Distinguished and versatile actor Cuba Gooding Jr. spent many years in bit roles before finally becoming a star. The son of Cuba Gooding, lead singer for the '70s pop group the Main Ingredient, he was born in the Bronx on January 2, 1968, but moved to Los Angeles after his father's group had a hit single with "Everybody Plays the Fool" in 1972. Unfortunately, the elder Gooding abandoned his family two years later. The subsequently tumultuous nature of Gooding Jr.'s upbringing did not deter him from achievement: During his teens, he attended four different high schools but managed to become class president of three of them.
Gooding Jr. made his professional debut in 1984 as a breakdancer for Lionel Richie's show at the Olympics. As an actor he was discovered by an agent while performing in a high school play, and began working steadily in television commercials, which led to a bit part on an episode of Hill Street Blues. The experience inspired him to take acting lessons and after attending workshops and classes, he began to get a few more parts in television and films. He made his first feature-film appearance in Coming to America (1988) in which he was credited as "Boy Getting Haircut." Gooding Jr.'s first real break came when he was cast as Tre Styles in Boyz 'N the Hood (1990). The film earned him considerable acclaim and seemed to offer the promise of a great career. Sure enough, Gooding began landing fairly substantial parts in feature films. Unfortunately, save for a few exceptions like A Few Good Men (1992), most of the films were not well regarded, and the actor continued to work in relative obscurity. The comic talents he demonstrated as Paul Hogan's sidekick in 1994's Lightning Jack were overshadowed by further mediocre films, and it was not until 1997 that he truly came into the spotlight. That year, he starred as a loyal football player in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts.