How many people can actually say the FBI saved their life?
Samuel L. Jackson is a professional badass with a career full of incendiary film performances.
But it was a long, hard and late road to stardom for this icon. In fact, we don’t know of a single success story – in business or entertainment – more fascinating than Mr. Jackson’s.
As a child in Tennessee growing up without a father, his persistent stutter made him a target of painful ridicule.
His revenge? Study harder, get smarter and leave them behind.
And to deal with his word affliction directly, he learned how to “pretend to be other people who didn’t stutter”. And so the roots of an acting career were planted.
But stardom was light years away. And in the first of many interesting life twists, Mr. Jackson found himself a figure in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.
After serving as an usher at Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 funeral while a student at nearly Morehouse College, his anger boiled. Peaceful demonstration was no longer an option for him.
Along with several students, he held members of the college board of trustees hostage on campus, demanding reform in the school’s governance. Ironically, Martin Luther King Sr. was one of those trustees.
Mr. Jackson was convicted of a second-degree felony and suspended from college for two years. He then became active in the Black Power movement, right as they began preparing for armed confrontation. But after the FBI told his mother that he would die within one year, she sent him packing for Los Angeles. He returned to complete his degree two years later, settling on a drama major.
Mr. Jackson then spent the next fifteen years appearing in local and regional theatre. He also developed serious alcohol and cocaine addictions that prevented him from acting in plays that headed were to Broadway.
His Hollywood career fared no better, managing no more than bit parts throughout the 1980’s (although oddly, he worked as a stand-in for Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show for several years).
By the time the 1990’s rolled in, Mr. Jackson had graduated to heroin, overdosing several times. And when his eight-year old daughter found him passed out on the kitchen floor (freebasing materials ready for use on the table), he had officially hit rock bottom. His family entered him into a rehab clinic soon after.
The rate of relapse after rehab ranges from 60% to 90%. But finally, fate would smile on Mr. Jackson, albeit in a totally unexpected way.
Weeks after completing his recovery stint, a director he met ten years prior asked him to appear in an upcoming film – as a crack cocaine addict. The director was Spike Lee and the film – Jungle Fever – proved to be a breakthrough for the struggling actor.
Not only did he receive international acclaim (the prestigious Cannes Film Festival actual created a Supporting Actor award for him) but the role proved to be a personal catharsis, enabling him to give up drugs and alcohol for good.
The doors of his career blew wide open after that. And at the age of 46 -- in his THIRTIETH movie -- he found the role which finally made him a star: hit man Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
And how has Mr. Jackson done since his star turn? He’s now the second-highest grossing actor in the history of motion pictures, with his films having done over $8 billion at the box office.
Oh, and he still deals with that stutter. His new way of getting through it? He simply says his favorite word:
I do that. Every day. I say it and it helps, like even if I just say it to myself, under my breath. I don't stutter when I say that word.
And you wonder why we call him Mister.