Morgan Freeman was in a "serious" condition in hospital last night after being injured in a high-speed car crash near his home in Mississippi.
The Oscar-winning actor, 71, was said to have broken his shoulder, arm and several ribs after his car left a freeway about four miles west of Charleston just before midnight on Sunday. Police said that the vehicle became airborne and flipped over several times before landing in a ditch.
At the Regional Medical Centre, an acute care facility in Memphis where the actor was being treated, a spokesman would reveal only "one word: his condition is serious". Unconfirmed reports said that Freeman was sitting up in bed, and had been talking to doctors and his family.
A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman, Sergeant Ben Williams, said that the cause of the accident was unknown. "The vehicle went off the edge of the road and flipped several times," he said, adding that no other vehicle had been involved.
Rescue workers used a "jaws of life" device to cut Freeman and his passenger, an unidentified woman, from the wreckage of their car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima.
According to witnesses, Freeman – a prolific actor who won as Oscar for his role in Million Dollar Baby, and starred in The Shawshank Redemption and the new Batman film – joked with onlookers shortly after the incident, before being airlifted to hospital.
Clay McFerrin, the editor of the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Charleston, arrived at the scene shortly after the crash. He said: "He was lucid and conscious. He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point."
After a small crowd had converged on the scene, Freeman – who often stays at a holiday home in the area with his wife, Myrna, – was spotted talking.
When one person attempted to take a picture on their mobile telephone, he joked: "No freebies, no freebies."