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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Don Cheadle - Friend of Poker

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Not everyone featured at PokerWorks is a professional poker player. In fact, some have played little to no poker, while others play all of the time, in live games or online, sometimes both. Some play mostly cash games for large or small limits, while others prefer the tournament scene, where any player can find a limit that fits within their skill level and bankroll. No matter what the game or limit, every player we write about is what we call a “Friend to Poker.”

Acclaimed stage, screen and television actor, film producer and charity fundraiser Don Cheadle, is one of the best friends that poker could have. His position towards poker is self descriptive in his sponsorship by Full Tilt Poker, as one of the site’s “Friends of Full Tilt”—along with other notable players like author Michael Craig, UFC fighter Matt Hughes and columnist Jay Greenspan, who all represent the online poker room.

Born Donald Frank Cheadle on November 29, 1964, in Kansas City, Missouri, to a psychologist father and a mother who was a bank manager—he has a brother Colin and a sister named Cindy. The family moved frequently before settling in Denver, Colorado, where Don graduated from East High School in 1982.  

His interest in poker wouldn’t come until some time later; his first love was for the stage—theater and music, including jazz. His first performance was at the age of five when he played Templeton the Rat in a production of Charlotte's Web. By the time he graduated he had secured scholarships from both acting and musical schools; he chose to pursue acting and received a BA degree in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

As a struggling young actor he spent most of his time auditioning for any small part he could get, and his first break came when he landed a small role in the TV series “Fame.” Once he got his foot in the door, appearances in TV classics like Night Court, Hill Street Blues, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Golden Palace followed. In 1993 he portrayed the honest district attorney, John Littleton in the popular series Picket Fences and he made regular appearances on Saturday Night Live and ER.

Although Cheadle was making a name for himself, he wasn’t content being limited to television. His film debut came in a very small role as a hamburger server in Moving Violations (1985) but that would only be the beginning. He captivated the audiences with his lead role in Hamburger Hill (1987) and his screen breakthrough came in 1994 when he portrayed Denzel Washington's best friend, Mouse Alexander, in the motion picture Devil in a Blue Dress. The role won Cheadle a number of film critic awards, but the Oscar nomination that many felt was inevitable passed him by.

In the 1997 movie Rosewood, he starred with Bridgid Coulter, who played his wife—in real life they share their love, their life, and their two daughters Ayana Tai Cheadle (born 1995) and Imani Cheadle (born 1997). Other film credits include The Family Man—Boogie Nights—Talk to Me—Crash—Rush Hour 2, and the blockbusters “Oceans 11,” “12,” and “13.”

After being nominated for a Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina in the 2004 motion picture, Hotel Rwanda—a movie about the early 1990’s Rwanda genocide—Cheadle became an activist to raise awareness of the horror that was devastating the Darfur region of Sudan. In January of 2005 he and five members of Congress traveled to Sudan for a first hand look at areas where tens of thousands have died and thousands more have been rendered homeless.

Mortified by what he had seen, Cheadle returned later that year to Rwanda’s capitol city, Kigali to officially tour the Hotel des Milles Collines—for which the movie Hotel Rwanda was based, and he vowed to bring public awareness to the ethnic cleansing that was happening in Africa.

Don had already became a familiar name and face around the poker scene, and he knew some people—some very important people. He has been featured on Poker After Dark and on April 15, 2007 he defeated professional player Phil Ivey in the first round of the ‘National Heads-Up Poker Championship’—no hard feelings though, Ivey has played in every “Ante Up for Africa” tournament since it was founded in 2006 .

Oh yes, and it was Don Cheadle, Annie Duke and Norman Epstein who got together and brainstormed the “Ante Up for Africa” tournament; a $5,000 buy-in event that would draw awareness to, and raise money for the people victimized in Darfur and Rwanda. Their original goal was a modest $20,000 to $30,000, but by the end of the first day the total intake was more than $700,000 and by the start of the 2010 tournament, the charity had already donated more than $3,000,000 to its cause.

The tournament takes place every year during the World Series of Poker and is one of only two events that are non-gold-bracelet event. The 2010 event saw eighty-three regular Joe’s and Jill’s pay $5,000 to sit down with celebs and pros like Matt Damon, Brad Garrett, Evander Holyfield, Chris Ferguson, Ben Affleck, Andy Block, Howard Lederer, Joe Hachem—yes, Phil Ivey was there too and of course Annie Duke and Don Cheadle. Professional player Phil Gordon took 1st place worth $129,086, donating every cent to charity—a total of more $275,000 was raised for the victims of the horrible humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Don is also co-author of the book “Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond.”

When he is not in the studio acting or producing movies, playing poker or playing Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes in Iron Man 2 (2010)—Don is a regular guy who loves being a family man and spending time with Bridgid, Ayana and Imani. He loves to play golf too, but unless he can figure out how to free up some time, that isn’t likely to happen.

Editor's Note:  Don Cheadle was one of the nine chosen to play in the sudden death playoff sit-n-go tournament, the winner taking one of the 'exempt seats' in the 27 seat 2010 Tournament of Champions at the WSOP.

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