Terrence Dashon Howard was born on March 11, 1969, in Chicago, Illinois. The great-grandson of stage actress Minnie Gentry, he was raised in Cleveland by father Tyrone Howard and mother Anita Williams. Howard experienced a rocky childhood, enduring disciplinary beatings from his physically abusive father, and even witnessing his father stabbing another man when he was just 2 years old. The killing resulted in Tyrone Howard spending 11 months in jail for manslaughter. Howard’s parents divorced upon his father’s release.
Terrence Howard legally divorced himself from his parents at the age of 16, living off of welfare before moving to New York City to pursue acting at age 18. He revealed, “My father always said that ‘if you want oranges, you have to go to where the oranges grow.’ I wanted to act. The place to act was in New York.”
Howard attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he majored in chemical engineering. He dropped out after two years, however, and began receiving small acting roles, including a part on The Cosby Show alongside Bill Cosby.
Other television opportunities followed, including a title role in the 1992 ABC miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, and 1994 appearances on the TV programs Family Matters, Coach and Picket Fences.
Terrence Howard’s career ramped up when he moved to film. Significant roles came in 1995, including in the films Dead Presidents and Mr. Holland’s Opus, featuring Richard Dreyfus. Howard received accolades for his performance in The Best Man (1999), and went on to land major roles in Big Momma’s House (2000), co-starring with Martin Lawrence; Angel Eyes (2001), starring Jennifer Lopez; Hart’s War (2002); Biker Boys(2003); and Ray (2004), featuring Jamie Foxx.
After appearing in the Academy Award-winning (best picture) film Crash(2004), Howard received a National Board of Review Award for best breakthrough performance. His A-list status continued thereafter. His role as Djay in the film Hustle & Flow (2005), also starring Ludacris and Taraji Henson, garnered Howard Oscar, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe award nominations.
Howard later pursued interests beyond TV and film: He debuted on Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008, and, that same year, released his first studio album, Shine Through It, which includes a mix of R&B, soul and pop genres. Acting was never too far away, however: The actor went on to star in the film Winnie (2011) as Nelson Mandela, and began working on several projects thereafter, including the 2013 films Dead Man Down and The Butler, based on the life of longtime White House butler Eugene Allen.
In 2015, Howard conquered the small screen with the hit dramatic series Empire. He plays Lucious Lyon, an African American music mogul, who must decide who will take over his business after he learns that he is dying. Possible candidates include his three sons, but his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji Henson) has other ideas. She has just been released from prison and wants her own piece of the company. The show, one of the few feature a predominantly African American cast, proved to be a smash in terms of ratings.
Of his success, Howard has stated, “I always wanted to be rich and famous, but it was for all of the wrong reasons. I think I wanted it mainly to sleep with as many women as I could. But, coming so late, I can appreciate the success so much more. It’s important that I don’t waste this opportunity.
Two years into his college education at Pratt Institute, Howard married his college sweetheart, Lori McCommas, after finding out that she was pregnant. The couple had three children, two girls and a boy, during their union. They divorced in 2001.
Howard married his second wife, Michelle Ghent, in 2010, with whom he never had children; they divorced a year later, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Ghent filed a restraining order against Howard, claiming domestic abuse—a cause his first wife had also asserted. Howard rebutted, declaring in court statements that Ghent “hated black people” and had frequently spewed racial slurs at him. The couple later divorced.
In 2013, Howard married for the third time. He and his wife Miranda are expecting their first child together. Howard lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.