5 Hilariously Bizarre Early Careers of Famous People
Unless they're lucky enough to tumble out of a Kardashian, most people aren't born celebrities. Before your favorite actors, musicians, and TV personalities got their big break, they had to work for a living just like the rest of us schlubs. And for the most part, these were not romantic careers: waiting tables, pumping gas, artisting sandwiches, taming lions ...
Christopher Walken Started Out as a Lion Tamer
With one glance, you know that Christopher Walken has never had a normal life. You don't come out looking like a man-ferret and sounding like a bridge troll who received elocution lessons from the Lost in Space robot after a lifetime spent slinging horse meat at Arby's. So while it was certainly unexpected, we can't really say we were surprised to learn that Christopher Walken worked as a lion tamer in a traveling circus as a teenager.
He was also a clown as a child. Seriously. That's him.
Actually, he was more of a lion tamer's assistant -- not even Christopher "Makes Broadway Dance Moves Intimidating" Walken could leap, unharmed, directly into the mouth of a great cat straight out of junior high. But that doesn't mean he just did the sweeping up -- it only means that he trained one lion at a time instead of several. According to Walken, it was "more like a big dog than anything."
Think that's an understatement?
Walken found the position advertised in the help wanted section and applied simply because "I've always liked cats."
Young Walken, pictured here with other things he "likes."
That's like saying you jumped into the volcano because you do well with heat.
Apparently, most of the heavy lion wrangling was done by the owner of the circus, with Walken posing as his son. When the tamer was finished, he'd leave the teenage Walken alone with "Sheba" and Walken would crack his whip to make her do tricks. But as much as you'd like to envision Christopher Walken fighting a lion with nothing but a bit of fancy rope, it was all for show: In reality, Walken and Sheba were best friends. And that's ... actually way more fun to envision anyway. Get on it, screenwriters.
Here's one of Walken during his lion tamer days. You're welcome.
By the way, Christopher Walken isn't the only actor Hollywood dragged out of the circus ...
Pierce Brosnan Started as a Fire Eater
Pierce Brosnan was a damn fine James Bond in a series of god-awful James Bond films. But that wasn't so much Brosnan's fault as that of the writers who decided to give him an invisible car and have him fight Madonna. But being one-quarter badass and three-quarters ridiculous wasn't a new turn of events for Brosnan: He first got his start in showbiz by swallowing fire in the circus.
Circus work is one of the more dignified moments on his resume.
Brosnan was studying acting in London's Oval House Theatre as a youth when he happened to pass by a fire-eating workshop. While the more rational of us might have walked away from the class on how best to light your own face on fire, Brosnan saw that there was a bunch of topless women in the class and signed right up. Apparently, part of the act was that the participants would drag the flames across their bare chests, and wearing a bra just got in the way of things. So if you come away from this article with only one interesting bit of trivia, let it be this: Pierce Brosnan loves himself some flaming tits.
Eventually, his talents were noticed by the owner of a circus, who gave him a job and jump-started his career as an entertainer. Brosnan had no more use for the circus life after he started getting film roles, but he did get to display his fire-eating talents a few more times. He did it once in an episode of his pre-Bond TV show Remington Steele, and after GoldenEye, he was invited to do it again on an episode of The Muppet Show. Because breathing fire in a room full of cloth puppets and children couldn't possibly go wrong.
And go wrong it did.
The fact that he never killed anyone this way as 007 is a crime against cinema.
No, Pierce Brosnan didn't spit fire on Miss Piggy as the children screamed; the show's prop department gave him the wrong kind of fuel, so when he attempted the trick, he burned the inside of his mouth out. However, he carried on with his duties valiantly, even though he was dying inside. Much like he did on the set of Die Another Day.
Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs Was an Opera Singer
As the host of Dirty Jobs for seven straight years, Mike Rowe is the Bear Grylls of raw sewage. He has traveled the country, trying his hand at hundreds of the most unsavory occupations known to humanity. He's learned firsthand the dangers of skyscraper window cleaning, the drudgery of salt mining, and the finer points of castrating lambs with his teeth.
That's a pretty interesting career turn for someone who is, by profession, an opera singer.
