American actor noted for the intensity of his performances. He was the recipient of a Tony Award (1992) for his work in August Wilson's play Two Trains Running, and he also earned multiple Emmy Awards. He is probably best known, however, for his role as Morpheus in the Matrix film trilogy.
Fishburne began acting as a child, making his film debut in Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975) at age 14. He then lied about his age to win the part of Clean, a gunner on a swift boat in Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now (1979). The experience of filming in the Philippines with a veteran moviemaking cast and crew had a profound impact on Fishburne, who became committed to succeeding in Hollywood. Initially he found only roles as hoodlums, and he was happy to take the part of the lighthearted Cowboy Curtis on the children's television show Pee-Wee's Playhouse. He worked again with Coppola in Rumble Fish (1983) and Cotton Club (1984) and with directors Steven Spielberg in The Color Purple (1985) and Spike Lee in School Daze (1988).
In the 1990s Fishburne hit his stride, turning in noteworthy performances in King of New York (1990), Boyz 'n the Hood (1991), Deep Cover (1992), and Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). His portrayal of musician Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It (1993) earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. In 1995 he became the first African American to play Shakespeare's Othello in a major film. He also starred in two acclaimed television films, The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) and Miss Evers' Boys (1997), winning an Emmy Award for the latter. In The Matrix (1999), Fishburne appeared as a guru who reveals an alternate universe to a young hacker (Keanu Reeves). The successful film paved the way for two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003).
In 2006 Fishburne played a professor who coaches a girl from south Los Angeles to compete in a national spelling bee in Akeelah and the Bee. Later that year he also appeared as a hotel chef in Bobby, a film about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. From 2008 to 2011 Fishburne was a cast member of the popular television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and in 2013 he began appearing in the series Hannibal. He starred as Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood, a one-man show staged on Broadway (2008) and later aired as an HBO movie (2011). However, Fishburne also continued to act in feature films. In 2009 he starred in the action thriller Armored, and two years later he portrayed a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention executive in the epidemiological thriller Contagion.