We looked at some of our favorite celebrities who joined the army before they got famous. Who knew there were even more? Kirk Douglas, Johnny Carson, Jimi Hendrix, and more also once slogged around in the green before they got to the spotlight. In fact, many of these former troopers claim that it was in the trenches that they learned all about hard work and how to be team players. Qualities that are super important on set. If you’re still curious to know who else did this, enjoy this list of celebrities who were enrolled in the army before they got super famous.
Izzy Demsky, better known as Kirk Douglas, was an American actor, producer, director, and author. He gave himself the name Kirk Douglas in 1941, right before he joined the navy, and shortly after the US entered the Second World War.
He served the military as a communications and gunnery officer in anti-submarine warfare. What he could have achieved thereon we will never know, as he was medically discharged after suffering injuries following the dropping of an accidental depth charge in 1944.
Jimi Hendrix knew he made the biggest mistake of his life when he got arrested for attempting to steal a car twice. In 1961, as punishment, Hendrix was given the option to choose between going to jail or joining the army, which really didn’t seem like much of a choice at all.
That was the curious start of his military career. He was stationed in Fort Campbell Kentucky with the 101st Airborne Division, where he was forced to work as hard as he could to complete his paratrooper training, and was then awarded a Screaming Eagles Patch. In 1962, Jimi Hendrix was discharged from the army after he injured his ankle during a jump.
Before the California Air National Guard was moved to a different location way back in 1985, military personnel from various air force bases liked to kid and call it the Hollywood air force base, in reference to the fact that many films had been shot there during those years. Many actors, too, have been assigned there during their military tenure. This included the famous action star, Kurt Russell.
Russell has become a Hollywood household name for his anti-hero roles, and before the base had even ben shut down, he was already nominated for an Emmy award for the TV film Elvis, which aired in 1979.
The idea of joining the army can be enticing to the young, with their predilection for adventure and the promise of colorful experiences arousing their daring senses. But the reality of it all can be too much, as actor Sidney Poitier can attest.
He was a bit of a rebel during his time, lying about his age so he could get into the service. He managed to sneak in and eventually became a medical attendant in a mental hospital. Once in, his next challenge was to find a way to get out. He faked insanity, but the threat of shock treatment was enough for him to renege on this claim. After weeks of consulting with a psychiatrist, he was eventually given a military discharge, sane and all!
We all loved watching Who wants to be a Millionaire, imagining that, one day, we could get the chance to join in and be one step closer to winning a million dollars. Then, of course, we simply enjoy watching Regis Philbin host too.
Who would have thought that the host of this most popular TV show also served in the United States army as a supply officer? For two years, Philbin’s primary role was to manage all the supplies for various vessels and crafts of not just a particular base, but of the entire US Navy. It was after his short military service that Regis Philbin tried his luck in entertainment, applying as an assistant to The Tonight Show, back in 1956.
The vicissitudes that surround our lives can be quite unpredictable. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the co-host of The Howard Stern Show, a fine lady at that, and in such a wacky program, used to actually serve the USAF as a captain?
Robin Quivers still remained a member of the US Air Force reserve until 1990. After taking her first job in radio as a newscaster in Pennsylvania, she decided to return to Baltimore, just in time to breeze in when The Howard Stern Show was scouring for someone with a straightforward personality to balance his zany character.
The rise in stock of the UFC organization, placed Randy Couture’s career in the spotlight, being one of its champions for many years. This tough and rugged MMA fighter had also served in the US Army in the famous 101st airborne. His tenure in the army actually lasted for six years, and Couture was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Couture endeavored to take part in various wrestling activities and went on to perform at the Olympics three times. He became a wrestling coach at Oregon State University, and having plateaued, decided to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.
Berry Gordy’s experiences, which ultimately led him to become the record executive responsible for the famous Motown label, were filled with many trials. He even tried living on his hands, literally, by being a professional boxer, but it didn’t sufficiently take off. He joined the military instead, to participate in the Korean War.
Little did he know that his stint with the US Army would someday provide the foundation of his music recording business. He first opened a record shop after the war, and with his money from his discharge pay, decided to make his own records, that eventually morphed into Motown. From thereon, the cash flowed smoothly, without a bump on the road.
The effect of the great wars back in the day roused in young men a strong sense of pride and courage, of being wronged, and the will to rightfully correct it. One of those who felt the need to reinstall justice and order in the world was Johnny Carson, who would become famous as The Tonight Show host.
He enlisted in the United States navy as an apprentice seaman, and was enrolled in the V-5 program. He had hopes of being trained as a navy pilot but was instead sent for midshipman training at Columbia University. From there he became a member of the crew on the USS Pennsylvania. As he was always one to entertain, he performed tricks for his classmates to keep spirits high.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Even before Sammy Davis Jr. became famous for his music and acting, he had that fizzle of energy in him that made people notice his infectious talent and skills. So when the Second World War started and Davis Jr. drafted, his immediate superiors thought he could serve better entertaining the troops weary from the war, than in the battlefield.
He reaped a lot of benefits out of it upon his return to America, because it reflected brilliantly well on his work. He was given a position in the Rat Pack, a group led by Frank Sinatra himself.
Danny Aiello earned much of his fame for his role in the movie The Godfather Part II. Unlike some artists, he didn’t have that long-standing big childhood dream of becoming an actor . In fact, he was just eager to fight when World War II broke out, even too eager.
At the age of 16, he lied about his age to get into the military. They took him in and instantly shipped him to Germany along with many impassioned young men, where he spent more than 28 months serving on an army base. It took even longer for him to pursue his acting career after he was discharged; first, he worked as a union representative for Greyhound buses, then as a bouncer at a comedy club, which somehow led to his acting career.
Laurence Tureaud, better known professionally as Mr. T, is an American actor and retired professional wrestler of the 1980s. He joined the army and became a military policeman back in the seventies, whereupon a punishment for a minor misdeed inadvertently got him a promotion to squad leader. He was the “Top Trainee of the Cycle,” in 1975.
After his military service, Mr. T worked as a highly-paid bodyguard for $3,000 a night, until Sylvester Stallone met him by happenstance and offered him the life-changing opportunity of playing Clubber Lang in Rocky III.
Hugh Hefner is known internationally for his wildly popular Playboy magazines. This political activist and philanthropist was an advocate of freedom of expression and sexual liberation, which would explain the nature of his publication.
Hefner enlisted in the military in 1944, right after finishing high school, which can be hard to believe, based on the personality he has ultimately become known for. He became an infantry clerk, and contributed many of his artworks to US Army newspapers, which helped boost the morale of the soldiers. Most of his cartoons were very fun to read, and perhaps also laid some sort of foundation for his ideas in creating the Playboy magazines. He got discharged from the army in 1946.
As lovable a character as Richard Pryor was, a witty comedian whose jokes could light up a whole family, it is almost impossible to imagine him taking part in the mobbing of another soldier. He served in the army for two years, but most of that time was spent in prison.
If you think this sounds intense, you’ll be saddened to know that, compared to Pryor’s childhood, prison was nothing. Richard was a victim of sexual abuse growing up. Instead of finding protection from his caretakers, he was abandoned by his alcoholic mother and was raised at his grandmother’s brothel. He had it rough as a child and also got expelled from school. His incarceration involved the beat down and eventual stabbing of a white soldier over a racially charged movie they were watching.
Rollin, Rollin, Rollin, Rollin! A chant made famous by the band, Limp Bizkit. And lead singer, Fred Durst, is adored for it by fans. Best known for his career in music, this bad boy was a bit wayward during his younger years.
Because he loved music when was young, he started off appreciating many varieties of artistic expressions like rap, poetry, hip hop and punk. He couldn’t find a job after he graduated from high school, and that ended up rolling him into a clusterball of frustrations. He decided to enlist in the navy, where he spent two years of his life. After his discharge, he found a job as a tattoo artist, started a band in 1995, and the rest is nu-metal history.
American actor and television talk show host, Montel Williams, has a stellar resume, all starting with a previous career you wouldn’t expect from such a celebrity. Prior to all the lights and glamour of show business that he now dwells in, he actually spent a full 22 years serving his country as a lieutenant of the US Marine Corps. This was from 1974 to 1996, a world away from the spotlight.
He earned his degree in general engineering with a minor in international security while he was at Annapolis. He even studied Mandarin Chinese, perhaps as a foresight to the sleeping giant’s future rise in power.
In Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart was lovingly nicknamed the “Bogie” of show business. A fitting name considering he was also enlisted in the navy during the First World War. One time, he was struck by a prisoner in the mouth, while he was assigned to the military police. The result of the injury was not fatal, but it did scar his mouth, leaving him with a subtle lisp.
Because of his signature injury with the matching raspy voice, it gave him that tough guy gangster image which he was known for in his second career. It’s funny because he seemed the ultimate bad guy, but he also had terrible stage fright, which made him run off the stage in the middle of a performance more than once.
The combination of comedy and military service in one’s career, is like putting together the opposite poles of the world in one picture. Yet we’ve already encountered a few who achieved this feat. Mel Brooks is another one to add to the growing list. The creator of film farces and comedic parodies found himself drafted into the army during WWII.
He worked to diffuse many land mines in the Battle of the Bulge, a corporal for the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion. Completely out of character, he often laughs at the position he was put in, saying, “I was a Combat Engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate the most in the world are combat and engineering.”
When American actor, Gene Hackman, was only 16 years old, he struggled with direction. Not knowing what he really wanted out of life, he opted to join the US marines. There he realized that he would perennially find it hard to operate under any form of authority.
He was stationed in Shanghai where he worked as a radio operator, and then eventually made his way to Hawaii. During the length of his service he was demoted three times, continually having problems with simply following instructions. “I was not a good marine,” he admits.
Before Jimmy Carter became president of the United States, he was in a potent position to join the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program. Had his father not died at the time, Carter, a lieutenant, and having served as a Luton junior grade on a submarine, would have gone places. Instead, he decided to retire and pick up the pieces his father had left, working on his parent’s peanut farm.
Some time after this momentous decision, Jimmy Carter decided to move on from his farm work, entering the arena of politics, and going on to become the 39th President of the US, presiding from 1977 to 1981.
Gerald Ford became the 38th president of the United States when he replaced the scandal-stricken Richard Nixon. Ford was active in the navy reserve until 1963, before deciding to move into politics where he went on to reach the highest office possible.
Ford’s work in the military was more behind the scenes. He was a navy pre-flight instructor, assigned to teach elementary navigation skills to new recruits. He also taught first aid for survival, gunnery, and military cadence drills. He requested to see more action and almost died aboard the USS Monterey, when his ship came close to tipping during a typhoon.
George Reeves’ major break in his acting career came when he played the role of the man of steel in The Adventures of Superman. With his popularity fast on the rise, Reeves still decided to put his acting career on hold to take on bigger world issues, joining the US Army.
