5 Celebrities You Didn't Know Ass-Kicked Their Way to Fame
The next time you see a celebrity walking down the red carpet surrounded by scary-looking guys in black suits, pay attention to those muscleheads: One of them could become a bigger star than the jackass he or she is protecting. After all, it's happened before with former badass bodyguards-turned-beloved actors. For instance ...
Michael Clarke Duncan Was Biggie Smalls' Original Bodyguard the Night He Died
Michael Clarke Duncan is best known for playing the frankly adorable death row inmate in The Green Mile, and for uttering the immortal words "Don't you put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby" in Talladega Nights. He was a gift to the world of cinema, but before that, he was a gift to the world of bodyguarding. In fact, Duncan was so good at being a bodyguard that if he hadn't switched assignments one fateful night, his client Notorious B.I.G. might still be alive.
The shooter probably would have just kept driving if he saw those guns.
Duncan started out digging ditches in Chicago, where he was known as "Hollywood Mike" -- surprisingly, not because of a side job as a male stripper, but because he dreamed of being a famous actor. After participating in Disco Demolition Night at the former White Sox stadium in 1979, Duncan must have realized he had a natural talent for beating up drunk sports fans, because at some point he also started working as a bouncer. Duncan later moved to Los Angeles to try to break into movies, but found that people were much more willing to give him money for standing between them and bullets, so he worked as a bodyguard for people like Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and Martin Lawrence. Meanwhile, he picked up acting tips from those guys.
Thankfully he ignored the female fat suit suggestion.
One night, Duncan was supposed to guard rapper Biggie Smalls at a party but ended up trading him for R&B singer "Babyface" Edmonds with a co-worker. Duncan later said that if he had been with Biggie, he would have made sure not to seat him in the front of the car or near any windows -- the other bodyguard wasn't so particular, so Biggie sat in the front and was gunned down. After that, Duncan had two realizations: The first one was "I could have saved that man," and the second was "Fuck this job, let someone else get shot for rich people." So he immediately quit bodyguarding and started getting some acting gigs ... doing the same things he'd been doing before, only in front of a camera. He played nameless bodyguards and bouncers in movies like Bulworth and Night at the Roxbury.
He saved money as a starving actor by wearing the same shirt for two years.
However, while Duncan and his leopard thong were playing the big scary-but-sensitive black man in Michael Bay's Armageddon, he became pals with Bruce Willis, who showed him the script for The Green Mile and recommended him for the part of the big scary-but-sensitive black man in that movie. And that's when, at age 42 and after being a ditch digger, a drunk puncher, and a bullet taker, Hollywood Mike finally became a star. Sadly, he passed away last year, but not before getting to grab Tom Hanks' junk and punch Ben Affleck. He lived the dream.
Mr. T Was Muhammad Ali's Bodyguard
In the '80s, Mr. T was inescapable: He was on our TVs, our movies, our cereal boxes, and our PEZ dispensers. He was the envy of every celebrity. Just a few years before that, however, he was working for those same celebrities as the baddest bodyguard in the business. Anyone who wanted to get near the hottest figures of the era first had to go through this:
"Pity" is too soft a word.
Born Laurence Tureaud, the future Mr. T had a brief stint as a military policeman before deciding that wasn't dangerous enough and becoming a bouncer in Chicago. His job description included keeping drug dealers out of the clubs, breaking up fights, and starting new ones (he got in over 200 fights in this period). At this point he began collecting jewelry from misbehaving customers and sporting them over his body, until he ended up looking like that guy from The A-Te ... wait, never mind.
Tired of going to court to defend his actions of tossing drunks out of the club, T next went into bodyguarding. He started out protecting prostitutes and schoolteachers, but by the 1980s had worked his way up to the likes of Michael Jackson and Steve McQueen. See if you can spot the mohawk:
"Give me a sec. I dropped two tons of jewelry."
Was Mr. T guarding Muhammad Ali or Leon Spinks here? We actually don't know, because he worked for both of them at different times -- two of the toughest men on the planet, and they both needed T to protect them. He had pretty much already created the entire persona that made him famous by now: The "mohawk" was actually an African tribal cut, the gold chains represented his slave ancestors, and the "Mr. T" name was to force people to start calling him "Mister."