Opera singing, oral lamb castration. Two sides of the same coin.
If you're having trouble imagining the Dirty Jobs guy busting out baritone Italian arias while dressed as a blushing Viking, just give this performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" a listen. Rowe's musical career didn't follow what you'd call a conventional trajectory: He initially had no interest in singing -- he wanted to be an actor. But he had a lot of trouble getting a union card, so he found a loophole. He could easily get his card if he did some work singing in the opera. But it's not like you can just go up to the opera master and be like "I want to opera, please."
This is clearly decades of training at work.
Wrong: Rowe practiced his chops for a bit, crashed a random audition, and bam! He was all rouged up and singing about murder in Italian faster than you can say Die Fledermaus.
So did he drop opera like a crusty sock as soon as he got his union card? Nope. Rowe stayed on in the Baltimore Opera Company for six years. Even after he got his first gig as a television host for the home shopping network QVC, he found a way to use his talents to move a few karaoke machines. Finally, he got his really big break and started swimming in raw sewage for a living.
We guess that's a step up?
It's at least a lateral move.
Jimi Hendrix Was the Worst Soldier Ever
Jimi Hendrix is arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, and no other artist is as symbolic of the anti-authoritarian movement of the '60s. Jimi was the most prominent Afro-sporting, paisley-wearing, patchouli-scented foot soldier of the counterculture movement.
He was also just a regular ol' foot soldier.
As you can tell, regulations were a big deal for him then.
To be fair, Jimi Hendrix only enlisted in the Army to avoid going to prison for driving around in stolen cars. To be even more fair, Hendrix's discharge papers paint him as being possibly the worst member of the armed forces in history. He smoked weed, slept in, missed bed check, stayed out all night, and spent his downtime frantically jerking it. No, seriously:
Some days, this job feels like a public service.
Those very official-looking papers state, in no uncertain terms, that Jimi Hendrix was basically an X-rated Beetle Bailey. They go on to say that not only was Hendrix caught masturbating, but he even carried on with it after the first witness went to get another soldier to come over and look. Although in this situation, we're not sure who's being creepier: the guy publicly disciplining the snake, or the guy who brought a friend over to watch. Luckily for fans of 15-minute guitar solos, Hendrix was eventually discharged from the Army due to a broken ankle after a parachute jump. We doubt most of his platoon missed him much, but we know at least two voyeuristic soldiers who were probably a little heartbroken that day.
James Lipton Was an Actual Pimp
You might know James Lipton from his time hosting Inside the Actors Studio, or perhaps as the warden from Arrested Development. But rewind back to postwar Paris and you would have found the soft-spoken, bespectacled man with the gentle smile on the streets of the red light district, slingin' ass to passersby.
That was not research for a role. James Lipton was straight-up pimpin'.
The literature is notably silent on whether he chased bitches like Tom chases Jerry.
In the 1950s, Lipton was a poor American youth living in Paris to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. Because that's what the city is most known for: its rigid bureaucracy. As he tells the story, one day Lipton was approached by two beautiful women who asked if he would like to watch them make love to each other. Lipton answered in the affirmative, because it is literally against the laws of physics for a man to answer that question in the negative.
Obviously the women were prostitutes, but it wasn't strictly the business of getting the business for Lipton. He became fast friends with one of the ladies, though he insists that they never slept together because -- get this -- he doesn't believe in prostitution. Apparently Lipton has an open mind, however. As soon as he fell on some hard times, his lady friend offered James a job as a pimp for the bordello she worked at, and he took it.
This man officially has more street cred than Lil' Wayne.
In Lipton's defense, he rejects the term "pimp" and prefers to refer to himself as a maquereau, because he didn't degrade, harm, or dominate the women. He was more like an agent. In Lipton's offense, a preliminary Google search reveals "maquereau" to be a colloquial French word for "pimp."
Related Reading: For some famous people "early career" meant not existing at all. Neither Mavis Beacon or Betty Crocker were ever real. If that bums you out, cheer up by learning about Tupac's start as a ballet dancer. Need more dirt on our rich and famous role-models? Click here!