He wanted to be more than just a fictitious man of steel, and hoped to be a real man of action in the armed forces during WWII. However, the army put him on acting duties instead of on the battlefield. He joined in a special theatrical unit that produced several training films on the dangers of venereal diseases. He resumed his career as an actor in 1946.
Rob Riggie had hopes of building a military career back in the day. His initial plan was to become a naval aviator, so he joined the service in 1990, with the intention of pursuing a pilot’s license to kickstart his long-term goal.
Riggie also liked acting and did some of it on the side. Then he was faced with a choice between his two big dreams. In the end, he decided to drop out of the military when his acting career took off to greater heights than he’d expected. Still, he actually became a member of the United States Marine Corps reserve, and did a tour of duty to Iraq in 2007. However, his tour was purely to entertain troops as part of the USO.
Mike Farrell rose to popularity for his role as Captain BJ Hunnicutt in the hit TV show M*A*S*H. Beyond the silver screen, Farrell was not one to back down on his convictions. He was outspoken and pursued his political activism; he constantly fought for human rights.
Before he became the person we all know him to be today, he was enlisted in the Marine Corps at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. He was a man who stood by his principles and believed in the cause of the war. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your feelings about it), he never saw action.
Jack Lemmon was a famous American actor who, in the course of his career in the entertainment industry, won two Academy Awards. HIs very first movie is titled The Lady Takes a Sailor, where he appeared alongside the ever-beautiful Jane Wyman. Lemmon looked the part, becauser, unbeknownst to many, he was also a sailor for a brief period prior to being an actor.
During WW2 he had enlisted in the navy and worked as a communications officer on an aircraft carrier. He never saw combat though, and his service was very brief.
Audie Murphy’s military career was not a mere reroute, or an afterthought from his glamorous life as an actor. He was as popular a soldier as he was a movie star, and for very good reasons. By the time he was 20 years old, he’d raked in all the combat awards for valor the army could give at the time. He’d served nine campaigns in WW2.
The US Army had to hold him back during the Korean War, using his image as a marketing tool instead, to boost their recruitment service. Audie Murphy retired from service with the rank of major.
Acting was probably the last thing on the mind of Vincent Pastore growing up. When he graduated from high school, the first thing that came to mind was to become a sailor for the US Navy. And he actually made a career out of his military service.
The idea of joining the entertainment industry only started to pop up at the urging of his good friends, Matt and Kevin Dillon, who would later on become fellow actors. Pastore had many interests, and he loved to sail. He also operated and owned nightclubs. To many, he’ll always be a famous TV star.
Roberto Clemente was a famous American baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates whose career spanned from 1955 to 1972. During those times as an athlete, he had secretly thought about finding ways to serve in the military, doing so while the rest of his teammates were training in Puerto Rico during the winter. He joined the United States Marine Corps reserves as an infantryman back in the 50’s without their knowledge.
He realized that his marine training had prepared his body physically and he benefited greatly from it. However, in 1964, he left the military to prepare for the World Series.
American comedy actor, Harvey Korman, worked for many years in the American television industry. He originally signed up to be a United States navy reserve seaman first class during the very end of World War II, hoping to still be able to contribute valuable efforts to the war’s cause.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for Korman, he was only able to serve between 1945 and 1946. Dream thwarted (in the best way possible), he decided to study drama in Chicago instead, which started his career in the entertainment industry. In 2002, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, having won several awards.
One of Hollywood’s elite, Harvey Keitel, who has appeared in many box office hits, like The Last Temptation of Christ, Pulp Fiction, and Taxi Driver, is one of the band of brave souls in the entertainment industry that enlisted in the army.
This Golden Globe Award nominee has an amazing mind,and was once quoted as saying, “for me the Marine Corps was a spiritual journey, it’s not about war.” In 1956, he dropped everything to join the marines. When we say dropped, we mean he left University. He then served in Lebanon where he was awarded a medal for being a fire team leader. After the war, he flew back to the US and eventually went in as an actor at the New York Actors Studio.
Harry Dean Stanton
When World War II broke out, Harry Dean Stanton immediately took the chance to sign up for the navy. Like many young men of his day, Stanton was livid, eager to participate in the war effort against evil regimes. This was after he’d already dropped out of college to study acting, but he knew it was a once in a lifetime chance. It was embarrassing to be an able lad left back home in wartime.
He served in the battle of Okinawa, aboard a landing ship, as a galley cook. After the war, he went on to pursue other opportunities in journalism, then went on to radio, before he finally made the decision to stick to acting.
James Garner’s first love wasn’t acting. He wanted to serve his country, and did so as a merchant marine during the tail end of WWII. His real name is James Scott Bumgarner, and he was so rapt about the idea, that he intentionally dropped out of school and lied about his age so he could be taken in. At the time, the merchant marines were supplying crucial aid to Europe.
After the war, he went back to school and dropped out again, this time to join the Oklahoma National Guard. He was drafted to serve in the Korean War, where he was awarded two Purple Hearts. After his service, he eventually pursued his love for acting and moved back to California.
Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had a short but outstanding military career, serving mostly during the Vietnam War. A man of action, he joined the navy, but without much sailing in mind. He specifically requested to be part of the Swift Boat Division where he could join in actively and disrupt Vietcong supply lines.
He sustained three major injuries while on the line of duty, and got an early discharge for it. He is the deserving recipient of a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. They don’t make politicians like him much nowadays.
Ernest Hemingway was not only one of the best novelists of all-time, his war stories would bring you back to the gravest of times, on the frontlines, shot at, surrounded by the stench of death and fresh blood.