Now the bodyguard with the highest profile in the business, Mr. T also started entering competitions, including one for "The World's Strongest Bouncer." Part of the competition was boxing, and in all his bouts he would knock out all contenders within seconds. Interviewed by Bryant Gumbel before one of the fights, all T could say was "I just feel sorry for the guy who I have to box," spawning a catchphrase that would follow him around for the rest of his life. If that wasn't enough, Sylvester Stallone's casting director was watching the fight, and after seeing the gold-chained badass beat up a tougher guy than he was, Sly immediately called and asked him to play the villain in Rocky III.
"I'm gonna lay you flatter than your acting, sucka."
A year after Rocky III came out, T had his own show and his own cartoon, and he became one of the most iconic actors of the decade. He even went into "professional wrestling" for a little bit just for the hell of it, because he's goddamn Mr. T and he can do whatever he wants.
Terry Crews: From Expendable to The Expendables
Terry Crews played the muscular dude who shoots big firearms in The Expendables (you know the one), but he's also been the future president of the U.S. in Idiocracy, Chris Rock's sitcom dad in Everybody Hates Chris, and a bodyguard full of wisdom in HBO's The Newsroom. Also, in real life. In a little over 10 years, this guy went from scaring people for Ice Cube to playing Ice Cube's affable character on TV.
Crews grew up on the tough streets of Flint, Michigan, but found a way out thanks to his ability to constantly get tackled by other people and not die. He earned a football scholarship and played as a linebacker for the NFL for seven years, until work dried up. That's when he decided to move to Los Angeles to follow his dream of working in movies ... as a special effects artist. Besides playing football, his other hobby was drawing sci-fi landscapes and superheroes. That never happened, and with nothing else to do, Crews decided to become a human shield.
He played for the Chargers, so he was used to playing second banana to more popular Californians.
Crews became part of Ice Cube's personal security team, and this was back in the '90s, when Cube was still primarily known as a rapper and rappers couldn't drive to the corner without getting shot. On top of that, Crews also started getting security gigs on movie sets, because someone has to keep out all the psychotic fans and Sean Youngs. Since he was pretty much used to making a living beating up people anyway, a friend persuaded him to try out for a blatant American Gladiators ripoff called Battle Dome -- soon, Crews got his first part ever as an outrageous villain called T-Money.
We swear this was real, and not a fake 30 Rock show.
After that, Crews started getting little tough-guy roles in movies like Training Day (he's an uncredited gang member). However, his old rapper boss was so heartbroken that his favorite bodyguard had left that he apparently started giving him parts just to keep him around -- Crews was cast in Ice Cube's comedy Friday After Next, in which he was finally allowed to prove he could be funny. Since then, he's been in pretty much everything, from Norbit to David Lynch's Inland Empire to Arrested Development. He may still accomplish his dream of being a special effects guy one day. We're pushing for you, Terry.
Uh, metaphorically. You can handle any literal pushing better than eight of us combined.
Chuck Zito Guarded Jean-Claude Van Damme, Then Kicked His Ass
You might remember Chuck Zito as "Chucky the Enforcer" in five seasons of Oz or as Frankie Diamonds in Sons of Anarchy. For most actors, it would be a challenge to play a feared prison inmate or a violent biker, but Zito had a head start -- he's been both those things in his life, and more. He was actually in jail for six years and wasn't just a member of the Hells Angels -- he was the president of the New York chapter.
"Yeah, I think I can pretend to do this ..."
Years before becoming a TV star, Zito was just a laborer and an amateur boxer who really, really liked bikes. One day in 1979, he was at the New York Coliseum Bike and Car Show when the guest of honor, Robert Conrad (from The Wild Wild West and these '70s-tastic commercials), was mobbed by the public. Conrad's bodyguards couldn't handle the rush and, seeing the 6-foot built-like-a-fighter Zito, they yelled for help. Zito answered the call, kept the crowds at bay, and became a celebrity bodyguard in the process.
Zito eventually opened his own service, which he called Charlie's Angels, because he was an Angel and his name was Charlie (duh). Surprisingly, instead of a lawsuit from ABC, this got him plenty of celebrity clients -- first Liza Minelli's sister, then Minelli herself, and then other celebrities of increasing physical prowess (Michael Jackson, Sean Penn, Sylvester Stallone, Charles Bronson).
Who protected Sean Penn's girlfriend from him, though?
In 1983, Zito guarded Mickey Rourke, who responded by putting him in a movie as three different (non-speaking) characters. He slipped into Die Hard 3, True Lies, The Rock, and dozens of other films as a stuntman, and then he made the best move of his career: punching a former client. This guy:
Enjoying deh show?
Zito and Jean-Claude Van Damme were in a strip club together in 1998, when Van Damme said "Zito has no heart." Zito told the lady on Van Damme's lap to go sit somewhere else and then let loose a right jab and a left hook. Van Damme was left curled on the ground in the fetal position. Zito waited for him to get back up, but old friend Mickey Rourke intervened before anyone got killed. The fight brought him so much publicity that Zito said he should have beat up Van Damme 10 years earlier.
Not long after that, he got his big break when HBO cast him in Oz. His only condition? "I don't do rapes, and I don't get raped."
Fashion seems to be an exception.
Jesse Ventura Guarded the Rolling Stones, Then Honored Them as Governor
Jesse Ventura is known for being that famous wrestler guy who became that famous governor of Minnesota guy. However, Ventura's first brush with show business actually came in the late '70s, when he was one of the goons who had to keep the hordes of hysterical women away from these guys:
Back when "moves like Jagger" wasn't referring to possible hip dysplasia.
Before he even got to that point, the young Ventura had already been a soldier, a frogman, and a biker. At 18, right out of high school, he joined up with the Navy and did part of the training to become a SEAL, trekking through the desert frying acorns for food, getting locked in a box and waterboarded, and hunting the occasional Rastafarian alien warrior. He ended up becoming part of the Underwater Demolition Team and was stationed in the waters of southeast Asia during the Vietnam War (although he didn't see combat, possibly because combat was too scared to come his way).
"I actually had plenty of time to bleed."
After leaving the Navy, Ventura joined the Mongols, a club of motorcycle enthusiasts that he insists isn't a criminal gang, although the Department of Justice tends to disagree. He rose through the ranks of the organization until, in 1978, he injured his knee and decided to go into a quieter line of work -- getting shot for other people.
He spent the next few years working in security, guarding acts that came to tour his hometown in Minneapolis, which included Bob Seger, Rush, the Grateful Dead ... and, more than once, the Rolling Stones. Which, to no one's surprise, tended to be somewhat more interesting than guarding Seger. One time, Ventura was in the dressing room with the band's Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood when their manager came in and said "The POLICE are here!" Richards and Wood started flushing all their drugs down the toilet (or, in Richards' case, down his throat, which amounts to the same thing), when the door opened and in walked ...
... Sting and Stewart Copeland from the Police. Presumably at this point they said "Hey guys, got any drugs?"
After he got tired of being a bodyguard, Ventura followed the now typical "screen strongman to movie star to state governor" career path. Right after his inauguration in 1999, he had a reunion with the Stones, who were back performing in Minneapolis. Ventura congratulated Richards on still being alive, and Richards said to him, "So you used to bodyguard us ... and now you're the governor? Fuckin' great!" Ventura's first proclamation as governor was to unilaterally declare February 15 Rolling Stones Day. Because, well, who was going to stop him?
Rolling Stones Day was later suspended after 700 people overdosed on the first one.
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't busy getting intimidated by nightclub bouncers, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line. Menezes is a writer and layout editor here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter.
Related Reading: Celebrities have a way of surprising us. Sometimes in a bad way, like learning John Lennon was an abusive asshole who hit women. Sometimes in a good way, like learning Jimmy Stewart took a break from acting to bomb the Nazis. Most of the time we just give them more hate than they really deserve.