In November 1986, a 32-year-old Denzel Washington graced the cover of ESSENCE. It was the magazine’s Sixth Annual Men’s Issue but his first being the cover star. At the time, Washington had three film roles under his belt, but just one year later he would receive his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Cry Freedom. Two years later he would win that award for his portrayal of a former slave-turned-soldier in the 1989 civil war film Glory.
By the time Washington graced the cover of ESSENCE again in 1996, he was already on the brink of becoming revered as one of the greatest actors of all time, having received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Malcolm X and starred in the acclaimed legal drama Philadelphia alongside Tom Hanks.
Between 1986 and 2016, the actor would go on to have six covers in total–sharing one with his wife of 39 years, Pauletta Washington, and another with his Fences co-star Viola Davis–the stories capturing just a fraction of the thespian’s prowess on screen and on stage. As we celebrate the captivating Capricorn‘s birth, here’s a look back at his ESSENCE covers to date.