A burly, bald black actor of stage, screen, and television, Ving Rhames specializes in playing villains and, indeed, having grown up on Harlem's meanest streets, is no stranger to violence. His onscreen persona, however, is no match for his real-life reputation as a deeply compassionate man, seriously dedicated to his profession. The actor ably demonstrated his capacity for abundant generosity during the 1998 Golden Globes ceremony when he handed over the award he had just won for portraying the title character of the cable film Don King: Only in America to fellow nominee Jack Lemmon, simply because he felt Lemmon's contributions to film exceeded his own.
Though his upbringing in Harlem was rife with many temptations to engage in easy money criminal ventures, the deeply religious Rhames separated himself from street riffraff at a young age and focused his energies on school. It was his ninth grade English teacher who steered the sensitive young man toward acting, in large part because Rhames was unusually well spoken, frequently earning praise for his clear elocution. Inspired by a poetry reading he had attended with schoolmates, Rhames successfully auditioned for entrance into New York's prestigious High School for the Performing Arts. Once enrolled, he immersed himself in his studies and fell in love with acting. Following graduation in 1978, he attended the Juilliard School of Drama on a scholarship and focused his studies there on classical theater. After graduating from Juilliard in 1983, he went on to perform in Shakespeare in the Park productions.