Morgan Freeman, pictured in January this year, has become the latest Hollywood star to be named as a sexual predator
He has one of the most recognisable and treasured voices in showbusiness, his authoritative but soothing tones chosen to provide the voiceover on everything from announcements on the Vancouver public transport system to the robot butler in the home of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.
But there’s not quite so much reverence accorded to Morgan Freeman now he has become the latest Hollywood star to be named as a sexual predator.
The new accusations come on top of long-standing claims that he entered into a very questionable relationship with his step-granddaughter E’Dena Hines, with allegations that they became lovers when he was 62 and she was just 17. Freeman denies this.
The actor, who next week turns 81, is probably best known for his stirring performance as an ageing jailbird in The Shawshank Redemption, one of the most moving films about the injustice done to men wrongly kept behind bars.
Yet Freeman’s questionable behaviour appears little in doubt on this occasion, for he offered an apology when the accusations were barely out of the newsreader’s mouth.
Eight women have told the broadcaster CNN that Freeman sexually harassed them or behaved inappropriately on film sets, at his production company and even at press events. Another eight people said they witnessed his inappropriate treatment of others.
For a Tinseltown elder statesman, whose name has become almost a byword for principled respectability — he has been cast as Nelson Mandela and even as God — the allegations are devastating.
One woman, who worked as a production assistant on the set of the comedy Going In Style in the summer of 2015, said she experienced months of harassment. She was then in her early 20s and Freeman was 78.
Freeman is pictured with his adopted granddaughter E’Dena Hines who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2013. During her killer’s trial, it was claimed that she had confided in him while she was alive that she and Freeman had a sexual relationship
She claimed Freeman touched her inappropriately and commented on her figure and clothing almost every day. He liked to rest his hand on her lower back, sometimes rubbing it, she said. When she wore a T-shirt over her dress to cover her back, Freeman told her not to, she added.
On one occasion, she alleged, Freeman ‘kept trying to lift up my skirt and asked if I was wearing underwear’. The sexual molestation was reportedly so blatant that Alan Arkin, one of his co-stars, noticed and told Freeman to stop.
‘Morgan got freaked out and didn’t know what to say,’ said the accuser, who chose to remain anonymous. Arkin has yet to comment, but the woman added that she frequently went home in tears and subsequently decided not to work in films.
Another woman, a senior member of the production staff on the 2013 heist thriller Now You See Me, alleges Freeman harassed her and an assistant by making crude comments about their bodies.
‘We knew if he was coming by . . . not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms, meaning not wearing clothes that [were] fitted,’ she said. Freeman asked some women to give him a twirl, said witnesses.
A third woman who worked on a recent film of Freeman’s recalled an incident at the film’s wrap party. ‘He was looking at my breasts and I told him: “My eyes are up here,” ’ she said. ‘Then we went to take a group photo and he pressed himself up against me.’
Many of the victims worked for Freeman’s own production company, Revelations Entertainment. One of them said she met him for the first time on the set of Through The Wormhole, a science documentary series that he narrated.
Freeman was surrounded by a group of men, but looked her ‘up and down’ before asking: ‘How do you feel about sexual harassment?’ She was stunned.
‘I said timidly: “I love it” in a sarcastic way, hoping to make light of the situation because I was so confused.
‘Then he turned to the guys on the crew . . . and said: “See guys, this is how you do it”.’
CNN reporter Chloe Melas, who wrote the expose, claims Freeman spoke inappropriately to her when she was six months pregnant in 2017 by saying she was ‘ripe’
A female manager at Revelations said Freeman would sometimes ‘come over to my desk to say hi and he’d just stand there and stare at me. He would stare at my breasts.’
She said he would often stare at her in an ‘awkward’ way, but fellow staff would try to laugh it off, one telling her: ‘Don’t worry, that’s just Morgan.’ She stopped wearing a skirt whenever he was coming into the office.
Some women were caught completely unawares by Freeman, the star of Driving Miss Daisy, Million Dollar Baby and Invictus.
