James Howard Woods (born April 18, 1947) is an American film, stage and television actor and comedian. Woods is best known for starring in films such as Once Upon a Time in America, Ghosts of Mississippi, Salvador, and as the Disney villain Hades in Hercules.
Woods was born in Vernal, Utah. His father, Gail Peyton Woods, was an army intelligence officer who died in 1960 following routine surgery. His mother, Martha A. (née Smith), operated a pre-school after her husband's death and re-married to Thomas E. Dixon. Woods grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island, where he attended Pilgrim High School. Woods, an army brat, had been accepted to attend the United States Air Force Academy. But, several weeks before he was to depart, Woods suffered an accident involving a plate glass window which injured his hand tendons severely enough to result in his acceptance being retracted.
Woods chose to pursue his undergraduate studies at MIT, where he majored in political science (though he originally planned on a career as a surgeon). While at MIT, Woods pledged to Theta Delta Chi Fraternity. He was also an active member of the student theatre group "Dramashop" where he both acted in and directed a number of plays. He dropped out of MIT in 1969 just before his graduation in order to pursue a career in acting. Woods moved to New York City, calling his mother to tell her of his plans. While his mother wasn't thrilled at the news, she gave him her blessing to pursue a career in acting. At the 2006 CBS UpFront James Woods stated that his mother told him that if he was going to switch careers to acting that he needed to be the best actor he could possibly be.