TWENTY years ago, Jon Voight was one of
Hollywood's biggest stars. With his infectious grin, bright
blue eyes and wavy blond hair, he lit up the screen in Midnight
Cowboy, Deliverance and The Odessa File. In 1979, when he and
co-star Jane Fonda won Academy Awards for Coming Home, his career as
a leading man seemed unstoppable.
|Voight with daughter Angelina Jolie: 'My
marriage break-up left scars on my kids I'm working hard to be
there for them now'|
But then, with stunning abruptness, Voight fled the spotlight and
spent almost all of the Eighties in relative seclusion, making only
five films. When he finally staged his comeback in 1996 - playing
Tom Cruise's double-crossing boss in Mission: Impossible - many
people were shocked to see that he was not only alive and well, but
could still command the screen with star power.
Now, at 62,
Voight is once again a hot property. Over the past four years, he
has made more than a dozen films, giving a convincing performance as
President Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor, playing
alongside Matt Damon in The Rainmaker and opposite Will Smith in Enemy of the State and the
Oh, yes, and he's also the father of
Hollywood's oddest new star, Angelina Jolie. One of two
children from Voight's marriage in the Seventies to
French-Canadian model Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina, star of Tomb Raider, is known for her
many tattoos, her marriage to actor Billy Bob Thornton and her
obsession with mortuary science and knives. (As she once said,
"You're young, you're drunk, you're in bed, you
have knives. Shit happens.")
An amazingly indulgent
father, Voight has nothing but praise for his daughter. "She
and Jamie [his son, James Voight, a young actor and aspiring
director] are the great loves of my life. I adore both of them. And,
well, if Angie chooses to play the bad girl, that's for her to
decide. You have to make your own journey in life. Personally, I
think she overdoes it. She's really not like that at all.
She's a very sweet person, very loving, very bright."
Voight is reluctant to dampen any of her enthusiasms. She
recently claimed that she is part Iroquois Indian and campaigned for
the tribe to allow her to join them in their "sweat
lodge". Voight is quick to say that Angelina is "not
seriously Iroquois" and that this is just a little fancy he and
Marcheline developed to enhance his ex-wife's exotic
background. Still, he insists, "We always liked the idea of her
as an Iroquois, and I love that my kids have picked up on
In his younger days, Voight was a rather strange
character himself. Jane Fonda called him "a good, troubled
man", and he admits that her words accurately describe his
character during that self-imposed exile in the Eighties.
"I wasn't sure where I was headed then. I guess you
could say I was lost, at least as far as my career was concerned. I
was in retreat from a success that I didn't understand and
wasn't comfortable with."
But you wouldn't
guess that from his appearance today. Tall and still very handsome,
he strides through the lobby of my hotel in Los Angeles with all the
confidence of a big film star. Heads turn as he makes his way to the
restaurant where we've agreed to meet. People whisper his name
to their friends and a bowing waiter rushes to seat him.
Dressed casually in a sports jacket and a white shirt, open at
the neck, he looks much younger than 62. He's excited by the
revival of his career and talks with boyish enthusiasm about his part as
Muhammad Ali's pal, Howard Cosell, in the new film with
"You know, I actually met Ali in his prime.
I saw him at JFK airport in New York in 1969 and went up to say
hello. It was right after Midnight Cowboy and a waitress came up to
ask for my autograph, while Ali and I were talking. He looked at me
and said, 'Hey, man, you're somebody. Which somebody are
"Well, we hit it off, and he insisted that we
stand together at the entrance to the flight lounge and greet
people. He had a kid's love of fame and wanted to bask in it
with somebody else who was famous."
At the time, Voight
shared Ali's infatuation with celebrity. He had grown up just
outside New York City in a middle-class family and was fascinated by
the theatre. His parents encouraged his Broadway ambitions, and his
family was one in which great expectations were the norm. One
brother went on to become a respected scientist, while another - Wes
Voight - became a popular songwriter under the name Chip Taylor,
penning the Sixties hit Wild Thing.
As for Jon, he launched
his acting career when he was barely out of his teens, winning a
part as the messenger boy in the original stage production of The
Sound of Music. "I had to audition for Richard Rodgers himself
and was frightened out of my mind. After I finished singing, I ran
for the door, thinking I'd blown it. But he liked what he saw
and I played on Broadway for 10 months."