where his career is going," Hackford told Newsweek. "He's not going to be the next Eddie Murphy—he's going to be the next Denzel [Washington]."

Selected works

Films

Toys, 1992.

The Great White Hype, 1996.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs, 1996.

Booty Call, 1997.

The Players Club, 1998.

Any Given Sunday, 1999.

Held Up, 1999.

Bait, 2000.

Ali, 2001.

Date from Hell, 2001.

Shade, 2003.

Breakin' All the Rules, 2004.

Collateral, 2004.

Ray, 2004.

Television

In Living Color, 1991-94.

C-Bear and Jamal, 1996.

The Jamie Foxx Show, 1996-2001.

Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, November 1, 2004, p. 96.

Jet, March 24,1997, pp.32-35.

Mediaweek, October 21, 1996, pp. 9.

Newsweek, August 2, 2004.

People, January 13, 1997; November 29, 2004.

On-line

"Jamie Foxx," The Gersh Agency, www.gershcomedy.com/JamieFoxx.aspx (November 23, 2004).

—Shaun Frentner and

Sara Pendergast

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