In fact, most of his writing was influenced by his experiences during the WWI, where he served as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, in Italy. There he was wounded by an Austrian mortar fire barely a week into active duty. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery during WWII. Henry Louis Gates believes the great Hemingway shaped his unique literary style from what he experienced during wartime.
British actor, Michael Caine, ironically got his first real taste of the preciousness of life when he was drafted as a British army soldier during the Korean War. It was in the arms of utter danger, having fought on the front lines, face to face with the enemy, that the meaning of being alive dawned on him; right as he was certain his own life was about to be snuffed out. He believes that every man should serve in the military for at least six months to ensure they get a taste of the profound lesson he learned.
Caine ended up contracting malaria and was medically discharged. He decided to head back home to London so that he could pursue his dream of acting... and the rest is history. His first big break came when he played a British army private in a war movie titled A Hill in Korea.
90s kids, will remember Shaggy, a massive star at the time, for hits like “Bombastic,” “Angel,” and the often parodied, “It Wasn’t Me.” Shaggy started in music early, and quickly showed signs of talent. However, it wasn’t enough to keep him afloat, or to call it a stable career, so he joined the USMC in 1989.
He served as part of the 10th marine Regiment right in time for the eruption of the Gulf War. He was deployed in Kuwait, where his experiences helped him sober up and clean up his act. In 1992, his debut album was released and it was a hit, gaining him a wave of success that carried through the early 2000s.
Who loves candies and chocolate? We do! Gene Wilder, who is known for his nostalgic candy man role as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was a famous screenwriter, director, producer, singer-songwriter, author, and actor who certainly made a name for himself during his heyday in the 1960s.
But all these achievements started with a small step when Wilder was drafted to serve in the US Army as a paramedic in a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania during the late 50s. That small step was his decision to lighten his spirits by simultaneously taking acting classes. One of his major breaks in acting came as he later partnered with Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles.
Laurence Olivier is one of those celebrities who had no qualms about cutting his careers short to render service in the military when circumstances called for it. When World War II broke out, the first thing Olivier had in mind was to become a combat pilot, opting to join the Royal air force, albeit restricted with other obligations.
The Academy Award winning actor had a lot going for himself during his time. As a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, he served for two years but, much to his dismay, he never got to experience going into battle before the war ended.
Colin Powell once said that the greatest advocates for peace are those who know most about war. This is a phrase that comes to our minds when it comes to the name of Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five.
Vonnegut served in the army during World War II as an infantry battalion scout. He was reportedly taken in as a prisoner of war, and was lucky to survive the firebombing of Dresden, Germany in a blanket mission by the Allied Forces. If you haven’t yet ventured into the bizarre universe that is Slaughterhouse 5, we definitely recommend it.
We certainly did not expect this Hollywood legend to have an impressive military career to his name. Kris Kristofferson is a well known musician and actor, not a fighting man. During his time in the military, he identified himself as a “Brat” because he traveled a lot with his dad who frequently kept getting flown to different parts of the United States for work.
Kris was pressured into joining the army and marrying his high school girlfriend when he was a young man. In 1960, Kris enlisted in the military, in accordance with his family’s wishes, and became a helicopter pilot after he successfully completed Ranger School. When he ultimately decided to leave the service, his family sadly resented his decision and disowned him for it.
J.R.R. Tolkien was an English poet and writer, best known for his fantastical works, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien is a war veteran and served with the British Expeditionary Force during World War I as Second Lieutenant in the 11th Battalion. He saw many bloody battles, including the Battle of Somme. Ultimately his poor health would end his war days. Tolkien was sent home after he contracted a chronic fever from lice that infested him.
If you are looking for Hollywood’s “whole package”, then Gene Kelly is your guy. Actor, director, writer, and funny man, he was best known for The Dick Van Dyke Show; a program he wrote, produced, and acted in as well.
Kelly was drafted into the US Army air force in 1942, where he unintentionally rose to a position of corporal. The Dick Van Dyke Show was only one of his many accomplishments at the time, but what a legend he has become in the entertainment business.
One of Hollywood’s elite comedians, Buster Keaton was well known for his silent films. His famous trademark at the time was physical comedy. He was nicknamed “The Great StoneFace,” because of his consistent deadpan expression through all his films, regardless of their themes.
In 1917, actively participating in vaudeville, Buster Keaton was drafted into the 40th Infantry Division. Not to be deterred from his practice while he was serving his time, he still managed to perform a bunch of vaudeville acts like the “Snake Dance,” where he charms a rope of sausages before a large crowd of fellow servicemen.
If you’re a fan of the hit series, The Joy of Painting, and remember following Bob Ross on TV as one of the most iconic art instructors, you probably know by now that even his simple artworks weren’t that easy to follow at all.
Even if you thought of picking up your canvas and throwing it out of the window, there is just something about Bob Ross’ soothing voice that calms you back down. It may seem out of character for this fluffy-haired artist, but he was, in fact, a master sergeant of the USAF. The way he seems able to thrive in such contradicting career paths shows how powerful his mind must be.
It must have been hard to level with George Carlin. He was, after all, a genius whose increasingly black comedy reflected on politics, psychology, the English language, religion, and various taboo subjects. Before he became so famously jaded, a then unknown Carlin was undertaking service with the USAF.
Carlin received a total of three court martials during his service as a radar technician in Barksdale, which resulted in his general discharge. He was also working as a disc jockey while in the force, and this jump-started his career in the entertainment industry after he proved too much for the military.
