11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses
One of the small comforts of watching a movie is knowing that, yeah, those guys might be idols up on the big screen, but off-camera they're probably just like the rest of us: 30 pounds overweight, living in an abandoned semi-truck cab and selling weed for denture money.
But every now and then, we come across actors whose real lives are even more incredible than their fake ones. Like ...
If there's one thing that Han Solo is really good at, besides stupid ear-piercing decisions, it's being America's favorite aging action hero.
The assumption, of course, is that in real life, Harrison Ford is nothing like the smooth operator he plays in movies, especially after we get a gander at that screaming midlife crisis of an ear hole up there. And especiallyer after watching Ford high times it up on Conan a few weeks back. Clearly, the real-life Harrison Ford is one part crotchety fuddy-duddy, two parts on weird old people medicines and three parts in the grave.
Sure you've flown a blimp Harrison Ford.
Ford is the real-world Han Solo, if Han Solo piloted helicopters, worked for free and actually liked helping people.
"Look, Your Worshipfulness, a friend in need is a friend indeed."
Twice Ford has used his helicopter to come to the rescue of real-world hikers in distress, once by saving a woman on top of an Idaho mountain and once by joining a search and rescue mission for a 13-year-old Boy Scout lost in the woods. And out of all the people on the mission, Ford was the one who found the kid. In both cases, he volunteered his helicopter and piloting services free of charge, and also made himself available to the sheriff for future emergencies, undoubtedly prompting lonely middle-aged women all over the American Northwest to suddenly take up the sport of ill-planned hiking trips.
It turns out Ford has been piloting since the 90s, and just about every time he comes near an aircraft, glorious things happen, even the time he crashed his helicopter and then walked away without a scratch. He's personally flown Special Olympics athletes to their competitions, and he oversaw an airlift of volunteers and supplies to Haiti for Operation Smile.
Having Han Solo step out of the rescue chopper that just saved your life is not the most mind blowing helicopter related encounter you can have with Mr. Ford. If you throw a candy wrapper out your window while driving along the Hudson River, it's entirely possible that you will round the bend to find a pissed off Harrison Ford blocking traffic in his helicoptor. See, on top of those nice-guy jobs, Ford straight polices the Hudson River, using his helicopter to catch polluters. Beat that, Luke Groundwalker.
How that helicopter remains airborne while carrying Ford's testicles remains a mystery..
Samuel L. Jackson
Being more pimp than the characters you play is easy when your most famous character is, say, a belligerent office worker. Not so much when you're best known as Jules Winnfield, paid assassin and B.A.M.F. Just the badassery it takes imagining the kind of life that would out-awesome Jules is a feat in itself. Your brain grows a Jherifro and starts threatening your other organs with violence in the effort. So for us to say that the real Samuel L. Jackson is more hardcore than Jules Winnfield, you know we've got to have some big guns to back it up.
Most men look foolish with a wallet like that. Jules just looks honest.
Jackson was a militant member of the Black Power movement. And kind of a terrorist.
When we say "militant," we're not just talking about beret wearing and outstretched fist posing. We're talking about the definition of "militant" that involves weapons and violence. Like many others in the 1960s, Jackson started out on the Jedi/MLK side of the civil rights movement. But after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson switched to the dark side -- the side that decided peaceful integration with whitey was off the table.
In 1969, Samuel Jackson and his angry buddies held members of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees hostage in exchange for changes in the college curriculum and school governance. Apparently, kidnapping people to get what you want is kind of effective, because Morehouse actually did initiate some of the captors' ideas.
You expected them to say "no"?
Jackson and crew were, of course, expelled. But that was OK, because Jackson used his time away from college to go to Black Panther University with Honorary Prime Minister Stokely Carmichael as his professor. And that was when the FBI started investigating Samuel L. Jackson and family, which thoroughly spooked Mr. Jackson, and motivated him to get back on the straight and narrow.
At least until he got addicted to crack, but that's another story for another day.
Specifically, the day corporate approves our "Better Living Through Crack" ad campaign.
As the guy who played Dracula, Count Dooku and Saruman, Christopher Lee is undoubtedly the horror movie god of the 20th century. At 6 feet 4, he's fear in human form, yet he's probably old enough to have fathered your grandfather.
And your father.
Christopher Lee was once a member of Britain's Special Operations Executive, aka the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
The group was an A-Team-esque crack commando unit tasked by Winston Churchill himself to "set Europe ablaze." The team included Christopher Lee, Ian Fleming and no freaking joke, the entire James Bond universe. The full extent of Lee's "ungentlemanly" actions remain classified to this day, and perhaps for good reason.
