25 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Served In The Military
When we think ‘celebrity’, we tend to imagine a stereotype: of privileged showbiz types, who never worked a real job in their lives, and who had fame and fortune handed to them on a plate.
Of course, while this stereotype is true of some celebs, it didn’t work out that way for all of them.
No, some celebs actually had to work to get to where they are now. They waited tables, washed dishes and generally did the kind of jobs that we’d all hate to do.
There are some celebs that actually went further than most of us in the tough job stakes, however. For certain movie stars, comedians, rock musicians and superstar rappers, the military was the first port of call on the path to fame.
Below are 25 celebrities whose pre-fame jobs included a surprising stint serving their country.
25. Alexander Skarsgard
Swedish actor, who first became widely known for starring as Scandi vampire Eric Northman in True Blood. Hunk.
Since appearing in the HBO series, Skarsgard has starred in films such as The Legend of Tarzan and Mute, as well as two more acclaimed TV shows, The Little Drummer Girl and Big Little Lies. He won a Golden Globe for the latter.
In Sweden, where Skarsgard was born and raised (by actor father Stellan Skarsgard), serving in the military is mandatory.
In 1995, aged 19, Skarsgard began his national service. He served for 18 months in the Swedish military’s anti-sabotage and anti-terrorism unit, in Stockholm.
24. Morgan Freeman
National treasure and velvet-voiced actor probably best known for The Shawshank Redemption. Sounds like how you imagine God would sound.
Having starred in other major films including Unforgiven, Seven and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Freeman finally won an Oscar in 2005 for his performance in Million Dollar Baby.
In 1955, following his graduation from high school, Freeman passed on a drama scholarship to Jackson State University and instead elected to serve.
Freeman signed up for the United States Air Force, taking the role of Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman. He left the USAF an Airman 1st Class.
23. Adam Driver
Former Girls star, now familiar to a whole new generation of Star Wars fans as Kylo Ren, villain of the latest trilogy in the franchise. Tall beyond belief.
Driver has also appeared in a range of acclaimed films in recent years, including Lincoln, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, BlacKkKlansman and Martin Scorsese’s Silence.
Far from being an acting obsessive from a young age, Driver was still uncertain about just what to do with his life when he signed up for the Marine Corps in 2001, aged 18.
Driver joined the Marines after 9/11, serving for two years and eight months before being medically discharged after breaking his sternum.
Jamaica-born singer who first emerged on the music scene in the 1990s with the single Oh Carolina.
Shaggy followed this with hit songs such as Boombastic, Angel and the utterly immortal It Wasn’t Me.
In 1988, at the tender age of 20, Shaggy – then still known by his real name, Orville Richard Burrell – joined the Marine Corps.
Reaching the rank of lance corporal (though he was busted twice for going AWOL to perform at gigs), Shaggy fought in the Gulf War as part of a Field Artillery Battery.
21. Clint Eastwood
Hollywood legend and one of the most popular film stars of all time, with at least one blockbuster movie to his name in every decade since the 1960s.
Beginning as a western star with the Dollars trilogy, Eastwood over time has moved full-time into directing. His films as director include Unforgiven, Gran Torino and American Sniper.
At the age of 21, after his plan to get into university failed, Eastwood was drafted into the US Army.
The year was 1951, and America was at war in Korea, but Eastwood was never sent overseas to fight. Instead, he was made a lifeguard at Fort Ord in northern California.
20. Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Terminator, then the Governator, an unlikely movie star who later became the unlikely Governor of California.
In his almost five decades of making movies, Schwarzenegger has made such classics as The Terminator, Predator, Total Recall and True Lies.
At the time that Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the Austrian military in 1965, service was mandatory.
Schwarzenegger’s service saw him drive an M47 tank, but his mind was often elsewhere: he once spent a week in military prison after he went AWOL to compete in a bodybuilding competition.
19. Jimi Hendrix
A rock music icon whose unique style of guitar-playing changed music forever.
A pioneer of psychedelic music, Hendrix personified the late 1960s with such tracks as The Wind Cries Mary, All Along the Watchtower and Voodoo Chile.
Hendrix didn’t join the army all that honourably: charged with joyriding, it was a choice between serving with the forces or serving a term in prison. Hendrix chose the former.
Hendrix would never be a model soldier – he was considered a poor marksman and would sometimes sleep on duty – and would be discharged as soon as officers could force him out, on the grounds of ‘unsuitability’.
