Remember Judd Nelson? Here’s What He Looks Like Now!

We always imagine that our favourite film actors will be part of our lives forever, and whilst that is the case with many of the Hollywood stars we fell in love with during the 1980s, others faded from the mainstream so quickly that you’d be hard pressed to recognise them today if you saw them walking down the street.

Whilst the likes of Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson are still very much a part of the public consciousness (to a greater or lesser degree), many once A-list celebs have plummeted so far down the alphabet that we haven’t seen them in blockbusters for decades.

Once such actor is Judd Nelson, who became famous for playing John Bender in The Breakfast Club and Alec Newbury in St. Elmo’s Fire, and who was in the 80s a member of the Brat Pack (a group of actors that also included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy and Ally Sheedy).

Nelson happened to fade from the spotlight after his star career in the 80s – but he remains a prolific actor on the big and small screens, picking unusual roles up to the present day. 

Here, we’re taking a look at this star’s fascinating personal history and his adventures in Hollywood, as well as looking at what he’s been up to in recent years.

He had a very different high school experience from John Bender

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Born Judd Asher Nelson on 28th November 1959, Nelson grew up in Maine. He comes from a Jewish family and was raised with his two sisters, Eve and Julie. Their mother Merle worked as a court mediator, and their father Leonard was a lawyer. Judd Nelson is no relation to Ricky Nelson, the celebrated American singer and actor who was born in 1940.

In stark contrast to his famous rebel character John Bender, Nelson attended St Paul’s, a prestigious boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire.

Nelson later went to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, but he ultimately quit to pursue acting in New York, and began studying with world-famous acting teacher Stella Adler.

He fears the success of St Elmo’s Fire almost went to his head

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Making his film debut in the 1984 teen comedy Making the Grade, Nelson soon rose to prominence with a role alongside Kevin Costner in Fandango, which was released only a year later in 1985. Fandango was the directorial debut of Kevin Reynolds, who would go on to call the shots on two further Kevin Costner films, they being Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld.

Nelson’s next two roles were the ones that briefly promoted him to the Hollywood A-list, they being the aforementioned The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, both of which were released in 1985.

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In St Elmo’s Fire, Nelson plays Alec, an aspiring young graduate who’s keen to start working in politics. The movie grossed an impressive $38 million at the box office, and has since become a cult classic.

But Nelson has since reflected negatively on his wild popularity from the movie. “Theoretically, if I could do it over again, I would not have done St. Elmo’s Fire,” he told The Globe and Mail in 2002. “… [but] fame didn’t get to me. I tried to behave myself.”

“Looking back, I wouldn’t have gone out as much,” he added. “I would’ve stayed home more…I like to call it the exuberance of shame and youth.”

He was 25 years old when he starred in The Breakfast Club

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Casting for The Breakfast Club wasn’t exactly true to age. The 25-year-old Nelson played high school rebel John Bender, replacing the 23-year-old Emilio Estevez (who was swapped into the part of jock Andrew Clark when director John Hughes had a change of heart). Ally Sheedy was also 23. Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, meanwhile, were both 16 when the movie was shot.

Although Nelson was playing a much younger character in The Breakfast Club, he nevertheless sports an unusual (and artificial) grey streak in his hair. This streak fades and sometimes vanishes from scene-to-scene.

Nelson’s character John lands a spot in weekend detention after raising a false fire alarm in the school. Despite his fiercely defiant attitude, John bonds with his fellow students in detention and even wins a kiss from the ‘princess’ Claire.

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Having fought earlier about their different fortunes in life – while John is abused by his parents, Claire is spoiled and given diamond earrings – the pair finish the movie with an embrace, and Claire gives one of her earrings to him.

John then walks away, punching his fist to the sky in triumph. Judd Nelson reportedly made this move unscripted, and it remains perhaps the most iconic moment in The Breakfast Club.

He became a voice acting star

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Despite his successes with The Breakfast Club and St Elmo’s Fire, Nelson grew to hate the term Brat Pack. He felt that the label actually drove him apart from his young peers and friends in the ‘Pack’, noting in 2015: “it just seemed like we were like fruit picked too soon, and then blamed for being picked too soon.”

Nelson also played a significant role in the evolution of one of our very favourite 1980s animated TV shows, as he provided the voice of Hot Rod / Rodimus Prime in The Transformers: The Movie. Hot Rod became Optimus Prime’s successor as Autobot leader, at least until our fallen hero was resurrected due to overwhelming public demand.

Nelson starred in just three more films during the 1980s: Blue City, in which he appeared alongside Ally Sheedy for the third time, From the Hip and Relentless.

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The 1990s were a prolific time for Nelson, being a decade in which he appeared in 18 films (including the critically acclaimed Wesley Snipes vehicle New Jack City) as well as the successful US TV sitcom Suddenly Susan.

And whilst his work ethic only increased as the 1990s drew to close, we suspect that you’ve seen few or even none of the 32 films that Nelson appeared in during the 2000s, the titles of which include The Terror Experiment (Fight or Flight) and Netherbeast Incorporated.

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Nelson has also been seen giving one-off TV appearances in the likes of The Outer Limits, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: NY, as well as five episodes of the popular musical drama show Empire.

Judd Nelson is still acting today

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The changing face of show business hasn’t deterred Nelson, who, unlike some of his 80s superstar peers, is still acting. Nelson is now 61 years old, and most recently appeared in the made-for-television movie Girl In The Basement. He has also continued to provide the voice of Rodimus Prime / Hot Rod in the animated shows Transformers: Titans Return and Transformers: Power of the Primes.

This teen heartthrob of the 80s has had a string of girlfriends over the decades, but has never been married. In the mid-80s, he dated Loree Rodkin, who also worked as his manager and today runs a jewellery brand.

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Credit: Rich Fury via Getty Images

In 1993, Nelson started dating 90210 star Shannon Doherty, and the pair were even briefly engaged. Nelson was also reportedly in a relationship with Sheila Lussier from 2003 to 2005. Typically private about his romantic life, Nelson has not been publicly linked to anyone in recent years.

His celebrated 80s movie career also left him with a fortune. Today, Nelson enjoys an estimated net worth of $4 million.

We’ll leave the final word to the star himself, who has an extremely reflective view of his time on the Hollywood A-list, saying “I think that there’s room for everyone. I don’t think that if one person succeeds then another must fail. That’s lunacy.”

“I’m not sure what the reasons are for my philosophy, maybe it’s the fact that there are ten people doing the same job,” the star continued. “We all know how we feel and what our high points and low points are.” Amen to that Mr Nelson, and we hope to see you acting and entertaining for many years to come!