As cool as it must be to have more than 260 films under your belt, a Guinness World Record for Tallest Leading Actor and proficiency in seven languages, not to mention a freaking knighthood, Christopher Lee's greatest real-life accomplishment is probably the metal album featuring himself as his great-great-ancestor Charlemagne ... which he recorded at age 87.
Before making his mark as Snake Plissken and the Big Trouble in Little China guy, Kurt Russell was actually one of the most successful child stars ever. In fact, one Disney executive called Russell the studio's biggest star of the 70s. So, already Kurt has two strikes against his making this list: one, he's known as an action star, which is hard to beat in real life, and two, he was groomed to be a Disney pretty boy.
At the same time Russell was working through his 10 year contract with Disney studios, he was also working on becoming a real-world Chuck Norris. Let's compare Russell's resume with, say, Hannah Montana's.
He played some Minor League Baseball in his youth, where he somehow maintained a .586 batting average before he was retired because of injury.
He holds an unhealthy love of baseball to this day.
He was a race car driver and won six national championships and one world championship "as a kid," which we imagine is enough to register someone as "badass for life" according to any child's criteria.
Oh, and one last thing. His name was the last thing ever uttered by Walt Disney.
It turns out that one of, if not the last thing Disney did before dying in 1966 was scrawl the name "Kurt Russell" (then a child star who had already signed with Disney) on a scrap of paper. We're not sure what that means, other than that Russell clearly murdered Disney with his mind-wizard powers and that Disney tried to tell us.
Creed Bratton (aka Creed from The Office)
Among the many reasons to love The Office is the character Creed Bratton, who is named after the real person, Creed Bratton, who is also the actor playing the character. If you've never watched the show, Bratton is both shady and malevolent, and every time he opens his mouth, something horrible and shocking comes out.
He doesn't always have to open his mouth.
The character is intentionally mysterious, but viewers do know that this upper-end-of-middle-aged man dabbles in drugs, may or may not be homeless and has had multiple affiliations with cults.
Bratton was once a guitarist for 1960s folk band The Grass Roots. Check out "Stripes" at 1:48:
So when someone over at The Office had the brilliant idea of basing Creed Bratton, the character, on Creed Bratton, the unreformed hippie badass, they weren't just whistlin' Dixie.
The character is a fictionalized version of a life hard-lived, one in which the real Bratton hitchhiked across America and sailed to Europe with just $25 in his pocket, then spent years traveling through the Middle East and Africa.
And maybe miming?
And don't forget that The Grass Roots weren't just some rinky-dink little folk band singing for funsies and shroom hits in the Village. The Grass Roots were HUGE, like, bigger-than-The-Lovin'-Spoonful-but-not-quite-as-big-as-The-Byrds huge. They toured with Janis Joplin, for crap's sake. Finding out Bratton was once in a band so big is like finding out Steve Carell is really Bob Dylan.
Bratton's story gets better when you find out he wasn't born Creed Bratton at all. He was actually born William Charles Schneider and changed his name after waking up from a night of drinking ouzo and finding a scrap of paper with the name "Creed Bratton" on it. And several other names scratched-off. For all we know, the scratched off names were the previous night's murder victims. But Bratton's best rock star story comes when he describes taking acid for the first time:
My hands started melting, and I heard someone, a disembodied bass voice, saying "Play, play." And I saw notes, like cartoon notes, drifting from staff paper through the air until they fell to the floor and broke into pieces.
Rock on, Creed Bratton. Rock on.
Not only can Arnold Schwarzenegger count himself among the handful of performers who have successfully transitioned from sports to show business, he can also boast of being one of a few humans to transition from show business to politics. And of those, he's the only one who left a leading-man, multimillion-dollar career to do it. And he didn't walk away from his career just to play at mayoring Poshville, USA, either. Schwarzenegger took on the most populous state in the country while its economy was knee-deep in the crapper. Who else is even in his category?
Not pictured: The fucking Terminator.
It's so easy to think of Schwarzenegger as the goofy action star with the accent that you forget the bizarre, tangled and somewhat insane path he took to dominate three completely separate professions.
When he was born in Austria, his dad was coming off having just fought in World War II -- for the Nazis. At age 14, when most of us still owned toys and were fighting our personal battle with acne, he hatched a plan to become, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He started training to be a bodybuilder. The gym was closed on weekends. No matter; he would break in.