Jesse “The Body” Ventura is a name we readily link with wrestling and films like Predator. But before all that came to fruition, when he was just about to make a name for himself in wrestling and in Hollywood, Ventura earned a distinguished career as a member of the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team during the Vietnam War.
Although this professional wrestler’s life was all about action in the ring, he did not get to experience any actual combat while he was serving his time in the navy. Often referred to as a Navy Seal, Ventura never actually got to finish his training with the unit.
Popular for his good looks and depth in the showbiz industry, Tony Curtis was one celebrity who thought highly of serving in the military. From 1943 to 1945, Curtis served in the submarine force during the Second World War. He was ranked 3rd class signalman, and served in the Pacific Theatre.
He was inspired by the movie Destination Tokyo, which led him to his navy service, surviving the great war, witnessing the Japanese surrender in Tokyo from the signal bridge of his vessel. Upon his death, Curtis received honors from the flag, and firing detail of the Local US Air force.
When American filmmaker Oliver Stone started working on the movie Platoon, all the ingredients necessary to make the war action drama a critical success had already been cooked up in his mind years ago, from a time when he himself had been shot at, his life at risk, all in the name of freedom and democracy.
In 1967, Stone joined the US Army. He didn’t want to be there simply as a witness to the atrocities of war. He wanted to participate in combat himself, made a special request for it, and was wounded in action twice during the Vietnam War. He was awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” device, and a Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Most of all, his experiences in battle elevated Platoon to cinematic heights.
We absolutely love Mickey Rooney for his cute and funny facial expressions on and off the screen. Being the last surviving actor of the silent film era, Rooney made a name for himself as a radio personality, comedian, producer, and vaudevillian. He appeared in more than 300 films, making his one epic career.
He was also one of the highest paid actors in showbiz during his time. In 1944, he was drafted by the army, assigned mostly to entertain the troops on stage and on radio during WWII. He earned himself a Bronze Star for his performances as well as a World War II Victory Medal, and a medal for good conduct in appreciation of his military service.
One can only gaze into outer space and dream of what John Glenn has achieved throughout his life. He certainly was ahead of his time, a valiant risk taker, and for that his rewards were out of this world.
John Glenn was the first US astronaut to orbit the earth. He completed three orbits in total in 1962, after having started merely as a backup pilot for Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. He joined the Project Mercury Astronaut Training in 1959 and served both in the marines and NASA. He then pursued a political career and won a senatorial seat out of Ohio.
The moment Pat Tillman decided to turn his back on his professional football career, as player for the Arizona Cardinals, he instantly became a hero to many. He had selflessly turned a blind eye to the millions of dollars his contract awarded, to fight against terrorism.
It was a decision he made in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. He served his time in tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was an unintentional bullet that did him in; his death a tragic result of friendly fire that was kept secret even at his funeral, so as not to soil his reputation as a war hero. He was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his bravery.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s military experience may be no match to all the fight scenes we’d seen him endure in films like Terminator, but he did spend real service in the Austrian army before he became a popular weightlifter, actor, and eventual governor of California.
His enlistment however, was not by choice. The law of his home country mandates that, at the age of 18, all Austrian males should serve at least a year in the army. He was a conscript. During his time, he managed to bag the Mr. Europe Contest while actively serving in the army.
Joe DiMaggio is one of the best baseball players of all-time. But even if one is not a fan of the sport, men and women across generations would know him as the lucky stud who married the sexy blonde and famous actress, Marilyn Monroe.
This baseball legend served in the military during the Second World War, but despite him being drafted, he was never part of all the real action that held the world in shock. Instead, he was assigned as an athletics instructor in bases around America, thousands of miles away from the enemy.
One for the Money, Two for the Show! A lyric made popular by none other than the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley. But he wasn’t always for the money or the show; he dedicated precious time to serve his country in the military, too.
From 1958 to 1960, Elvis Presley served in the US Army, deciding to enlist at a time when his career was already starting to pick up. Since there was a lot of outrage as a result of his sexual performances and provocative lyrics, joining the army removed heat from the public’s sentiments towards him. Many religious leaders were appeased, and even though he was given an option to join in special services, he chose to enroll as a normal soldier.
Have you heard of insult comedy? That’s when comedians create laughter at the expense of the participating audience. Most of the time it is associated with toilet humor (aka, one of the best ways to get a quick laugh). One person who has mastered this is Don Rickles, also known as “The Merchant of Venom.”
This droll comedian served in the navy from 1944 through to his honorable discharge in 1946 after the end of the Second World War. He sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Papua New Guinea as a seaman first class aboard the USS Cyrene. He sailed where trouble loomed, including the Philippines, where he complained about the tropics being “so hot and humid, the crew rotted.”
Henry Fonda’s acting career spanned five decades. He made his debut in Hollywood in 1935, but he had sufficient experience as a Broadway actor. He appeared in popular films such as Tom Joad, and an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
During the Second World War, Henry Fonda enlisted in the US Navy as a seaman and got the first assignment in air combat intelligence. In his military career, he received a Bronze Star and a Presidential Citation. And before his discharge in 1945, he was awarded the rank of lieutenant.
Dan Rather is a familiar face, appearing on the CBS Evening News as a long-time anchor, and he’s also well-known among journalist circles. He liked to brag about his military service to his colleagues, some stories appearing so colorful and extreme that Bernard Goldberg took a serious effort to dig for corroborating evidence.
Rather said that he joined the marines twice, but records reveal that he joined the US Army reserve during the Korean War and signed up with the marines after he finished college. No record exists of him making it to basic training.
