American actor and director Gary Sinise has accomplished a lot in the last 50 years. Since starting his career in 1973, he’s formed his own theatre company and starred in classics such as Forrest Gump and Apollo 13. He’s also appeared in other stellar films including The Green Mile and Impostor, as well as TV shows such as CSI: New York.
Sinise’s contributions to the entertainment industry have not gone unnoticed, either: to date, he’s won a Primetime Emmy Award, bagged a Golden Globe and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, he’s also been nominated for multiple Tony Awards and an Academy Award.
From his rocky start as a delinquent schoolboy to his charity work raising money for war veterans, there’s a lot more to Sinise than meets the eye. Here are 20 things you never knew about him.
20. He co-founded the Lt Dan Band to support military veterans
Back in school, Sinise was more of a musician than an actor. But as his acting career took off, he left his musical ambitions behind him.
That is, until 2004, when he co-created the Lt Dan Band, named after his character in Forrest Gump.
The group comprised of Sinise himself and American musician Kimo Williams. The pair formed the band primarily to entertain troops and perform at USO shows.
Since their formation they have played all around the world – as of January 2021, the total number of performances stands at over 500.
A message on the band’s website explains that the group aims to “bring much-needed morale-boosting entertainment to our brave active duty service members, our veterans, our wounded, our first responders, their families and those in need.”
The band also sells a wide variety of merchandise, with all profits going towards the Gary Sinise Foundation for veterans.
19. As a teenager he “wanted to be Hendrix”
Sinise began to make waves in the film industry when he was in his forties – relatively late in life for an actor.
This is partly because Sinise only made the decision to pursue an acting career in his last few years of high school.
As a child and teenager, according to his mother, Sinise displayed “no interest at all in academic studies.”
Furthermore, it seems Sinise was an actively rebellious kid in school, more focused on performing in bands with names like “Uproot Confusion, The Olde Molde and Dirty Brain.”
“I wanted to be Hendrix,” Sinise told the Guardian in 2000. “I used to play guitar with my teeth.”
Thankfully, one of Sinise’s teachers encouraged him to get into acting – and the rest is history.
18. He wears his Vietnam vet brother-in-law’s dog tags in Forrest Gump
One of the most recognisable parts of Lt Dan’s costume is the rosary which carries his dog tag.
Initially, Sinise was meant to wear a fake set of dog tags made by the film’s costume designer.
But the actor made an unusual request and asked the costume department if he could use real ones instead.
His brother-in-law Jack had served in Vietnam, and offered up his rosary and dog tags to Sinise for the film.
Sinise revealed this fact when speaking to Catholic Exchange in 2009: “My brother-in-law Jack Treese served as a medic in Vietnam and wore his dog tags on a rosary with a St. Christopher medal.”
“I wore that same rosary and dog tags as my character, Lt Dan, in the movie Forrest Gump.”
17. He co-founded Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Sinise’s first foray into the entertainment industry came back in the 70s when he founded the Steppenwolf Theatre company in Chicago.
Sinise created the company with his former classmate Jeff Perry, working out of a church basement before they relocated to central Chicago in 1980.
20 years ago today, on April 8, 2001, @SteppenwolfThtr opened One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Broadway at the Royale Theatre. Directed by my good pal Terry Kinney, it went on to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a play that season. pic.twitter.com/CPLZYxM2Ki
— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) April 8, 2021
It was while working at Steppenwolf that Sinise began to refine his acting and directing skills.
Steppenwolf has also been credited with helping to launch the careers of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Gary Cole, among others.
To this day, the company remains one of Chicago’s most popular and best-loved theatrical groups.
You can still go and visit the theatre, which is based in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighbourhood on Halsted Street.
16. He has a hatred of reading going back to his time as a teen tearaway
Sinise may be a distinguished thespian, but despite all the scripts he must go through, he actually hates reading.
Sinise was something of a teenage delinquent and hated his time at school, so it’s somewhat unsurprising he never got into reading.
“I have friends who could start a book at six and finish it by midnight,” he told The Guardian in 2000.
“I simply can’t understand that. I wish I could read all those Tolstoy books and go through Joyce but I just can’t.”
“I’m still a very slow reader,” he confessed. Apparently, Sinise’s aversion to reading even became something of a running gag at Steppenwolf.
“We used to joke, even when Gary was artistic director,” said actress Laurie Metcalf, “that he only ever read the plays that he was in.”