He even learned ballet.
At 18 he was drafted into the Austrian army. He went AWOL to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe bodybuilding contest. He won, then they threw him in jail. He got out and proceeded to win Mr. Universe at age 20. That's when he hatched the second part of his plan: Go to America and become hugely famous as an actor.
Oh, he could barely speak English, so there was that little thing to overcome. His first film role was so unintelligible they had to have another guy dub over his lines. And they changed his unspellable name to "Arnold Strong," which we kind of think he should have kept.
Along with the toga.
But here's where the story gets downright creepy. See, Schwarzenegger studied two subjects when he was a teenager: bodybuilding and psychology. And when you watch his 1970s bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, you suddenly see how this Austrian nobody climbed his way to the top of, well, everything he ever tried. The man is a master manipulator.
From the way he subtly trashes an opponent in front of the man's own parents, under the guise of a friendly conversation, to the way he ruins another opponent's performance by convincing him to scream like a maniac while posing for judges, Arnold comes off like a goddamned bodybuilding Hannibal Lecter. Check out Arnold's monologue starting at :32:
After bragging about giving the competition the "wrong advices," Arnold goes on to win the whole shebang, which he celebrates by eating fried chicken and smoking a doob.
Only in America.
TV chef Julia Child was a huge presence in American homes from 1963 until the 1990s, and her warm persona infected pop culture like a raging case of elderly bedbugs. Everyone loved her.
Except for chickens.
If you've never actually watched the real JuliaChild in action, you totally should. Because the first thing you realize is that she was, hands down, the most awkward woman to ever set foot in front of a camera, and that's counting Sofia Coppola. She was stooped and sweaty, fraught with awkward pauses and clumsy mishaps. Julia Child was like your favorite drunk aunt, if your drunk aunt could make a mean creme brulee.
Julia Child was a secret agent during World War II.
When World War II started, she had a serious hankering to join the war effort, but at 6 feet 2 she was too tall for both the WACs and the WAVES. Because, apparently, prior to the 1950s, tallness in women was believed to be a symptom of Nazi sympathies. Undeterred, she joined the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, instead. And the OSS, which was the grandpappy of the CIA, had plenty of use for the future French chef.
Gen. Eisenhower couldn't get out of bed without his breakfast lobster.
Right off the bat, she was promoted from clerk to working with the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, and those guys were dealing with a unique problem. It seemed that downed planes, pilots and underwater bombs had this bad habit of attracting sharks. While it sucked that sharks were eating pilots and all, it really sucked when sharks detonated missiles intended for German U-boats. Child and her team were charged with making that nonsense stop.
She discovered that dead sharks secrete a sulfur compound that live sharks can't stand, so they extracted dead shark juice and put it in pellet form, which pilots and sailors carried with them while traveling over the ocean. They also figured out a way to coat underwater bombs with the sauce so sharks would stop bumbling Nazi-killing with their stupid meddling.
That's right. Before she was a TV cook, she worked as a Shark Frightener.
As an actor, Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis has won two Academy Awards and blown the mind of anyone who ever enjoyed a milkshake with his Kubrick-esque portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.
His was the face that launched a thousand memes.
We're actually not sure if he's badass or just insane. Daniel Day-Lewis never met a role that he didn't become in real life.
Boxer, butcher/street brawler, wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer, last Mohican, Puritan preacher, all of them. He became all those things. For the 1997 film The Boxer, for example, he trained with former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan, who later remarked that Day-Lewis "could have turned professional" by the time their training was over.
It's really tough to figure out at which point he is acting.
For his performance as Christy Brown in My Left Foot, Day-Lewis refused to leave his wheelchair and had to be spoon-fed by the crew. For The Last of the Mohicans, he lived off the land for six months. He slept in an abandoned jail and ate only prison food for In The Name of the Father. For The Crucible, he "lived in the film set's replica village without electricity or running water" and built his character's house using 17th-century tools.
This man has spent a lot of time pooping in the woods.
The dude actually worked in a butcher shop to prepare for the character Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, caught pneumonia after refusing to change out of his period clothing and spent most of his time off-camera sharpening knives, which he learned how to throw with deadly accuracy. While still in character and, from the sound of it, in costume, Daniel/Bill the Butcher reportedly traipsed about picking fights with strangers during the filming of Gangs of New York.
That pipe ended up in some thugs colon more than once.