A male worker at Revelations described the actor once walking up to a female intern and massaging her shoulders.
‘The intern got visibly red and wriggled out of his grasp,’ he said. He described Freeman as behaving like a ‘creepy uncle’ in the office.
Alarmingly, much of the sexual misconduct reportedly took place on film sets in the presence of technical crews and other actors. Some even happened when the cameras were rolling.
One incident was described by three women who attended a 79th birthday party thrown for Freeman at Revelations.
Staff members were asked to stand in a circle. Freeman then allegedly walked up to each woman — never the men — looked her up and down and stood within an inch of her face, before silently moving on to the next.
A witness, a writer on a TV drama series Freeman was making at the time, said there were ‘absolutely . . . sexual undertones’ and that it was so unsettling she ‘couldn’t wait to get out of there’.
A man who worked for Revelations said he was ‘shocked’ a star he respected could speak as he did about women colleagues. ‘[He would say] things like: “I’d like to have an hour with her”,’ he said.
Lori McReary was apparently ‘devastated’ by comments he made about her short skirts and dresses during a joint appearance at the Produced By conference in 2016 (above)
Many attested to the helplessness minions felt, too intimidated by Freeman’s enormous power.
A female production assistant who worked with him on the Batman film The Dark Knight, told CNN: ‘Morgan did things in a way that an older, more established person can get away with because they have that power. They can’t be replaced, but you can be replaced very easily.’
Other alleged Hollywood predators such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have similarly been accused of exploiting their power in the industry, targeting underlings who worked for them or wanted to work for them, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t dare complain.
Freeman was reportedly so sure of himself, he even targeted women journalists. Three entertainment-industry reporters told CNN that Freeman made inappropriate remarks to them during events to promote his films.
TV reporter Tyra Martin said she ignored Freeman’s flirtatious manner with her until she once got up and pulled her dress down. He said: ‘Oh, don’t pull it down now,’ she recalled.
The CNN reporter Chloe Melas told how, at a press junket for Going In Style, she was targeted by the star despite being six months pregnant.
In a room full of people, she said Freeman wouldn’t let go of her hand after shaking it, and kept looking her up and down.
She claimed he told her: ‘You are ripe,’ and, even as cameras were filming them, said: ‘Boy, do I wish I was there.’
Ms Melas said she later reported what happened to her employers, who raised it with Warner Bros, the film’s distributor. Apparently, apart from the remark on camera, nobody else had witnessed anything untoward.
Melas’s experience prompted her to contact other women and discover a pattern of misbehaviour by Freeman.
Another former staffer claims she witnessed Freeman behaving inappropriately on the set of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 but that she felt she could not report it because of who he was
The evidence was compelling — four people who worked in production on film sets with Freeman over the past decade said he repeatedly behaved in ways that made women feel uncomfortable at work.
Two said Freeman subjected them to unwanted touching. Three recalled him talking publicly about women’s bodies or their clothing.
However, none of them reported his behaviour, in most cases because they feared they would get the sack. Instead, they changed the way they dressed when they knew Freeman was around.
The actor hasn’t denied any of the behaviour, instead insisting that he had never intended to upset anyone.
‘Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. ‘I apologise to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent,’ he said in a statement.
Ranked as the film industry’s fifth most valuable box-office star, Freeman this year received a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
In a 50-year career he has made more than 60 films, earning four Oscar nominations and winning Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.
Off screen, Freeman was always seen as one of Tinseltown’s most enlightened and progressive figures. He decided to turn his 120-acre Mississippi ranch into a bee sanctuary after making a documentary about the decline of the honey bee, and he has spoken out repeatedly against racism in the U.S.
In fact, his production company was set up to explore challenging issues and provide better on-screen work for black actors.
Freeman pictured on the set of The Shawshank Redemption in 1993, before the alleged misconduct took place
He founded Revelations in 1996 with business partner and former lover Lori McCreary, who is president of the powerful Producers Guild of America and publicly champions the feminist #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Further revelations seem certain to follow. Yesterday, the U.S. TV show Entertainment Tonight flagged up previous sleazy behaviour by Freeman in interviews.