Highly meme-able rapper, actor and music producer, who first came to prominence in the 80s as a hip-hop star.
Ice-T has gold and platinum records to his name, but today he focuses on the acting, with a starring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since 2000.
In 1977, strapped for cash and with the birth of his daughter making things even tighter, Tracy Lauren Marrow decided to join the US Army.
In total, Ice-T served for two years and two months, but his time in the army wasn’t always spent wisely: it was here where Marrow took an interest in hip-hop, and also where he first learned how to be a pimp.
17. Hugh Hefner
Businessman, Playboy founder, player and perpetual wearer of smoking jacket and sailor’s hat combo.
When Hefner died in 2017, aged 91, he had become a (controversial) legend in the world of celebrity.
In 1944, at the tail-end of WWII, Hefner joined the US army, but he would see out his service until 1946 as a noncombatant.
Instead, Hefner would serve as an infantry clerk and work as a cartoonist for military newspapers, laying the groundwork for his post-military career as a media tycoon.
16. Willie Nelson
Icon of country and blues music, eternal hippy and legendarily proud smoker of marijuana. Friend to both Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.
Now 85-years-young, Nelson is still touring, as he has been for the past six decades.
Back when he was still a clean-cut Texan just trying to figure out his place in the world, a 17-year-old Willie joined the US Air Force, in 1950.
Nelson only lasted roughly nine months in the USAF, at which point a back injury forced him to resign.
15. Stan Lee
Comic book hero, Marvel mastermind, the man behind such characters as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America.
Most recently sealing his legend by cameoing in the Marvel movies, Lee sadly passed away in 2018 aged 95.
Before he formed Marvel with Jack Kirby, Stan Lee drew ‘toons for the army, entering service in 1942 just as the US joined in the fun for WWII.
At first, Lee worked with the Signal Corps making repairs, but was soon transferred to the Training Film Division, where he wrote manuals, made training films and sometimes drew cartoons.
14. Gal Gadot
Gisele Yashar in the Fast and Furious films, one of many villains of Triple 9, but you’ll best know her as Wonder Woman.
Before she made a Hollywood career for herself, Gadot was a model in her native Israel. She won the title of Miss Israel aged 18.
As an adult, Gal Gadot went from Burger King, to Miss Universe contestant, to member of the Israeli Defence Forces.
In Israel, military service is mandatory. Gadot began her two years of service aged 20, after she’d won the Miss Israel competition, enlisting as a combat instructor.
13. Jeff Bridges
Eternally cool actor, who made his name in 1971’s The Last Picture Show, won his Oscar for Crazy Heart and bettered John Wayne in the 2010 remake of True Grit.
Still, Bridges is probably best known as Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, the perma-chilled stoner star of cult 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski.
Jeff Bridges didn’t always wear his hair long and his beard bushy; he couldn’t, as a member of the US Coast Guard.
Bridges actually served in the Coast Guard Reserves for eight years, from 1967 to 1975, before acting became his full-time gig in his early 20s.
12. The Queen
The current serving British monarch, Elizabeth II has reigned supreme since 1953, with incorrigible seatbelt-less driver Prince Philip by her side.
Often cited as an example of what’s wrong with a society divided between the very poor and very rich, HRH is a big fan of corgis, crowns and presumably The Crown, providing Harry’s letting her use his Netflix account.
Oh those royals, they never lift a finger, right? Well, at least in Queen Liz’s case, wrong.
Towards the end of WWII, as soon as Elizabeth turned 18, she enrolled in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, against her father the King’s wishes. She trained as a driver and mechanic.
11. Michael Caine
British actor. Has won two Oscars. Blew the bloody doors off in The Italian Job and enacted terrible revenge in Get Carter. King of the cockneys, surely.
To newer generations, Caine is best known as Christopher Nolan’s muse, appearing in all of the Dark Knight filmmaker’s movies since 2005.
Now 86, Michael Caine is old enough to have lived both through WWII and served in the Korean War.
From 1952 to 1954, Caine served in the Royal Fusiliers as part of his national service, seeing life-threatening action in Korea that stayed with him for life. He’s second from left in the photo above.
10. Mr T
80s icon, wearer of copious bling, star of the A-Team and fighter of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III.