Even if you're too young to recognize the name Robert Mitchum, you'll probably recognize his voice:
... and you'll definitely recognize his knuckles:
While his contemporaries were content playing pretty boy leading men, Mitchum built a career perfecting the gritty anti-hero, kind of like Humphrey Bogart, but with a much longer career. In fact, we always think of Humphrey Bogart as the quintessential film noir detective Philip Marlowe, but Mitchum played the detective twice, which by the way is twice as many times as Bogart. His most famous character, however, was serial killer Rev. Harry Powell, the guy with the love/hate knuckles up there. Mitchum's portrayal of the evil Rev. Powell was so memorable the character was voted the 29th-greatest villain on AFI's top 100 Villains list.
Landing on a list like that is going to be hard to beat. But Mitchum sure did try.
Mitchum escaped from a chain gang as a 14-year-old kid.
Like a lot of other kids during the Great Depression, Mitchum ended up on the road, riding the railroads and playing the hobo until things got better. Unfortunately, sometimes that meant getting arrested for vagrancy, and sometimes getting arrested meant getting shackled to real criminals and sent out into fields to work.
The bad news was that when the state needed more labor, authorities were known to make up charges to keep prisoners in their employment indefinitely. The good news was that the chains were slipped off the workers' ankles while they worked. So when Mitchum was sent to work on a new Georgia road bordering a swampy forest, he hightailed it to the trees. And made it.
This man's life was a "How-To" guide for Badass.
But being a real-life fugitive from a chain gang was only one chapter in his crazy life. In the next chapter, he boxed as a semipro and ghost-wrote for a celebrity astrologist. In the one after that, Mitchum went blind, but then recovered. The best chapter was the one where Mitchum was one of the very first celebrities arrested for marijuana possession, and was arrested at a "reefer resort." Here's the picture of him doing his 60 days of jail time:
The arrest didn't hurt Mitchum's career at all, even though smoking weed was the 1940s equivalent of shouting racial slurs into a live mic today. In fact, all of his biggest roles were still ahead of him at this point, officially making Mitchum the most successful pot-smoker, chain gang fugitive, former hobo and vocal representation for beef of the 20th century. RIP, Mr. Mitchum.
Audrey Hepburn is remembered by the world over for her beauty, elegance and damn-near mastery of the fine art of class. She was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador before it was popular, a true humanitarian and one of the greatest actresses of all time. Also, she looked like this.
Hepburn worked for the Dutch Resistance by transporting secret messages in her ballet slippers.
While a ballerina in Nazi-occupied Europe young Ms. Audrey Kathleen Ruston was actually an agent for the Dutch Resistance and she performed in a series of secret ballets called "black performances" to raise money for the rebels and their underground war against Hitler.
His only weakness was ballet. And maybe Russia helped a bit.
In one instance, she was actually rounded up by the Germans and forced into a truck, but narrowly escaped when the Nazis pulled over. Another time, she volunteered to rendezvous with a British paratrooper hiding in the forests of Arnhem. Her cover: Go on a stroll through the woods "innocently picking wildflowers," which she used to successfully bribe a German soldier with who later questioned her.
That's right, young Audrey Hepburn outfoxed the fucking Wehrmacht ... through cuteness.
Could you say "no" to those eyes?
You know Mel Brooks as the genius behind Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and as one of the few guys who has actually achieved the elusive EGOT.
He also made this film, which some would argue was just as great an achievement.
If you were ever a fan of Mel Brooks the writer/producer/director/actor/songwriter, well, say hello to Corp. Melvin Kaminsky, the war hero.
The man behind Spaceballs: the Flame Thrower.
Brooks enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 to fight in World War II. His job? Combat engineer, which meant it was his duty to defuse landmines for the fucking coalition army behind him in a hurry to liberate Europe.
Starring Mel Brooks as himself.
As a Jewish guy battling the Nazis, Brooks found that taunting his enemies was just as cathartic as defusing their bombs. For example, after the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans set up loudspeakers to pump Nazi propaganda out to Allied soldiers. Brooks responded by setting up his own loudspeakers and performing Jewish singer Al Jolson's music for his enemies. Even though it may not have had the same punch as "Springtime for Hitler," coming from Mel Brooks ... burn.
For more famous badasses, check out 7 Celebrities Who Had Badass Careers You Didn't Know About and 5 Authors More Badass Than The Badass Character They Created.
These men -- these hallowed leaders of the free world -- want to kick your ass. And only Daniel O'Brien can help, with How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country!