Actor Danny Glover says most people will always associate him with his role as world-weary Sgt. Roger Murtaugh in "Lethal Weapon," a veteran cop partnered with erratic Officer Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson).
And Glover says most African-Americans will forever remember him as the cruel-but-complex character Albert in "The Color Purple." The 1985 film is based on the Alice Walker novel about a strong woman who defies her villainous partner in an abusive relationship.
But Glover — whose daughter, Mandisa, now has a child of her own, a 13-year-old boy — says his most important role has been that of a father and a grandfather.
"Being a father, that's the greatest project that I have ever been involved in," he told The Review last week. He says he takes after his own dad, who "loved being a father of four knucklehead boys and one wonderful daughter."
Glover shared his life story before attending "An Evening with Danny Glover," a dinner and live auction held June 22 at Park Academy in Lake Oswego. The event raised about $315,000 for the nonprofit, private school for students with dyslexia and other learning challenges; 250 people attended.
Students such as incoming seventh-graders Dylan Harvey and Liam Muller say they are grateful for the support.
"I think it's actually really amazing, all of these people coming together to help kids … like us," Dylan says. "It gives kids a chance they never had."
Liam says he loves the event, which is part of the reason why he can attend this private school with curriculum designed to meet his unique style of learning.
"These people are here to help out the school, so people like me who don't have enough money to come here can learn from this place and be successful in life," he says.
The nonprofit, private school is for students in grades 3-12 with dyslexia and other learning challenges such as having autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
West Linn residents Jeff and Amy Olson say their son Luke, an incoming eighth-grader, was diagnosed with dyslexia the summer after second grade. The Olsons say he didn't thrive in school, despite twice-weekly tutoring for four years.
His father says that Luke gained confidence and greater reading comprehension in the year he's been at Park Academy, and he's "very, very happy here."
His mother says, "He loves to go to school again."
West Linn residents Anne Stein-Gray and Chuck Gray echoed that same sentiment. Their son Christopher Gray attended Park back when it was located on the Marylhurst campus. (It opened in its current locale on South Shore Drive in 2014.)
Before they enrolled him at Park, he refused to attend school.
His father says the staff at Park "inspired him," and his son began to learn.
After receiving individualized attention at Park, his parents say he gained self-esteem and stayed till eighth grade. The experience "turned his life around," making high school possible, and then college, his mom says. Now, Christopher Gray is attending the University of Portland's Pamplin School of Business.
Growing up with dyslexia
Glover says he would have loved to have been able to attend a school like Park Academy when he was growing up, although he says he always had his parents' support.
When he was about 12 or 13, he recalls, a school counselor suggested he might be intellectually disabled. His says mother was furious that this person could only see his weaknesses and not his talents.
"I was more afraid for the counselor," Glover says.
As it turns out, Glover was struggling with something that as many as one in five students experience. Though gifted in math, he struggled to learn to read because Glover has dyslexia, something he didn't discover until someone mentioned it to him as a possibility when he was an adult working on a play in Chicago in 1986.
Dyslexia is a common learning challenge that relates to how the brain processes symbols, causing dyslexics to struggle with reading and spelling despite having normal or above-average intelligence.
Glover says he would have appreciated having a role model with dyslexia speak to him or to even have known that he had the condition when he was in school. But it wasn't until the mid-1950s that educators began to understand what dyslexia was, and it took more than three decades for types of treatment to be more widely used in schools.
Glover was born in 1946 in San Francisco, so these changes came after his time in the classroom. He says that's all right, though, because he believes that the obstacles and struggles people overcome "define who we are." He has always had to work harder at memorizing his lines than most actors, he says, but that hasn't stopped him from triumphing in his nearly four-decade career in theater, film and TV.
IMDB, a website about movies, TV and celebrities, lists 189 acting credits for Glover, including the upcoming films "Proud Mary" (2018) and "Come Sunday" (out later this year on Netflix). He also has been a producer, director, singer and writer, although it hasn't always been easy for him.
"I still read slowly," Glover says. "I still get nervous when I read out loud, even if I've written it myself."
A storied career unfolds
As an actor who travels for his work, Glover has lived in many cities — even in Portland for several years. But he now makes his home in San Francisco, just 12 blocks from where he was raised with his sister and three brothers.
The area has a lot of memories for him, he says. His parents were postal workers who were active in their union and in the NAACP. When he entered the workforce, he says, he was on a similar path, working for the City of San Francisco in community development.
But Glover's acting career seems to have been preordained. After all, his mother named him after Danny Kaye, the actor perhaps best known for films such as "The Court Jester" and "White Christmas." So when Glover stepped onto the stage in San Francisco and his talent got noticed, he relocated to Los Angeles to nourish his blooming career as a thespian.
His early years included stints on TV shows such as "Hill Street Blues" and "BJ and the Bear" and short appearances in movies such as "Escape from Alcatraz" in 1979. One of his best-known roles was Albert in "The Color Purple" in 1985, but it was in 1987 — when the first "Lethal Weapon" movie and the HBO film "Mandela" debuted — that Glover became a household name.
People still reference Sgt. Murtaugh's signature line — "I'm too old for this s***," which even earned a place in the video of his life screened at the Park Academy fundraiser last week, In the film series, the line was usually uttered at key points in a homicide investigation, sometimes when Murtaugh was under fire.
Since the '80s, Glover has stayed in the limelight with roles in "Angels in the Outfield," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Dreamgirls."
And he's also stayed true to his roots.
A voice for people in need
Glover has spoken out in support of workers during union rallies and other protests, occasionally running afoul of the law for standing up for what he believes. He's also been a voice for people suffering though the genocide in Darfur in the mid-2000s and for Syrian children now living in a Jordan refugee camp.
He says he doesn't want to avoid the pain of knowing about these situations. He wants to be aware of what's happening, so he can help others. His family would never have turned away from people who need them, he says, particularly his grandparents, who worked on a farm in Georgia.
"They never put padlocks on their hearts or their doors to what was happening in their community in rural Georgia," he told The Review.
Glover has advocated for economic justice and access to health care and education programs in the United States, South America and Africa. Since 2004, he has served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, a United Nations program that works to further gender equity and to protect the rights of children to be healthy and have access to education in 190 countries and territories.
Glover says what he relishes the most about his various activities is the opportunity to connect with others through storytelling and shared experiences.
"Even though there are ways in which we separate ourselves from each other," Glover says, "we're still a part of the human family in all of its manifestations, whether they're different races or nationalities or ethnicities, or whether they're under different circumstances."
Although his 71st birthday is coming up in July, Glover says he sees no reason to stop committing his time to all of the humanitarian activities, civil rights work and acting that he loves.
He says he might consider retiring if he had to work with just a few weeks of vacation each year like his father, who retired at age 52 in 1981 after 32 years with the U.S. Postal Service. His mother was still working for the USPS when she passed away two years later. But Glover says he sees no reason to stop working now.
"You do this stuff because you love doing it, and somebody still knocks on your door and says, 'We want to see Danny for this,'" Glover says.
He did explain to the crowd at Park Academy that if he does get another role, he won't be making a "sizzle reel," which is a term for a promo video that highlights an actor's brand.
"I'm too old for that stuff," he joked.
But he says he will never be too old to dream and imagine the future.
"Continue to smile at yourself," he told the crowd, "and take each moment and find the beauty that's inside of you. You never know how that moment is going to come alive."