Capable of portrayals frighteningly intense or silky smooth, actor Terrence Howard earned accolades for roles that often pushed against mainstream racial preconceptions. Following a tumultuous childhood that included his father being sent to prison on manslaughter charges, Howard dropped out of college in order to pursue an acting career. A handful of television guest spots and supporting parts in features gradually accrued, until roles in efforts like the crime thriller "Dead Presidents" (1995) and a turn in the romantic comedy "The Best Man" (1999) enhanced his notoriety. Five years later, standout performances in the Academy Award-winning films "Crash" (2004) and "Ray" (2004) made him a hot commodity. Howard's cache reached its zenith with his universally-acclaimed work in the gritty, yet inspiring urban drama "Hustle & Flow" (2005) and a prominent role in the superhero blockbuster "Iron Man" (2008). A big year, 2008 found Howard making his Broadway debut in a production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and releasing his first music album, Shine Through It. Unfortunately, it also saw him making headlines for assaulting a "Tin Roof" colleague and divorcing his first wife - for a second time - in a rocky relationship that had seen its share of violence as well. Although not invited to return in "Iron Man 2" (2010), Howard remained busy with projects like producer George Lucas' WWII aerial adventure "Red Tails" (2012) before making his mainstream breakthrough as the star of the hip-hop-themed tale of family dynamics, "Empire" (Fox 2015- ). In a wide variety of roles, Howard could always be counted on to create a unique interpretation for even the most well-worn archetypes.
Born in Chicago, IL on Mar. 11, 1969 and raised in Cleveland, OH, Howard experienced prejudice at an early age. At age three, Howard entered a department store with his family to see Santa Claus. His mother, Anita Williams, who was wandering around the store, had joined them in line. His dad, Tyrone Howard, being lighter-skinned to the point of appearing white, was accused by Caucasians behind him for allowing "black people" to cut the line. Tyrone declared that the woman was his wife and was content on leaving it at that. But a larger man instigated a fight and started choking him. In self defense, Tyrone grabbed a knife and fatally stabbed his attacker. Ultimately, Tyrone went to jail for manslaughter for 11 months. At 19, Howard moved to New York City to become an actor. With no experience and little training, he began hustling his way through auditions, landing a few commercial gigs before pulling off a major coup: conning his way onto "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) by submitting a headshot and résumé with fake credits. The casting director hired him for an episode, but his scenes were significantly cut by Cosby. Full of righteous anger and devoid of common sense, Howard banged on the star's dressing room door and demanded satisfaction. An angry Cosby had him removed from the set and barred from ever returning. Howard's foolish reaction nearly killed the young actor's career before it began.
Howard managed to recover and landed a few guest spots on various shows throughout the early 1990s, including "Family Matters" (ABC/CBS, 1989-1998), "Coach" (ABC, 1989-1997), "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98) and "Living Single" (Fox, 1993-98). While pursuing his acting career, he earned a degree in chemical engineering at Pratt College in case he had any more confrontations with celebrities. Meanwhile, he made his film debut with a bit part as a customer in the Ted Demme comedy "Who's the Man?" (1993), then followed up as the despicable Cowboy in Albert and Allen Hughes' period saga "Dead Presidents" (1995). Howard earned good notices for his role as a star high school athlete struggling to keep a beat with the marching band in the drama "Mr. Holland's Opus" (1996). After a couple of small feature roles in "Johns" (1996) and "Sunset Park" (1996), Howard was given a regular role on the UPN sitcom, "Sparks" (1996-98). Unfortunately, the show was canceled after its second season.
After appearances in "The O.J. Simpson Story" (Fox, 1995), "Double Tap" (HBO, 1998) and "Butter" (HBO, 1998), he was in a few episodes of the popular cop drama "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005). He was then seen on the big screen in "The Players Club" (1998), a comedy about the goings-on of an Atlanta strip club, starring Ice Cube in his directorial debut. The following year, Howard was seen in three features: "Valerie Flake," a festival-bound drama about an emotionally-detached woman (Susan Traylor) who, after the death of her husband, embarks on a series of meaningless one-night stands; "Best Laid Plains," a slick neo-noir about a blackmail scheme gone bad; and "The Best Man," about a group of friends whose lives have been turned into a book by one of their own.
