Sharpton is a controversial minister, civil rights activist, radio host, TV talking head, political fundraiser, perpetual candidate for office, and style icon.
Sharpton was a child superstar in his Brownsville neighborhood: He started preaching at age four and was an ordained Pentecostal minister by the time he'd turned 10. In 1971, at 14, he was appointed by Jesse Jackson as youth director of Jackson's Operation Breadbasket project; Sharpton formed his own youth organization, the National Youth Movement, a few years later. He became a media fixture in the 1980s and emerged as one of the city's most outspoken political activists. He regularly led protests over police brutality and infamously supported Tawana Brawley, a teenager who (falsely) accused the police of abducting and raping her. In 1991, Sharpton founded the National Action Network to institutionalize his political/civil rights work. (He remains head of the group.) A year later, he tried his hand at running for office, finishing third in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He mounted a second Senate campaign in 1994, failing to unseat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1997, he aimed a bit lower, fielding a surprisingly strong (but still losing) candidacy for mayor, and in 2004 he made a brief but colorful run for the Democratic nomination for president.
Sharpton continues to insert himself into just about every race-related controversy in town, and his incendiary approach has lead to many critiques from his detractors. Sharpton was successfully sued for slander by the defendants in the Tawana Brawley case, which was thrown out and revealed to have been totally fabricated. In 1989, he was indicted on 67 counts of tax fraud related to the National Youth Movement; he was later acquitted but eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a New York State income tax return. In 1991, he was accused of inciting riots when he led a protest in Crown Heights after a motorcade carrying the Lubavitcher Rebbe ran over a young boy. He continues to protest, and was outspoken over the death of Sean Bell in Queens, and campaigned against sportscaster Don Imus' sexist and racist comments that got him removed from air.
Sharpton is divorced from Kathy Lee Jordan, a former backup dancer for James Brown (for whom Sharpton served as tour manager in the early 70's); the couple separated in 2004 after Sharpton's presidential run. They have two daughters, Dominique and Ashley. As of 2012, Sharpton has reportedly lost over 100 pounds, and credits a strict diet and work-out regimen with his astounding weight loss.