Interviewed for his 2015 film 5 Flights Up, he told the female reporter: ‘I don’t know how you all manage to do that all the time . . . You’ve got a dress that’s halfway between your knees and your hips. And you sit down right across from me, and you cross your legs.’
A year later, this time promoting the 2016 action film London Has Fallen, Freeman asked a young female interviewer: ‘My goodness, are you married? Fool around with older guys? I’m just asking.’ When she later wrapped up their chat and told him it was a pleasure to meet him, he replied: ‘Mine. Look at yourself.’
Fans and the Hollywood establishment may have swallowed Freeman’s saintly image, but for years he has faced persistent and deeply tawdry claims about his relationship with his step-granddaughter. The allegations of a romantic relationship have always been denied by Freeman, who called them ‘fabrications’ in a statement in 2012.
Freeman and Ms Hines were not related by blood. She was the daughter of Deena Adair, whose mother, Jeanette Adair-Bradshaw, was Freeman’s first wife. He and his second wife, Myrna Colley-Lee, later adopted Ms Hines and raised her as their own from early childhood.
The actor often took her to film premieres and industry events as his plus one. At 6 ft 2 in, he towered over the diminutive Ms Hines. Some complained their body language was overly intimate.
He helped her get into acting and she worked with him in his films, either as a production assistant or taking minor roles.
It has been claimed that his relationship with Ms Hines destroyed Freeman’s second marriage.
During his bitter divorce from Myrna Colley-Lee, the National Enquirer claimed he had tried to seduce Ms Hines one drunken night.
‘Myrna said E’Dena told her that when she was a teenager, she and Morgan went to dinner at a friend’s house one evening,’ it reported, quoting a close family insider. ‘Both had been drinking and when they returned home, Morgan attempted to have sex with her. They stopped just short of having intercourse.’
Although his wife confronted him about it, a clandestine romance continued and escalated, it was claimed — and it is said he and Ms Hines first became lovers when she was 17 and he was 62.
One former staffer claims that while working on the set of Going In Style, Freeman’s hit with Michael Caine and Alan Arkin, Freeman tried repeatedly to lift up her skirt
Gossip sites even claimed the actor planned to marry Ms Hines — an allegation he again denied.
Ms Hines was stabbed to death aged 33 outside her New York home by a boyfriend, Lamar Davenport, whom prosecutors said was in the throes of a drug-induced psychosis. He was later convicted of manslaughter.
At his trial, his lawyers said she had disclosed to him and others ‘that her grandfather engaged in a sexually inappropriate relationship with her’. They produced text messages in which Ms Hines wrote about having issues with an older man. In another, she said she had ‘grandpa feelings’ for Freeman.
Davenport wrote back that: ‘When it comes to . . . your grandfather, there’s a submissive love that will always be there’ and told her that, as her boyfriend, he had to accept that.
For many, the claims seemed too sordid to contemplate. However, the new allegations about Freeman’s harassment of women young enough to be his great-grandchildren may change that perception.
Twice married, he has four children, including two from extra-marital relationships. His current girlfriend is Linda Keena, a 52-year-old law professor.
Freeman, a former heavy drinker and drug user (he has said he tried every drug except heroin) has admitted: ‘I like women.’
Hollywood insiders complain there is a reluctance to expose the sexual misconduct of highly respected black stars, as there was with the disgraced Bill Cosby, whose accusers were ignored by the media for years.
Even now, some media outlets have given scant attention to the tawdry allegations against Freeman, preferring to concentrate on Harvey Weinstein facing criminal charges.
It may be no surprise, then, that Freeman has felt secure enough in the public’s adulation to have even complained about it.
He has said he is ‘bored’ at always being cast as the nice, dependable, grandfatherly guy.
Perhaps that’s because he is a good man himself, an interviewer once ventured. ‘I don’t want to be a good man!’ he shouted back.
And, as we are beginning to learn, he very possibly isn’t.