Nowadays, Mr T is still pitying the fool, albeit mostly as a TV guest star and the aggressive face of Snickers.
After high school, and after he was expelled from university in his first year, Mr T – then better known as Laurence Tureaud – enlisted to serve.
Serving in the Military Police Corps, Mr T was apparently an exemplary soldier, one time elected top trainee out of 6,000 troops and eventually being promoted to squad leader.
9. Gene Wilder
You’ll know him best as Willy Wonka, or as the star of such Mel Brooks classics as The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
In 2016, Wilder died aged 83, leaving an unparalleled comedy legacy in his wake.
Following university and a period studying acting in England, Wilder was drafted into the US Army aged 23.
From 1956 to 1958, Wilder served with the medical corps, ultimately becoming a paramedic stationed at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania.
8. Richard Pryor
Comedy legend, one of the greatest standups of all time, and regular comic partner of Gene Wilder.
When he died in 2005, Pryor had cemented himself as one of America’s all-time funniest funnymen.
From 1958 to 1960, Pryor served in the Army, though he didn’t spend his time doing much of what you might call ‘service’.
While on duty in West Germany, Pryor stabbed a white soldier in a racially-charged incident. He spent most of his two years of service in military prison as a result.
7. Sean Connery
The original James Bond, a knight of the realm since 2000 and People magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Century for the years 1900 to 1999.
Now 88, Connery is retired from acting, but with such classic films as The Man Who Would Be King, The Untouchables and The Rock – not to mention six Bond movies – under his belt, what more could he have left to prove?
After working as a milkman in Edinburgh, Connery joined the Royal Navy aged just 16, in 1946.
Serving for three years, Connery was medically discharged in 1949 for a duodenal ulcer.
6. Leonard Nimoy
He directed hit 80s film Three Men and a Baby and starred in the 1978 sci-fi remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but let’s not beat around the bush: he’s Spock.
Starring in two seasons of Star Trek as well as eight Trek movies, Nimoy passed away in 2015 at the age of 83.
For 18 months beginning in 1953, Nimoy served in the United States Army Reserve.
Enlisting aged 22, Nimoy was with the Army Special Services, where he was responsible for shows for the troops. He left the army as a sergeant in 1955.
5. Bea Arthur
Tony- and Emmy-winning actress who starred on major US sitcom The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992.
When Bea Arthur died in 2009, aged 86, she had become one of America’s most beloved TV stars.
In 1943, at the height of WWII, Arthur enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
Arthur served as a typist and truck driver until 1944, eventually earning the rank of staff sergeant, at which point she was honorably discharged.
4. Don Rickles
Legendary funny guy, who performed consistently on the comedy circuit from the 1950s up until his passing in 2017.
Before he passed aged 90, Rickles got some screen time in his share of classic films, including Run Silent, Run Deep, Kelly’s Heroes, Casino and three Toy Story movies.
With WWII in full swing, Rickles joined the US Navy right out of high school in 1944, aged only 18.
After serving on the warship USS Cyrene for two years, as Seaman First Class Rickles, the future comedian was honourably discharged in 1946.
3. Mel Brooks
Comedy hero, who gave the world such all-time great laffers as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs.
Brooks is also one of only 15 members of the prestigious EGOT club, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Tony and an Oscar.
After graduating from high school and spending a year at college, in 1944 Brooks was drafted to serve his country in WWII.
For the 78th Infantry Division, Brooks defused land mines and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war ended, until his duty was up in 1946, Brooks helped orchestrate shows for American and German troops.
2. Tom Selleck
One of TV’s big-hitters, who made his name in Magnum PI in the 80s and in Friends in the 90s.
Lately, Selleck has been starring in CBS’ Blue Bloods since 2010. Could have played Indiana Jones.
Before he could become an actor, Selleck’s plans were temporarily scuppered when he was served a draft notice just as the US was stepping up its involvement in the Vietnam War.
Selleck then decided to join the California National Guard, where he served for six years, from 1967 to 1973.
1. Chuck Norris
Action man, who first came to prominence in the 70s fighting Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon, and star of countless memes.
In the 80s, Norris became a household name thanks to his starring role in TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger.
Five years after the Korean War had ended, Chuck Norris was sent to South Korea as an Air Policeman, as part of the USAF.
Norris served for four years, from 1958 to 1962, learning martial arts along the way during his time in Korea.