James Thomas Denton, Jr. was born in Nashville, Tennessee and grew up in nearby Goodlettsville. His father, J.T. Denton (1930-1993), was a dentist who had served in the military. His mother, Mary Jean Woolslair Denton, died from breast cancer in 2002. Denton attended the University of Tennessee where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, majored in television/journalism and earned a degree in advertising. Before he became an actor, he sold advertising for two radio stations. He began acting at the age of 23, at a community theater in Nashville. He eventually moved to California to become a full time actor.