With sleek, well-muscled good looks that easily lend themselves to romantic leading roles or parts that call for running, jumping, and handling firearms, Wesley Snipes became one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the 1990s. First coming to prominence with roles in Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues and Jungle Fever, Snipes went on to prove himself as an actor who could appeal to audiences as a man that women want and men want to be.
Born in Orlando, FL, on July 31, 1962, Snipes grew up in the Bronx. He developed an early interest in acting and attended Manhattan's High School for the Performing Arts. His mother moved him back to Florida before he could graduate, but after finishing up high school in Florida, Snipes attended the State University of New York-Purchase and began pursuing an acting career. It was while performing in a competition that he was discovered by an agent, and a short time later he made his film debut in the Goldie Hawn vehicle Wildcats (1986). Although he appeared in a few more films during the 1980s, it was Snipes' turn as a street tough who menaces Michael Jackson in the Martin Scorsese-directed video for "Bad" that caught the eye of director Lee. He was so impressed with the actor's performance that he cast him in his 1990 Mo' Better Blues as a flamboyant saxophonist opposite Denzel Washington. That role, coupled with the exposure that Snipes had received for his performance as a talented but undisciplined baseball player in the previous year's Major League, succeeded in giving the actor a tentative plot on the Hollywood map. With his starring role in Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, Snipes won critical praise and increased his audience exposure, and his career duly took off.
That same year, Snipes further demonstrated his flexibility with disparate roles in New Jack City, in which he played a volatile drug lord, and The Waterdance, in which he starred as a former wild man repenting for his ways in a hospital's paraplegic ward. Both performances earned strong reviews, and the following year Snipes found himself as the lead in his first big-budget action flick, Passenger 57. The film, which featured the actor as an ex-cop with an attitude who takes on an airplane hijacker, proved to be a hit. Snipes' other film that year, the comedy White Men Can't Jump, was also successful, allowing the actor to enter the arena of full-fledged movie star.
After a few more action stints in such films as Rising Sun (1993), which featured him opposite Sean Connery, Snipes went in a different direction with an uncredited role in Waiting to Exhale (1995). The same year he completely bucked his macho, action-figure persona with his portrayal of a flamboyant drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Snipes continued to focus on less testosterone-saturated projects after a turn as a baseball player in The Fan (1996), starring as an adulterous director in Mike Figgis' One Night Stand (1997) -- for which he won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival -- and as Alfre Woodard's handsome cousin in Down in the Delta in 1998. That same year, Snipes returned to the action genre, playing a pumped-up vampire slayer in Blade and a wrongfully accused man on the run from the law in the sequel to The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals. The former would prove to be a massive cult hit and one of his biggest box-office successes to date. And while the new millenium would see most of Snipes' films relegated to straight-to-video releases, a pair of Blade sequels in 2002 and 2004 helped the actor remain a presence at the multiplexes. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi