These Famous Actors Were Once Athletes
We can all name some crossover stars from the sports world who made it in entertainment. However, there are some famous people who you might be surprised to learn originally got their start in sports.
Terry Crews was made famous for his starring role in Old Spice commercials. This led to an acting career, he is now frequently cast in movies and TV. Before he was an actor Crews, attended Western Michigan University on a football scholarship. He was a defensive end. He was drafted to the LA Rams in 1991. Crews retired from football in 1997 and moved to LA to become an actor.
Stacy Keibler was a reality show host and TV actor. She was also known for dating George Clooney for a while. Before she was a TV personality, Keibler was a pro wrestler with the WWF. Female wrestlers have been mainstreamed in recent years, with the WWE’s “Divas” division being rebranded as the “Women’s Division.”
Jason Lee is most readily recognized for his starring role on the comedy show My Name Is Earl. He was also one of the stars of the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats. Before he started acting, Lee was a professional skateboarder. He cofounded Stereo Sound Agency, aka Stereo Skateboards, with another skater named Chris “Dune” Pastras. Kevin Smith discovered Lee and put him in his movies. He’s been acting since.
Kurt Russell is one of the great action stars of the 1980’s and is still an A-list star. Before he started acting, he was into baseball. At the same time as his acting career started picking up, Russell still played in a minor league baseball league. He was reluctant to give up the game, which he’d been playing since he was a kid. Russell most recently appeared in the film The Hateful Eight.
Jason Statham is one of the faces of modern action film. He’s a man’s man, whose thick British accent is as recognizable as his grimace. When he was younger, Statham was a member of the British National Diving Squad. He dove with them for twelve years. He found a bridge into the entertainment world in sports modeling. He was a model for the clothing brand French Connection.
Mark Harmon, longtime star of NCIS, is the son of a famous NFL Player. Mark was also a football player. Harmon was a quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. Thanks to his help, the team took the Rose Bowl. In addition to NCIS, Mark also has roles on multiple TV shows. Most famously, St. Elsewhere and Chicago Hope.
Burt Reynolds is synonymous with manliness. The actor was talented as well as handsome. Before he was a leading man, Reynolds played football in the 50’s for Florida State University. His pro career was abbreviated by multiple sports injuries. He won an acting award while attending college and then got a scholarship to an acting school in New York. The rest is history.
John Wayne is another icon of Hollywood masculinity. He is the quintessential cowboy, also known for playing soldiers and, infamously, Genghis Khan. Before he was an actor, Wayne was a football player for USC. He was forced to stop playing due to an injury. Wayne won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1969, for True Grit. He died in 1979.
Rick Fox has had hundreds of roles in both television and film. He is also a former NBA player and is a sports entrepreneur. He played basketball for the University of North Carolina. He went on to play for the Lakers. He won three NBA titles. He started acting soon after he started playing pro ball.
Carl Weathers is most recognizable for his roles in Rocky and Predator. Weathers was a pro football player before he stepped in front of the cameras. He was a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders in 1971. He also spent two years in the Canadian football league. Weathers still acts. He has shot multiple parodies of the roles that made him famous.
Fred Williamson was one of the most recognizable stars of Blaxploitation film. A huge man, Williamson was also a football player. He got the nickname The Hammer for how hard his tackles were. He was an all-star with the Raiders during the sixties. He started acting after he retired from football. Modern audiences may recognize him from his role in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Gina Carano is recognizable for her role in Fast and Furious 6. She was also in Deadpool. Carano was one of the first female MMA stars. She was a champion and regularly appeared in magazines. She’s currently shooting two movies. Madness in the Method and Scorched Earth.
Chuck Norris is arguably now more famous for the Chuck Norris memes than for his acting or martial arts careers. Before he was either a movie star or a template .jpg, Norris was a pro marital artist. He was a competitor in Karate championships while he was pursuing a career in front of the camera. Bruce Lee cast him as the villain in Return of the Dragon in 1972, giving him his first acting break.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Jabbar is definitely known as a basketball star first and a movie star second. However, he had such natural acting chops that it’s safe to categorize him as both. He won several NBA championships with the Lakers and three national championships with the UCLA Bruins before that. He was first cast opposite Bruce Lee in Game of Death and then had a comedic role in Airplane, in which he played himself. He is now writes social commentary for TIME magazine and is a jazz expert.
John Cena is arguably the only post-Attitude-Era wrestling superstar. He’s also one of the only modern crossover stars, along with The Rock and Batista. Before he was educating America’s teenagers about basic thuganomics, Cena was a college football player. He played for Springfield College. Cena was a huge hit in the WWE and was cast as the star of the company’s first in-house movie production, The Marine.
This one is pretty “duh.” Bruce Lee is remembered as perhaps the most iconic martial arts movie star in history. But before he was a movie star, he was a serious student of martial arts. Lee fought constantly with local gangs when he was growing up. Learning martial arts was a necessity, not a hobby. He later moved to America to develop his own school of fighting, Jeet Kun Do.
Arnold is one of those people who’s so famous that people sometimes forgot why exactly they were ever famous in the first place. Schwarzenegger was the single greatest competitive bodybuilder in the sport’s history. He was so dominant in competitive bodybuilding that he is still often considered the face of the sport. His physique landed him some early acting roles despite his thick Austrian accent. His role as Conan in Conan the Barbarian is what catapulted him to mainstream celebrity.
Shaq’s another sports star who qualifies for consideration as a legitimate actor. Not necessarily because he’s great at it, just because he had so many movies. Shaq was an NBA star who made a successful crossover to rap music. He then appeared in television commercials, TV shows and movies. He’s best remembered for his starring roles in Kazaam and Steel. Most recently, he appeared on the ABC show Fresh Off the Boat.
Bob Uecker is a play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was named “Mr. Baseball” by Johnny Carson. He was given the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his broadcasting talents.Before he was an announcer, Uecker was a professional catcher. He was renowned for being extremely bad at it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest competitor never achieved the same level of superstardom as his old adversary. Nevertheless, Ferrigno went on to land several major roles in film and TV and became a celebrity in his own right. He is most famous for playing The Hulk on the 1970’s television show The Incredible Hulk. He was a major competitive bodybuilder and was highly decorated for it. He is still considered one of the all-time greats. These days, Ferrigno is an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He’s still jacked.
We all know Dwayne Johnson was a pro wrestler before he was a movie star and rumored presidential hopeful (yep, Google it). But did you know he was a football player first? Johnson was born into wrestling royalty. His family has produced multiple wrestling superstars. Before Dwayne tried his hand professionally in the ring, he played football for the University of Miami.
Michael Jordan is probably the most famous athlete in history. If anyone’s surprised to find out that the great actor once played basketball, you might want to re-enroll in elementary school. Jordan had lots of spin off projects at the height of his fame. He tried a disastrous stint in baseball (allegedly to pay off gambling debts) and also appeared in a few movies. Most famously, he starred in the hit film Space Jam, opposite the Looney Tunes.