An accomplished American actor of both stage and screen, Jeffrey Jones became known for a series of frequently hilarious characters ranging from the bumptious, to the blundering, to the merely bewildered. Jones gained widespread recognition in the period biopic that essayed the short, tumultuous life of master composer Mozart, "Amadeus" (1984) starring to riotous effect as the preening, child-like Emperor of Austria. As notable as that role was, he topped himself with a turn as a high school principal obsessed with catching hooky-playing hero Matthew Broderick in John Hughes' "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). Jones found a professional home as part of director Tim Burton's unofficial acting troupe in efforts like "Beetlejuice" (1988), "Ed Wood" (1994) and "Sleepy Hollow" (1999). Sadly, his professional credits were eclipsed for a time by child pornography charges leveled at him in 2002, part of an investigation that included fellow Burton collaborator, Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens. Jones resurfaced in the critically acclaimed cable Western "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06) as a journalist in a corrupt pioneer town, but appeared in little else in the second half of the decade. Having fashioned a career in which he frequently brought humanity and humor to unlikable characters, Jones' unsavory personal exploits threatened to derail a respectable career that had made him a welcome fixture in American cinema for 20 years.
Born Jeffrey Duncan Jones in Buffalo, NY to parents Ruth, an art historian, and Douglas, who died while he was still a child, Jones was encouraged by his mother to pursue his interest in acting, cultivated by his frequent childhood visits to the Stratford Theater in Ontario, Canada. He came to the attention of Tyrone Guthrie while acting in a production of "Hobson's Choice" at Wisconsin's Lawrence University, then spent his sophomore year at the prestigious Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, working there while on breaks from school. It was Guthrie who arranged for him to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art on a full scholarship, following his feature film debut with a small part in the political activist drama "The Revolutionary" (1970). Jones went on to perform with the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville before settling in New York City. After appearing alongside Meryl Streep and John Lithgow in a 1975 Lincoln Center production of "Trelawny of the Wells," he appeared in a successful revival of "Boy Meets Girl" (1976), directed by Lithgow. He also made his Broadway debut in "The Elephant Man" (1980), starring David Bowie, and acted in the original off-Broadway production of "Cloud Nine" (1981), directed by Tommy Tune. Interspersed with his theatrical endeavors, Jones also made headway with more minor turns in films like the cut-rate actioner "The Soldier" (1982), and series such as his 1983 guest spot on the spy drama, "Remington Steele" (NBC, 1982-87).
Jones made his first indelible impression on the public with his marvelous portrayal of vacuous Austrian Emperor Joseph II in director Milos Foreman's Academy Award-winning feature adaptation of "Amadeus" (1984). In one hilariously memorable moment, Jones' child-like monarch tells court composer Mozart that his latest work contained "too many notes." Capitalizing on the notoriety gained from his breakout role, he then delivered one of his most inspired bits of nonsense as Principal Ed Rooney, the hapless nemesis of Matthew Broderick in John Hughes' "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). Evoking a live-action version of Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote in his constantly inventive and often physical performance, the role was widely considered one of the actor's best. It would certainly be his most memorable. Jones would need the lingering goodwill of audiences, as his next role had the misfortune of being in one of the decade's biggest box-office embarrassments, "Howard the Duck" (1986), a comic book adaptation produced by George Lucas, and starring Lea Thompson. Jones rebounded nicely, however, when he teamed for the first time with director Tim Burton in the haunted house comedy "Beetlejuice" (1988), starring an over-the-top Michael Keaton as the titular unwanted poltergeist. Jones played a stressed-out Manhattanite looking for peace and quiet in the home of a spectral couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin). That same year, he also had a turn as Inspector Lestrade opposite Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley in the little-seen Sherlock Holmes comedy, "Without a Clue" (1988).
Jones reteamed with director Forman in "Valmont" (1989), the second filmed adaptation of the classic 18th-Century novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," as the lecherous and deceitful lover of Annette Bening's woman scorned. He also starred in his own series, "The People Next Door" (CBS, 1989-1990), an odd comedy about a cartoonist whose creations take on a life of their own. Developed by horror director Wes Craven, the ill-conceived sitcom was canceled within a month's time. Jones kick-started the 1990s with a bang, appearing as technical consultant Skip Tyler in the John McTiernan blockbuster "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), based on Tom Clancy's novel, opposite "Beetlejuice" alum Alec Baldwin. Unfortunately, his reunion with Matthew Broderick in the comedy "Out on a Limb" (1992) was not so fortuitous, as it failed to excite either audiences or critics. That same year, Jones was whisked away on an interplanetary adventure with onscreen wife Teri Garr in the intentionally silly comedy "Mom and Dad Save the World" (1992). Next, he rejoined Burton in the comedic biopic "Ed Wood" (1994), as the amazing Criswell, a bogus psychic who enters the orbit of the eponymous Z-movie director, played by Johnny Depp. Revisiting his live theater roots, Jones portrayed Thomas Putnam in Nicholas Hytner's film version of "The Crucible" (1996), and essayed the managing partner of Satan's law firm - whose fatal mistake was trying to double-cross the boss - in "The Devil's Advocate" (1997).
As one millennium came to a close and a new one began, other turns by Jones included that of a town elder in Tim Burton's reimagining of Washington Irving's "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), and as a genial, but ineffectual, commanding officer in the darkly comic thriller "Ravenous" (1999). He also had a small role as Uncle Crenshaw in the family feature "Stuart Little" (1999), and later joined the cast of "Heartbreakers" (2001), the satire about a mother-daughter con team (Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt). Although fondly remembered for his roles in films like "Amadeus," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the growing list of quirky collaborations with Tim Burton, Jones received a different kind of notoriety in 2002 when the actor was arrested by Los Angeles police and charged with "using a minor for prohibitive acts," and a misdemeanor count of possessing child pornography. After initial denials, the following year Jones pleaded no contest to hiring a male minor for a sexually explicit photoshoot, receiving five years probation and mandatory registration as a sex offender for life. At the time, it appeared as if Jones' career had reached a humiliating end. That is, until he resurfaced in the profanity-laced revisionist Western series "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06), as the hypocritical newspaperman A.W. Merrick. As admired as his portrayal of Merrick was, in the years following the show's cancellation, very little was seen of Jones on film, with rare, unmemorable exceptions such as the hip-hop golf comedy "Who's Your Caddy?" (2007). In the Fall of 2010, Jones plead guilty to failure to re-register as a sex offender, earning himself more unwanted headlines and an additional three years probation.