Cuba Gooding Jr

Hollywood showed him the money after Oscar success for Jerry Maguire and now the one-time backing dancer has his own star on the Walk of Fame. What next for this family man?

Born to Cuba Gooding Sr, lead singer of soul group The Main Ingredient, and Shirley, a backing singer for The Sweethearts during the 1960s.

He has an older sister, April Gooding and his younger brother is actor Omar Gooding. When Gooding was four-years-old, the family moved to Los Angeles and a mere two years later, Cuba Sr left them. This didn’t prevent Gooding from achieving well at school. He attended four different high schools and was class president at three of them.

Gooding started at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills in his Junior year. He joined the drama club there, became a member of the stage crew and participated in cross-country athletics. He hated being broke when he was at high school and having to walk or get the bus to auditions. However, it was during this time that he met the love of his life, Sara Kapfer. They began dating in 1986, when she was 17, the year Gooding graduated from high school. In 1986, he appeared in the California Shakespeare Festival and won first place for his role as Othello. His passion for acting had begun.

He also loved to break dance and it was this talent that first got him noticed by Coralie Jr, an eccentric Hollywood agent. Coralie arranged gigs for Gooding as a back up dancer for Lionel Richie and for Paula Abdul. Gooding also stunned the crowd by break dancing at the closing ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. He sees this as his introduction to the professional world of performing and, years later, he acknowledged Coralie in his Academy Award acceptance speech for his Best Supporting Role in ‘Jerry Maguire’ (1996).

Gooding had a keen interest in Japanese martial arts, which he studied for three years after school, before turning his sights more purposefully on acting. In 1986, Gooding had his television debut with the popular series ‘Hill Street Blues’ (1981-1987) and was in two episodes. He continued to appear in a number of television shows between 1986 and 1991, including ‘The Bronx Zoo’, ‘Amen’, ‘227’, ‘Mancuso, FBI’ and four episodes of the popular ‘MacGyver’ (1985-1992). His first role in a television movie was in CBC’s ‘No Means No’ (1988).


Gooding’s big screen debut was with ‘Coming to America’ (1988) in which he played a young boy having his hair cut. Two fairly mediocre films followed, ‘Judgement’ (1989) and ‘Sing’ (1989) before Gooding scored his first major role, in John Singleton’s ‘Boyz n the Hood’ (1991). This film about inner city life favourably surprised the critics, giving him the break he needed and allowing better supporting and leading roles to come his way. He was in Rowdy Herrington’s ‘Gladiator’ (1992) and then came his role as Corporal Carl Hammaker in Rob Reiner’s military crime thriller ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992), with Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Keifer Sutherland. Gooding was now acting opposite A-list stars and had come a long way in the four years since his Hollywood debut.

The following year found Gooding in television film ‘Daybreak’ (1993) and ‘Judgment Night’ (1993). He then had an uncredited role as a Bomb Squad class member in the forgettable ‘Blown Away’ (1994). After living with his school teacher girlfriend for eight years, Gooding married Sara Kapfer on 13 March 1994. They have three children: Spencer (born 1994), Mason (born 1996), and Piper (born 2005), but unfortunately in April 2014, they filed for divorce.

Other notable roles for Gooding include hostage Ben Doyle in the comedy outlaw caper ‘Lightning Jack’ (1994) with Paul Hogan and Major Salt in the drama/sci-fi/thriller ‘Outbreak’ (1995), alongside Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey. The big one came with the role of football player Rod Tidwell, with Tom Cruise, in the Cameron Crowe box office hit ‘Jerry Maguire’ (1996), for which Gooding won Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His line in the movie “Show me the money” became a new catchphrase and the film work started pouring his way.

He played the supporting role of Frank Sachs in the romantic comedy ‘As Good as It Gets’ (1997) with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. He was the gentle and funny spirit guide, Albert Lewis, in the endearing romantic fantasy What Dreams May Come’ (1998) with Robin Williams. In his first leading role since ‘Jerry Maguire’, Gooding was the aspiring psychologist Dr Theo Caulder in the fascinating ‘Instinct’ (1999), with Anthony Hopkins and Donald Sutherland.

Gooding acted in ‘Chill Factor’ (1999), an action adventure directed by Hugh Johnson before making his debut as producer with the made-for-video ‘A Murder of Crows’ (1999), a crime thriller with Tom Berenger and Eric Stoltz. Gooding found the responsibilities of being a producer quite onerous but immensely enjoyed the experience.


The mark of having truly reached the big-time came with his role as Senior Chief Carl Brashear opposite Robert De Niro in ‘Men of Honour’ (2000). It was a biographical film of the US Navy’s first black salvage-and-retrieval expert, also starring Charlize Theron. Then once again a man in Navy uniform, and once again a biographical movie, Gooding played the supporting role of petty officer Doris Miller in ‘Pearl Harbour’ (2001) with Ben Affleck, Josh Harnett, Jon Voigt, and Alec Baldwin.

Between ‘Pearl Harbour’ (2001) and ‘Radio’ (2003), Gooding had a number of generally lacklustre roles. These were in the thriller ‘In the Shadows’ (2001) with Matthew Modine and James Caan; the comedy ‘Rat Race’ (2001) with John Cleese and Whoopi Goldberg, directed by Jerry Zucker. Next up was adventure comedy ‘Snow Dogs’ (2002), with Gooding playing the lead, Dr Ted Brooks, a Miami dentist who inherits a sled and team of dogs from his late mother and goes on an Alaskan escapade, with James Coburn playing a spiteful mountain man, ‘Thunder Jack’ Johnson. Next came ‘Boat Trip’ (2002), the gay singles cruise comedy and ‘The Fighting Temptations’ (2003), a musical comedy imbued with gospel and soul music.

In 2002, Gooding’s contributions to the film industry were marked with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He once again received critical acclaim, this time for his portrayal of a developmentally challenged man in the heart-warming film ‘Radio’ (2003), with Ed Harris. It certainly seems as if he produces his most noteworthy performances in his more serious roles. Gooding provided the voice of Buck in the animated comedy ‘Home on the Range’ (2004) and then appeared in ‘Lightfield's Home Videos’ (2005), a documentary style film including a compilation of celebrity videos from 1982 to the present, followed by the thriller ‘Shadowboxer’ (2005).

With four releases for 2006, Gooding was busy. There was crime drama ‘Dirty’ (2006); ‘37th NAACP Image Awards’ (2006), a television movie with Tyra Banks; ‘End Game’ (2006), an action thriller with James Woods and Angie Harmon; and comedy ‘What Love Is’ (2006) in which he plays the lead, Tom. Despite mostly appearing in straight-to-DVD films nowadays, Cuba has still made critically-praised performances in cinematic releases such as in 'American Gangster', 'Red Tails', 'The Butler' and 'Don Jon' - he even popped up in 'Machete Kills'!

Gooding loves hockey and he was a guest announcer at a Los Angeles Kings game in January 2006. He certainly keeps himself busy in the film industry and therefore relishes time spent relaxing with his family, in their Studio City, California home. The man with the enormous beaming smile, who seems to pendulum between comedic and more serious roles, has certainly made his mark in Hollywood and proved to audiences that he has what it takes. He has made a significant contribution in his past twenty years of acting and is sure to continue doing so for many years to come.