30 Celebs You Didn’t Know Served In The Military
For many celebrities and stars, serving in the military has been the most honorable role they’ve ever taken on. Great artists like Jimi Hendrix, Bea Arthur, and Kirk Douglas all did their time in the military either at the height of their stardom or just on the cusp of it. Check out these 30 celebrities whose time in fatigues undoubtedly influenced their future work and pushed them to international recognition.
30. Elvis Presley
Two years after blowing up and becoming famous for “Hound Dog” the King of Rock and Roll was drafted into the army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. Of course, his arrival at the base became a massive media event. Hundreds of people greeted the rock king as he stepped off his bus and reported to duty. Presley told reporters at the time that he was looking forward to his military career saying, “The army can do anything it wants with me. Millions of other guys have been drafted, and I don’t want to be different from anyone else.”
29. Morgan Freeman
The future voice of God turned down a scholarship from Jackson State University to enlist in the United States Air Force in 1955. He served as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman and quickly rose to the rank of Airman 1st Class. He moved out to Los Angeles and got into the acting groove after four years of military. The actor still carries his military days with him; his service portrait made an appearance in the funeral service scene of his character in The Bucket List.
28. Paul Newman
Paul Newman’s big blue eyes were the ultimate double-edged sword. They did wonders for his acting career but color blindness prevented him from becoming the pilot he wanted to be when he joined the Navy. He eventually was pushed to take on the role of aviation radioman and aerial gunner. An ear infection that his pilot suffered kept Newman and his aircrew from heading to Okinawa where they all likely would have been killed.
27. Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix signed up for the Army in 1961, but it wasn’t necessarily by his own choosing. The famous guitarist had been caught stealing cars in Seattle and he was given two choices: either join the Army or go to jail. Hendrix soon headed off to the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served for one year before being discharged for what he claimed was a parachuting accident.
26. Adam Driver
Driver joined the United States Marine Corps shortly after the September 11 attacks and was given an assignment to the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines as an 81mm mortarman. After serving for two years and eight months without any deployments he broke his sternum on a mountain biking trip and was medically discharged before his unit was deployed to the Iraq War.
25. Drew Carey
Funnyman Drew Carey served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps before making a name for himself in stand-up comedy and becoming a household name with his own comedy sitcom, The Drew Carey Show.
24. Bea Arthur
The famous Golden Girls actress often denied being enlisted altogether, but early personnel files show the actress served as a truck driver and typist from 1943 to 1945. One document with her handwriting reads, “I heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so (I) decided the only thing to do was to join.” Arthur’s personality appraisal sheet for her division described her as both argumentative and frank.
Before he was Ice-T the hip-hop artist and a star detective on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the rapper was Tracy Marrow of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division. The actor joined the military right out of high school and served for four years.
22. Hugh Hefner
After finishing high school in 1944, the creator and publisher of Playboy magazine enlisted in the Army as an infantry clerk in World War II. While posted at Camp Adair in Salem, Oregon, and Camp Pickett in Virginia, the Playboy mogul contributed cartoons to Army newspapers.
21. Mr. T
Before Mr. T joined the A-Team, the actor signed up for one of the biggest teams of all: the U.S. Army. The actor enlisted in the United States Army after leaving school in the mid-70s and served in the Military Police Corps. In November of 1975 his drill sergeant wrote him a letter of recommendation and in a cycle of six thousand troops he was elected Top Trainee of the Cycle and promoted to Squad Leader. Way to go, Mr. T.
20. MC Hammer
Before he rocked the parachute pants, MC Hammer (AKA Stanley Kirk Burrell) joined the part of the military that rocked parachutes in the sky: the Navy. As an Aviation Store Keeper, 3rd Class, Hammer served three years in the military right out of college.
19. Zulay Henao
Zulay spent three years in the United States Army before deciding to try her hand at an acting career. Today, the star has been featured in various movies including Fighting, Takers, and has appeared on Grey’s Anatomy and Army Wives. Still, the actress credits a lot of her success to her time in camouflage and has said, “My experience in the army has affected how I approach my work as an actor. It gave me the opportunity to approach my dreams in a realistic way.”
18. Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks has won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony, but before he was snatching up awards as an actor he served as a corporal in the Army during World War II and was assigned to the Battle of the Bulge.
17. Chuck Norris
Before he was fighting crime as Walker the Texas Ranger. Chuck Norris spent time in the United States Air Force. He joined as Air Policeman in 1958 and was stationed in South Korea where he trained in Tang Soo Do which ultimately inspired him to create his own form of martial arts called Chun Kuk Do.
16. Gene Hackman
The future star of Unforgiven, The French Connection, and Hoosiers joined the Marines in 1946 at age 16 after breaking out his acting chops and lying about his age. He served four-and-a-half years as a field radio operator.
15. Clint Eastwood
After being drafted into the military during the Korean War, Clint Eastwood got the best of his training for his breakout role in Escape From Alcatraz when the bomber he was in crashed into the ocean near Point Reyes. Eastwood had been trained as a lifeguard and served as a swimming instructor at the time and so was able to make a three-mile swim to shore with the pilot in tow.
14. Dennis Franz
Four-time Emmy winner Dennis Franz was drafted after college into the Army and served 11 months in Vietnam with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. In an interview, Franz has said his time in the military was “–life-altering. I came back a much different person than when I left, much more serious. I left my youth over there.”
13. Montel Williams
Talk show host and motivational speaker Montel Williams enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. He has since said that his time as a lieutenant in the Navy helped him to discover his gift for public speaking. He served for 22 years.
12. Tom Selleck
The man with the world’s best mustache served as a soldier in the California Army National Guard way before he was starring in Magnum P.I as a private investigator. The Watts Riots sparked his call to duty in 1965.
11. Kirk Douglas
Actor Kirk Douglas received a medical discharge after suffering from war injuries but, before that, he served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and eventually became a Communications Officer in antisubmarine warfare.
10. Don Rickles
Before he was serving all the laughs as a comedian, Don Rickles served as Seaman 1st Class in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1946 during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy after his high school graduation and served as a torpedo boat tender in the Pacific.
9. Mickey Rooney
Actor Mickey Rooney briefly left his successful acting career to serve as a sergeant in Patton’s 3rd Army during World War II from 1944 to 1945 and earned a Bronze Star.
8. Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army during the early 60s and became a helicopter pilot and eventually completed Ranger School. He was stationed in West Germany during this time as a member of the 8th Infantry Division.
7. Carl Reiner
Well before the iconic comedian created one of TV’s most beloved shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show, he served in the military during World War II as a teletype operator and a French translator. He also found his legs as an actor and joined an entertainment unit where he toured the Pacific and performed for his fellow servicemen.
6. Pat Sajak
Long before he was teaming up with Vera to spin the Wheel of Fortune, the famous TV host was actually hosting the Armed Forces Radio Station as a DJ. He was sent to Vietnam in 1968 and often started his day with the words “Good morning, Vietnam.”
5. Tony Bennett
Crooner Tony Bennett joined the Army in 1944 during World War II. After basic training, the “Lady Is a Tramp” singer was assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division and served in France and Germany.
4. Bob Ross
The world’s favorite soft-spoken TV painter spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before teaching onlookers to paint trees with precision. He eventually retired with the rank of Master Sergeant. Of his time in the military, the gentle host once shared, “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it.”
3. Sunny Anderson
Future Food Network personality Sunny Anderson grew up as a military brat and eventually served her own time as an Air Force journalist and radio broadcaster for four years in the 90s. Her family’s military tradition of enlisting is what motivated the star to join the military ranks in 1993. Her experience ultimately paved the way for her own gig as a TV show host for Cooking for Real.
2. Robin Quivers
Quivers graduated from the University of Maryland in 1974 with a major in nursing. She joined the United States Air Force in July 1975, where she was appointed as a second lieutenant and entered active duty in 1976. By June 1978, she had moved up the ranks to captain and was eventually discharged a month later, though she remained a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, with no active duty until 1990.
1. Darva Conger
The reality star of “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire” was a nurse Staff Sergeant with the Air Force long before TV appearances got her on the cover of fellow veteran Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine.