Washington lost his dad in 1991, while he was filming 'Malcolm X,' but it never affected him.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 9, 2022. It has since been updated.
Denzel Washington is loved by many, and is often considered to be one of the finest actors in Hollywood. Despite his fame and success, however, the doting father of four puts his family before all else. To this day, the 68-year-old actor acknowledges his mother for guiding him along the way, but he had a very strained relationship with his father.
Washington's parents, as people, were opposites. While his father, Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., was a pentecostal preacher who ran two churches and worked another job, his mother, Lennis Washington, owned a beauty parlor. "My parents were like night and day. She’s urban, raised in Harlem. My father was just this spirit-filled man until the day he died, a country boy raised on a farm in Virginia," he shared, according to Parade.
They were unable to get along, and filed for divorce when Washington was just 14 years old. This split caused Washington's already strained relationship with his father to deteriorate even further. Even before the split, Washington Sr. was never around, and after the divorce, he hardly made any effort to meet his son. So it was just Washington and his mother, growing up together.
At the time of the split, Lennis sent him away to a private school in upstate New York hoping to keep him out of trouble. "That decision changed my life because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going," he said. The actor added that he was "mischievous" and that his "three closest friends did quite a bit of time [in jail] … decades," according to ABC News.
Speaking to GQ, Washington recalled the time he moved out of his mother's place and into his father's when he was 18.
"And he kicked me out. He said, ‘You’re just bad.'" During that experience, he also found out that they had little in common. "The things I did, like sports, he wasn’t really [interested in]. Not to say that I didn’t love him like a dad. But we didn’t play ball, those type of things," he told The Week.
Washington lost his dad in 1991, while he was filming Malcolm X but it never affected him or bothered him.
"He died in August. We started shooting around the time that he died. [pauses] I never shed a tear for my father. That sounds like a book or a song. I never did all through the funeral and all that. There was no connection," he explained. When asked, "What do you see of your father in you?" Washington said that he's his mother's son. "I’m more like my mother. She is the toughest woman."
He acknowledges that he is what he is today, thanks to his mother, per Preaching Today. "She taught us right from wrong. My mother said to me when I was 59, 'Denzel, you do a lot of good. You have to do good the right way and you know what I’m talking about.' I don’t drink anymore, I don’t do any of those things," said the actor proudly.
Denzel Washington says that "Listen to your mother!" is the advice he will give to his 15-year-old self. Indeed just one strong person is needed to steer young minds in the right direction.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Christopher Polk