Chris Kyle is self-possessed, and when he moves you know the man is, quite simply, sure of himself. But don’t let his gorgeous looks deceive you because he is one of the deadliest snipers in American Military history. This man thrived on danger!
Kyle served a total of four tours of duty as a member of the Navy Seals. He fought in a lot of battles, and claimed a total of 255 kills (though, controversially, some have arisen to poke holes in his stories). His farthest shot was, he claims, over an incredible distance of 2,100 yards. For his bravery, he earned two silver stars and 5 Bronze Stars for Valor. He was shot twice in action, and survived 6 IEDs. Wow!
Unlike most celebrities in this list, Prince Andrew, brother of Prince Charles, is almost all about the military. So much so that you had to wonder if he still had enough time for social life on the side.
He was trained to fly the Lynx helicopter, and got deployed in the Mediterranean. In 1986, he advanced to become a helicopter warfare officer, and later on also served on HMS Edinburgh as an officer of the watch and assistant navigating officer until the year 1989. He achieved so much that he was appointed to senior pilot of 815 Naval Air Squadron in 1995. He ended his military career with the British Ministry of Defense as an officer of the Diplomatic Directorate of the Naval Staff in 2001.
Before stardom struck his acting career, Charles Bronson served as an aircraft gunner in the US Army air forces in 1943. During his time, he flew 25 different missions in B-29 bombers, and he was even wounded in action, which earned him the Purple Heart award.
In 1945, he was discharged from the army and, realizing that he had always wanted to be an artist and a Hollywood actor, he used his benefits to pursue his ambitions. As an actor, he was often casted as a police officer, vigilante, and gunfighter, all of which he fitted naturally.
Ted Williams was a patriot at heart who interrupted his baseball playing career to join the US Marine Corps during World War II for three years. He was also a famous Boston Red Sox Player who would go on to earn a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After the completion of his initial military service, his return to baseball was halted, as he returned to action from 1952 to 1953 as an aviator for the marine Combat unit during the Korean War. Although he was in the military for most of his time, he never lost his baseball skills, batting 342 with 38 home runs in 1946 after returning home.
American actor and filmmaker, Robert Duvall, actually comes from a military family. During his younger years, he referred to himself as an “army Brat” because he was always moving around from state to state, dragged along on the current of his father’s orders. Did you know that his father was an Admiral? A famous one at that. Duvall is a descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
After college, he decided to enlist in the US Army. He was a private first class for two years during the Korean War, and he liked to practice his acting while in the service. After his discharge, he then moved to New York, and enrolled himself in the Neighborhood Playhouse School, which opened a lot of doors for his career.
Paul Newman was a voice actor, film director, producer, race car driver, indy car owner, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. With all his numerous achievements in life, he still had more dreams: he wanted to become a pilot.
Newman joined the US Navy through a college training in Yale V-12, but his aspirations were a no-go. He was diagnosed as being color blind, and his dreams of taking flight abruptly crashed. Instead he became a rear-seat radioman and a gunner for the torpedo bombers. He was discharged in 1946 and decorated with military honors.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald is forever cemented in history as one of America’s finest writers. When World War I broke out, he dropped out of Princeton and joined the military, where he awaited to be shipped out from Fort Leavenworth. He still had not abandoned his dreams of being a successful writer, so he devoted his free time, while waiting for word from command, to working on his stories in the hopes of leaving a legacy, even if the war ended his life.
Fortunately, in 1918, the armistice was signed just before he was about to be shipped out. His most popular novel, The Great Gatsby, is now a classic in American literature.
How can we forget the ultimate villain in the new Star Wars franchise, Adam Driver? Apart from his chilling characterization of Kylo Ren, Driver also starred in the HBO hit series, Girls, further sealing his popularity as an actor.
Adam Driver’s military narrative started with the 9/11 terrorist attack. He was so moved by the tragic event, he felt he had no choice but to join the marines. His closest friends all agreed to the idea, but only he got through to actually serve in the effort against terrorism. An injury he sustained in his sternum during a mountain bike accident got him a medical discharge though, after two years of service, a blessing in disguise that led him to a new career in acting.
John Coltrane’s first recording on the alto saxophone was made in July 1946 while he was a member of the U.S. Navy. Coltrane had enlisted in the Navy on August 6, 1945, one day after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.
In late 1945, he was shipped to Pearl Harbor as an apprentice seaman. He joined the base swing band and became one of few servicemen in the Navy who served as musicians without having a musicians’ rating. Because the band had only white members, Coltrane played as a “guest performer.”
The popular host of The Price is Right and Who’s Line is it Anyway? got a foretaste to his stand-up career while serving the military. He served his time in the US Marine Corps, where he spent six years as a corporal. And big as he is today, he still supports the troops by touring overseas with the USO like a true patriot.
He admits that, had he not gotten a big break in his comedic career, he’d probably still be in the armed forces up to this day; a path he would still have been happy with. He loved the camaraderie... and now you know why he’s always maintained that clean-cut hair.
Harry Belafonte felt that he could be part of a great cause when he joined the navy, and in a way he still was. He courageously enlisted in 1944 to join the fight in World War II, but to his disappointment, he never received the order from higher command to report overseas. He never got to fight, although he had served the military in his own small capacity.
His dreams of action never realized, Belafonte decided to pursue his studies at the New School for Social Research just after he was discharged. He then studied acting at the New School’s dramatic workshop and performed with the American Negro Theatre in the 1940s, singing in clubs to earn enough to pay for his acting classes.
A lot of people would likely be disappointed if American actor Clint Eastwood hadn’t actually served in the military. Eastwood is the man’s man, the very image of rugged toughness, machismo epitomized. As no-one will be surprised to learn, he served in the US Army after being drafted straight from high school, during the Korean War.
But his military experience was limited as a lifeguard; not exactly the role you’d expect apropos his image. Most of his popular war movies reference what he saw at the time; and he saw a lot, just not as part of the fighting unit.
Aside from Charlie Chaplin, there were other slapstick comedians out there that made an impact on silent film history. Benny Hill was one of them. Do you guys remember The Benny Hill Show? That’s where he became known for being one of the best and funniest showmen ever, having reached a record audience of over 21 million people in 1971.
Did you know that before he became the jokester we all know and love, he served in the military? Hill served as an electrical and mechanical engineer for the British army. He was one of those who arrived in Normandy during WWII on September 1, 1944, although he’s quick to say he’d rather not talk about it.
Willie Nelson is a prominent figure in the American music industry, also widely recognized for his outlaw country music – a subgenre that developed in the late 1960s in revolt against the slick and (in Nelson’s view) overproduced quality of the prevailing Nashville sound.
He served in the US Air Force straight after completing high school, but was discharged after nine months due to a bad back. His experiences, however, did leave him with with a bit of wisdom pertaining to one’s social responsibilities; and this has made him an activist, promoting biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.
JD Salinger always found ways to write on the side, even after he was drafted by the US Army during WWII. Most of his books touch indirectly on his experiences as a Sergeant where he had many adventures and overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges, such as the storming of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and the uncovering of the ghastly concentration camps.
Salinger’s most famous book is The Catcher in the Rye. While it is not a military book, his life and writing was no doubt enriched by his personal experiences as a soldier. Grab the book and see through the eyes of his timeless character, Holden Caulfield.
American actor, Morgan Freeman, is known for his roles in films like Million Dollar Baby, and Street Smart... and, of course, for his calming voice that many now indelibly associate with the voice of God. What very few know, though, is how he voluntarily joined the USAF after high school and very quickly regretted that decision!
In 1955, Freeman enlisted because he loved war films and the idea of becoming a fighter pilot. He was so very passionate about it that he even turned down a scholarship to go to Jackson State University to study drama. He eventually became a radar technician, which he gratefully accepted after realizing that he was only in love with the idea of becoming a fighter pilot, but dreaded the job in reality.
Ed McMahon will always be linked with the phrase “Here’s Johnny” of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; a show that gave us such fond memories that it borders near the fantastic to think that McMahon had actually served in the military for 25 years prior to taking on his iconic new role. Yup! Ed McMahon was in the marines. In 1941, he enlisted and became a flight instructor.
He failed to see action with the Pacific Fleet after two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending the war; but he was reinstated when the Korean War erupted. He retired with the rank of colonel in 1966.
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)
Were you a fan of Green Eggs and Ham growing up? Or The Cat in the Hat? This all time favorite author was actually a military man. Dr. Seuss enlisted in the US Army voluntarily, leaving behind his rising career as an illustrator and children’s book writer.
He concentrated working on politically-charged cartoons instead, satirically aimed at American Isolationists like Charles Lindbergh, who tried to keep the US out of war, and the infamous Adolf Hitler. “While Paris was being occupied by the clanking tanks of the Nazis, and I was listening on my radio, I found that I could no longer keep my mind on drawing pictures of ‘Horton the Elephant.’ I found myself drawing pictures of ‘“Lindbergh the Ostrich.’” he said.
The age of rock ’n’ roll was left with an unfillable void when this rock star departed. Johnny Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, author, and guitarist. Having sold over 90 million records worldwide, he was primarily known for his unique country music; classic tunes that turned him into a music icon.
We bet you didn’t know he served time in the military, being the star that he was. It gets even crazier when you learn that he also became a spy, working dangerously to collect sensitive information for the government. In 1950, enlisted in the US Air Force, he was a Morse Code Interceptor for the 6910th Security Group in West Germany. His primary job was to intercept Russian military radio transmissions, and he was likely among the first to hear about the death of Joseph Stalin, well before it reached the rest of the world.
In his prime, let’s just say Carl Reiner was the guy who had it all. He’s got good looks, a wonderful sense of humor, and intelligence to boot. He’s known to us as the producer, writer, and actor of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and has been awarded nine Emmy Awards and a Grammy throughout his career.
Carl Reiner’s foray into the military was not out of his own will, although he did not feel forced to do it either. He was drafted into the US Army air force back in 1943, under an all-hands-on-deck policy. He performed his tasks diligently and was promoted to the rank of corporal.
The Price Is Right game show host used to be a US Navy pilot, and a very good one at that. He flew eight different types of aircraft while on active duty and was highly regarded by his peers as being among the very best.
In June 1943, after he completed his naval aviation cadet status, Barker reported for duty, where he was commissioned as an ensign. Over a period of 18 months, he was trained at eight different wartime locations, excelling nicely. He is one of those celebrities who has actually seen some real action and found he was a natural at it.
Before Pat Sajak started as host of the hit TV show, Wheel of Fortune, he was employed as a DJ for the armed forces radio. It wasn’t the experience he was looking for in active duty – having secretly been hopeful of more action – and this made him feel bad at times.
Sajak found it way too easy. He said “ I used to feel a bit guilty about my relatively soft duty. After all, I was billeted (lodged) in a hotel, and there were plenty of nice restaurants around. But I always felt a little better when I met guys who came into town from the field and thanked us for bringing them a little bit of home.”
One of the things that made Steve McQueen a genuine “king of cool” to his followers was his anti-hero persona. It drove girls crazy back in the 1960s and 70s, and his films were regularly flooded by fans, making them box office hits. Among his most popular films were Papillon, Bullit, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Great Escape, and The Cincinnati Kid.
To add some more spice to his already impressive status in showbiz, he was actually in the marines by age 17, joining the corps in 1947. But you’d be disappointed if you thought he’d enlisted out of patriotism because, in his own words, he “felt bored with hanging around and went and joined the marines.” He went AWOL and got 30 days in the Brig with a $90 fine.
American actor, James Stewart, wasn’t just another beautiful face in Hollywood. Before he made films that eventually became classics, Stewart enlisted before the US entered World War II as a US Army Air corp Soldier.
During his service, he was taught how to fly different types of aircraft before being transferred to England as the B-24 bomber squadron commander. He flew a total of 20 combat missions by the end of the war and was promoted to brigadier general in July of 1959. He continued to participate thereafter as a member the US Air Force reserve.
Starring in over 100 films throughout the course of his 60-year career, Charlton Heston was able to make a name for himself in Hollywood. He played the role of Moses in the Epic film The Ten Commandments, which would explain his aura of sophistication and passion for serving others. He enlisted in the army air force in 1942 and started off as a radio operator.
He made his way as an aerial gunner on a B-25 Mitchell, but never got combat experience, being assigned in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. This turn of events was much to his disappointment as he was eager to fight and contribute to the war effort during WWII.
Alan Alda is an American actor, director, screenwriter, comedian, and author who is well known for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the popular TV series, M*A*S*H. He has won several Golden Globe Awards, and Emmy Awards, and is beloved for his excellent acting skills and the popular characters he played, that have become synonymous with his friendly persona.
He joined the US Army reserve straight from Fordham University and served for six months in Korea as a gunnery officer just after the Korean War. It was because of his direct experiences there that he was able to fully embody his all-too-familiar role on screen where, as Captain Hawkeye Pierce, he played a medic stationed overseas in the Korean War.
Before Tony Bennett took to the stage, singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Stranger in Paradise,” and others that formed the soundtrack lovers of the era cooed to in dim and cosy corners, he actually sang for the military. In 1944, Bennett was drafted into the US Army and served in the “Blood and Fire” division in France and Germany.
He was demoted over an incident of insubordination, and was consequently transferred to special services, which later on proved to be for the best. With more idle time on his hands to develop his love of singing, he studied music before his repatriation to the United States, using his GI Bill to study voice.
The gentle, mild-mannered Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck, among many other affable characters, actually contributed special services to the US Military during the two world wars. He cheated his way into the first war by amending his birth certificate to qualify for the age requirement, and eventually served as a driver for the Red Cross, American Ambulance corps.
He was assigned to create propaganda cartoons and instructional videos in World War II, putting his talents to good use. It was a foretaste of his lifelong career. His role was so unique back then that they even named a special unit after him: the “Walt Disney Training Films Unit.”
Voted by People Magazine as both the “Sexiest Man Alive” and the “Sexiest Man of the Century” in 1999, Sean Connery was a true legend before passing away in late 2020. He will forever be known as one of the best James Bond actors in the history of the franchise but, of course, that’s just stating the obvious.
Sean Connery's smooth portrayal of Bond and the natural way he handled his weapon in the franchise is suggestive of previous experience and training. At 16 years old, he served in the Royal navy. This is where he learned the craft and his way around it, in the face of genuine hostility. He was taught all kinds of battle tactics, but he had struggled with his health for three years while serving his time, which is why he was eventually discharged. Luckily, he then discovered his love for acting and modeling and decided to pursue a new career.
Before Chuck Norris popularized the roundhouse kick, filled our childhood with innumerable Karate chops, and became a hero in the world of meme creation, he served in the military as part of the security police. This American martial artist, actor, film producer, and screenwriter joined the United States air force, which is where he first took an interest in enhancing his self-defense skills. Norris served the armed forces from 1958 -1962, and it was during those years that he earned many of the black belts that would later form the foundation of his career as an actor.
After his service, he also studied Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo, and eventually became a middleweight karate champion. He was untouchable, as it were, on the big screen and in real life.
Another one of Hollywood’s Veterans, Tom Selleck certainly has a weakness and passion for service. Known as an American actor and film producer, he rose to fame as a result of his role as private investigator, Thomas Magnum, in the television series Magnum, P.I. in the late 1980s.
Tom Selleck enlisted in the California National Guard in the 160th infantry regiment during the Vietnam war, and he was always rather proud of his service. He served from 1967 to 1973, and even after being discharged he still agreed to appear on California National Guard recruiting posters. Because he was also very passionate about his service, he was even quoted saying “I am a veteran, I’m proud of it. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.”
What do you know? Some of the action movies we watch are played by actors who’ve actually trained for real warfare. This is why fight scenes look like the real deal sometimes; or close enough that we wonder what makes it so. This gorgeous woman is not only famous for her starring role in the recent Wonder Woman remake, she also made a name for herself before her show business career started.
Gal Gadot enlisted as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, where she taught her fellow officers gymnastics and calisthenics. She was also a combat instructor. Serving as a soldier in the IDF is mandatory in Israel, but that’s besides the point. She’s now mostly grateful for how her military training played a special role in her breakthrough as an actress. She’s truly a Wonder Woman!