In 2000, Howard played Cassius Clay in the ABC biopic "Muhammad Ali: King of the World," which followed "the Greatest" from his drubbing of Sonny Liston to being stripped of his title for refusing to serve in Vietnam. As the new millennium faded into memory, Howard seemed to concentrate more on film than on television. After appearing in the blockbuster comedy "Big Momma's House" (2000), he was seen in the period romance "Investigating Sex" (2001). A turn in the drama "Angel Eyes" (2001) was trumped by an appearance in the notorious Mariah Carey vehicle "Glitter" (2001). Howard soon returned to form with a touching performance in the World War II drama, "Hart's War" (2002), playing a black officer held in a Nazi prison camp with white soldiers, at a time when segregation was still practiced by the U.S. Army. Howard briefly returned to television, landing a couple of appearances on "Soul Food" (Showtime, 2000-04), an episode of the short-lived "Fastlane" (Fox, 2002-03), and a regular stint as the new head of the Special Offenders unit on "Street Time" (Showtime, 2002-04), a drama about parole officers and their parolees. Returning to features, Howard had a memorable but brief role in the hit "Ray" (2004), playing Ray Charles' (Jamie Foxx) one-time guitarist, Gossie McKee. Then in "Crash" (2005), a hard-bitten drama about race relations in Los Angeles by writer-director Paul Haggis, Howard played a television director whose fear of challenging a police officer (Matt Dillon) when he molests his wife (Thandie Newton) leads to questioning his pride and what it means to be a black man in a white man's world.
Howard earned good notices for his intense performance in "Crash," as did the rest of the outstanding ensemble cast, but the best was soon to come. He earned acclaim and unrelenting Oscar buzz for his emotionally engaging performance as a pimp wanting to remake his life as a rapper in "Hustle & Flow" (2005), a heartfelt drama from producer John Singleton and writer-director Craig Brewster that won the Audience Award for Best Dramatic Feature at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Howard was honored with major award nominations, including at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor.
Later in 2005, Howard appeared to good effect in Singleton's revenge drama "Four Brothers" as a police detective who becomes embroiled in a quartet of grown foster children's efforts to solve the murder of their adoptive mother; and he provided an edgy jolt of energy as the cell mate-turned-manager of drug dealer and aspiring rapper Marcus (50 Cent) in the urban drama "Get Rich Or Die Tryin'" (2005). Howard's big 2005 continued with a strong co-starring role opposite Halle Berry in the Oprah Winfrey-produced adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (ABC, 2005). Howard finished out the year with a fine turn in the much-praised and decorated "Lackawanna Blues" (HBO, 2005), an endearing tale adapted from Ruben Santiago-Hudson's Obie award-winning play about his childhood growing up in a boarding house ran by Nanny Crosby (S. Epatha Merkerson), whose open door and wide open heart allow her struggling borders get a new start on life.
In 2006, he began a season-long hosting gig on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series, "Independent Lens," a showcase for independent filmmakers that introduced a new drama or documentary every episode. After a turn as the right-hand man for a 1930s gangster (Ving Rhames) in the Outkast film "Idlewild" (2006), Howard starred opposite Jodie Foster in "Brave One" (2007), Neil Jordan's thriller about a New York radio host (Foster) who seeks revenge on the men responsible for killing her fiancé.
After closing out the year with a supporting role as a conscientious child counselor in the feel-good drama "August Rush" (2007), Howard began a momentous 2008 with a turn in the surprise smash hit of the spring, "Iron Man" (2008). In the Marvel Comics adaptation, Howard played Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, Air Force Pilot and stalwart friend of hot-shot billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). Although Howard's character was strictly second fiddle to the technological marvels of its star, "Iron Man" gave the actor a notable role in a blockbuster feature film, with a hefty paycheck to match. On a career roll, that same year also saw Howard making his Broadway debut in an all-African-American production of Tennessee Williams' Southern gothic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," co-starring James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad. Unfortunately, the triumph was somewhat diminished when Howard allegedly attacked and injured musical composer Tex Allen - brother of director Debbie Allen - during rehearsals. Allen, whose lip needed several stitches after the dustup, later filed a $5 million suit against Howard for the battery.
It was not the first time the notoriously mercurial actor had been accused of violence, as evidenced by an earlier 2001 incident in which Howard was arrested after breaking into the home of his estranged wife, Lori McCommas, grabbing her arm and punching her in the face with a closed fist. Having divorced in 2003, the fractious couple remarried two years later, only to call it quits again in 2008. With his personal life in disarray, Howard's professional world continued to expand when in late-2008, he released his first music album, the wildly eclectic Shine Through It, featuring nearly a dozen tracks composed by Howard, with occasional numbers in collaboration with Miles Mosley. The new year soon presented Howard a plethora of new projects, including a co-starring turn as an underground fight promoter representing brawler Channing Tatum in "Fighting" (2009) and voice work as the hard-working late father of the titular princess in Disney's return to 2-D animation with the 20th-century fairy tale "The Princess and the Frog" (2009).
One role he would not be taking on again, however, was that of Rhodey, his high-flying character from "Iron Man." Speculation ran rampant as to why Howard was not invited back for "Iron Man 2" (2010) - Don Cheadle would ultimately replace him - although such factors as director Jon Favreau's displeasure with both Howard's on-set behavior and onscreen performance, as well as his agent's reluctance to accept a greatly reduced role (and commensurate salary reduction) in the sequel all appeared to play a role in Howard's sudden departure. Looking to fill the unexpected openings in his work schedule, he signed on to share duties with Alfred Molina on the latest spin-off of the venerable legal procedural drama, "Law & Order" Los Angeles" (NBC, 2010-11). Other work included a pair of independent features - the thriller "The Ledge" (2011) starring Charlie Hunnam and Patrick Wilson, and "Winnie" (2011), in which he portrayed former South African President Nelson Mandela opposite Jennifer Hudson as his complex and charismatic wife.
On the home front, things remained rocky for the acclaimed performer. After barely a year of marriage, Howard and second wife Michelle Ghent parted ways in August 2012 following an acrimonious divorce battle that included allegations of physical abuse leveled by Ghent and Howard's claims that Ghent was an unrepentant racist. More positive press was garnered for his participation in producer George Lucas' visually stunning depiction of World War II's famed African-American squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen, in the aerial action-adventure "Red Tails" (2012). After joining Kristin Stewart, Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen for an adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" (2012), Howard took on the role of an F.B.I. agent chasing down a former political activist wanted since the 1960s in director Robert Redford's thriller "The Company You Keep" (2012). Howard's next major role came in the White House historical drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013), followed by a reprise of one of his most popular roles, returning as Quentin Spivey in "The Best Man Holiday" (2013). After minor roles in the action thriller "Sabotage" (2014) and the Melissa McCarthy/Bill Murray comedy-drama "St. Vincent" (2014), Howard landed his biggest mainstream success in the hip-hop soap opera "Empire" (Fox 2015- ). Starring Howard as ailing label head Lucious Lyon opposite Taraji P. Henson as his estranged ex-wife Cookie, the series was a buzzy watercooler hit. Between seasons, Howard co-starred in thriller "Term Life" (2016) and drama "Cardboard Boxer" (2016).
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Played Jackie Jackson in highly rated ABC miniseries "The Jacksons: An American Dream"
Made feature debut in a cameo role in "Who's the Man?"
Starred as Cowboy, a Vietnam vet turned sadistic maniac in Hughes brothers' action thriller "Dead Presidents"
Cast in starring role on UPN's "Sparks" as the more conservative and responsible of two lawyers and battling brothers
Featured in "The Players Club" and "Butter," both of which aired on HBO in lieu of theatrical release
Cast as smug troublemaker Quentin in Malcolm D. Lee's "The Best Man"
Cast in supporting role as a fearsome criminal in Martin Lawrence comedy "Big Momma's House"
Portrayed legendary boxing great Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali in ABC biopic "Muhammad Ali: King of the World"
Landed co-starring role opposite Jennifer Lopez in romantic thriller "Angel Eyes"
Starred opposite Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell in drama "Hart's War"
Starred opposite Jamie Foxx in Taylor Hackford's Oscar nominated film "Ray"
Starred in HBO movie "Lackawanna Blues," based on play by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, that recounts his childhood growing up in a boarding house in Lackawanna, NY
Starred in breakthrough role as a Memphis pimp trying to become a successful rapper in Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow"
Starred with an ensemble cast in Paul Haggis' directorial debut "Crash"
Co-starred with Jodie Foster in crime drama "The Brave One"
Portrayed a seasoned cameraman embarking on an unauthorized mission to find a war criminal in "The Hunting Party"
Made Broadway debut in Debbie Allen's revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; featured an all African-American cast
Cast as Jim Rhodes, Tony Stark's right hand man in Marvel's "Iron Man"
Cast as Deputy District Attorney Joe Dekker on "Law & Order: Los Angeles" (NBC)
Played Nelson Mandela opposite Jennifer Hudson in biopic "Winnie"
Co-starred in WWII drama "Red Tails," about a crew of African American pilots in Tuskegee training program; executive produced by George Lucas
Cast opposite director Robert Redford in thriller "The Company You Keep"
Played a ruthless kingpin opposite Colin Farrell in neo-noir crime thriller "Dead Man Down"
Co-starred opposite Oprah Winfrey in "Lee Daniel's The Butler"
Returned in the Christmas-themed sequel "The Best Man Holiday"
Co-starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in action thriller "Sabotage"
Played supporting role in Melissa McCarthy/Bill Murray comedy-drama "St. Vincent"
Co-starred in Fox event series "Wayward Pines" as a mysterious small-town sheriff
Starred as Lucious Lyon in Fox drama "Empire"
Began starring as Lucious Lyon on "Empire"