Terrence Dashon Howard is an American actor, rapper, singer-songwriter and record producer. Having his first major roles in the 1995 films Dead Presidents and Mr. Holland’s Opus, Howard broke into the mainstream with a succession of television and cinema roles between 2004 and 2006. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Hustle & Flow.
Howard has had prominent roles in many other movies, including Winnie Mandela, Ray, Lackawanna Blues, Crash, Four Brothers, Big Momma’s House, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Idlewild, Biker Boyz, August Rush, The Brave One, and Prisoners. Howard played James Rhodes in Iron Man and its video game adaptation, but he was replaced by Don Cheadle for the sequels and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He stars as the lead character Lucious Lyon in the television series Empire. His debut album, Shine Through It, was released in September 2008. In September 2019, Howard announced that he had retired from acting, as he was “tired of pretending”. However, on February 1, 2021, it was announced that Howard would star in the British sci-fi/thriller film Beneath.
Howard was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 11, 1969, to Tyrone and Anita (née Williams) Howard, both of whom were biracial, with African and Anglo ancestry. His great-grandmother was actress Minnie Gentry. Howard was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had a rocky childhood. He endured beatings from his physically abusive father and saw his father stabbing another man in the Santa Line Slaying when Terrence was two years old. His father was convicted of manslaughter and served 11 months in jail. Howard’s parents divorced upon his father’s release. He was raised by his great-grandmother. She died shortly after Howard appeared in Iron Man.
Howard first entered the entertainment industry when he portrayed Jackie Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream, an ABC miniseries. Three years later, he made his big film break in 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus. He continued being cast in television and movie roles, and co-starred as Greg Sparks in the late-1990s short-lived television series Sparks, with James L. Avery Sr. and Miguel A. Nunez Jr. Howard also appeared in The Best Man (1999), in Ashanti’s music video for her 2002 single “Foolish”, and in Mary J. Blige’s video for “Be Without You”. Howard made an appearance on the TV series Family Matters.
Howard has said that he looks for characters that “teach him about himself” when choosing his film roles. For the 2005 film Hustle & Flow, Howard portrayed a pimp and aspiring rapper. He performed all the character’s tracks himself, including “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 78th Academy Awards. Howard has also worked as a film producer, as when he was credited for the 2007 film Pride. In 2008, Howard hosted the PBS series Independent Lens.
Howard was contracted to play Colonel James Rhodes in the 2008 film Iron Man. Howard was signed on before any of the other major actors and was the highest-paid actor in the film. He was replaced by actor Don Cheadle in the film’s sequels. Entertainment Weekly reported that Howard was offered a 50 to 80 percent pay cut for Iron Man 2, though it said that it was unclear whether Howard turned down the role or whether Marvel withdrew their offer.
Howard released his debut adult alternative album, Shine Through It, in 2008 on Columbia/SME Records. He described the album as an urban country, and either wrote or co-wrote all the songs on it.
In 2008, he made his Broadway debut, playing Brick in an all-African-American production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Debbie Allen. During rehearsals, he allegedly attacked and seriously injured musical composer Tex Allen (brother of the director). Allen said he suffered multiple injuries and in October 2008, Allen filed a $5 million lawsuit against Howard.
In 2010, Howard joined the cast of Law & Order: Los Angeles, playing Deputy District Attorney Joe Dekker. He alternated shows with Alfred Molina, who portrayed Deputy District Attorney Ricardo Morales. The series was cancelled after one season. In 2011, Howard played Nelson Mandela in the film Winnie Mandela.
Since 2015, Howard has starred on the television series Empire, playing Lucious Lyon, a hip-hop mogul who discovers he is dying and must ensure the survival of his music empire. He also appeared in the television series Wayward Pines portraying Sheriff Arnold Pope, a main character in the first season in 2015 and a guest character in the second and final season.
On hosting the ninth annual Guys Choice Awards in 2015 Howard said “I got the other guy on my side. Big Devil. Big D is my rolling buddy!”. At the ceremony, he was also awarded Most Dangerous Man.
In September 2019, Howard announced that he had retired from acting after the final season of Empire, as he was “tired of pretending”. However, on Feb 1, 2021, it was announced that Howard would star in the British sci-fi/thriller film Beneath.
Howard lives outside Philadelphia in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. He has been married four times to three women and has five children and two grandchildren.
Howard married his first wife, Lori McCommas, in 1989. They divorced in 2003, remarried in 2005, and later divorced again. They had three children together: daughters Aubrey and Heaven, and son Hunter. Through Aubrey, Howard has two grandchildren, a granddaughter born in December 2012 and a grandson (Adrian) born in February 2015. Howard and McCommas divorce was filed in 2000 and finalized in 2003, but they remarried in 2005. They subsequently filed for divorce a year later and finalized for the second time in 2007. McCommas was born Jewish but was raising their children as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Howard married his second wife, Michelle Ghent, in 2010. Ghent filed for divorce in February 2011. Ghent filed for a restraining order in December 2011, accusing Howard of being physically abusive toward her. Their divorce was finalized in May 2013, though the agreement was overturned in 2015 after the judge ruled Howard had signed it under duress of Ghent threatening to sell nude pictures of Howard and other personal information.
Howard wed his third wife, model and restaurateur Mira Pak, in late 2013. They have two sons, Qirin Love (born 2015) and Hero (born 2016). The two divorced in 2015 and then got engaged to remarry in December 2018.
Howard has stated that he “went to school for chemical engineering and applied materials”. Though he did not complete his engineering degree, Howard thinks of himself as an engineer and intends to return one day to complete the “three credits” of which he claims he is currently short. Howard’s account of his educational history has not been confirmed; Pratt Institute, which he says he attended, closed its engineering degree program in 1993. On February 26, 2013, Howard said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that he had earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from South Carolina State University that year. He was actually awarded an honorary “Doctorate of Humane Letters” from SCSU after speaking at its commencement ceremony in 2012; he never attended the university and in fact, the university is not empowered to confer doctorates in chemical engineering.
In 2010, Howard was inducted as an honorary member into Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.