15. He was host of Epcot’s Mission: SPACE at Disney World
Sinise is one of many actors to have provided voiceovers for various rides at Disney World.
If you ever went on Epcot’s Mission: SPACE between 2003 and 2017, it’s likely you heard Sinise playing the role of CAPCOM, the host of the ride.
The attraction itself seeks to simulate astronaut training for the first manned mission to Mars.
Visitors to the attraction take on the role of ‘trainees’ at the fictional International Space Training Center.
Visitors are subsequently arranged into crews of four and then shown an introductory video. For 14 years, Sinise led this video.
Sinise has since been replaced by actress Gina Torres, best known for her appearances in the TV series Firefly and Suits.
14. He fell into acting after a teacher made him audition for a school production of West Side Story
Many actors grow up knowing that they want to pursue a career in performance – but some, like Sinise, fall into the profession by chance.
Back in high school, Sinise was more interested in music and sport than acting, and was even something of a troublemaker.
It took an intervention from his school’s drama teacher to set Sinise on the right path.
“I was going down this hallway,” Mrs. Patterson recalled, speaking to the Guardian in 2009. “It was where some of the ne’er-do-wells hung out.”
“Then I saw these guys, leaning against the wall, looking like gang members. We were doing the school musical and I said: ‘you look like you stepped out of West Side Story,'” she said. “I particularly looked at Gary, who seemed to be the leader and was sneering the hardest, and said: ‘You look like you could be a Shark or a Jet. I want to see you at auditions this afternoon’.”
Sinise auditioned, won the role of a Shark, and never looked back. “I fell in love with theater at that moment,” Sinise told The Patch in 2013. “Once I did that, all I wanted to do was plays.”
13. His first attempt to break into Hollywood ended in failure
Sinise is one of many formerly jobbing actors to have gotten their first paid role in a soap opera.
In 1979, Sinise took a step back from Steppenwolf and headed off to LA in the hopes of landing a big break.
“It didn’t quite work out,” he admitted to the Guardian in 2009. “It was a miserable time.”
The one job Sinise did manage to get was on Knots Landing, where he played a beach boy named Lee Maddox.
He failed to make it in Hollywood, however, so he leapt at the chance to return to Chicago and Steppenwolf just one year later in 1980.
Sinise’s career then began to take off in 1982 when he directed and starred in Steppenwolf’s production of True West.
12. Veteran Dale Dye put him through real-life military training in preparation for his role in Forrest Gump
Vietnam vet Dale Dye is renowned for being a stellar technical advisor when it comes to portraying accurate military action on screen.
Dye has worked on several successful films including Platoon, Saving Private Ryan – and Forrest Gump.
Before shooting began on Robert Zemeckis’ classic 1994 film, Dye put the cast – including Sinise – through what was basically an authentic military bootcamp.
Sinise reportedly took the training very seriously and forged a solid friendship with Dye during this time. To this day they remain staunch friends.
Sinise recalled working with Dye in his book, Grateful American: “For four days we lived in the woods. At night, we needed to maintain silence.
“It grew pitch black, and we couldn’t have lights. We slept in the dirt and maintained a constant guard.”
11. He’s one of only a few people to have flown a U-2 spy plane at 70,000 feet
Back in 2011, Sinise visited the Beale Air Force Base in California. While there, he completed a full day of rigorous training in order to fly a U-2 spy lane.
The plane – known as the U2 Dragon Lady – flies at a staggeringly high altitude of 70,000 feet.
Sinise documented the whole experience in a documentary called High Flight, which was released in 2013.
“That’s twice as high as any commercial airliner flies and 40,000 feet higher than Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain,” the actor says in the film.
“It suddenly hit me that for a few incomparable minutes, I would be the highest human on planet Earth.”
Fewer than 1,000 people in the last 50 years have done this, meaning Sinise is a member of the so-called “High Flyers Club.”
10. He trained in a zero gravity simulator to prep for his role in Apollo 13
Apollo 13 saw Sinise star as prime Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly, the man responsible for getting the ship’s crew safely back to Earth.
A lot of time and effort went into preparing the film’s cast for their respective roles.
Sinise – as well as Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon – even visited the US Space and Rocket Center before shooting began.
The cast worked on the centre’s simulators in order to get a sense for what zero gravity would feel like.
They were instructed by Gerald D Griffin, a flight director at NASA who served as a technical advisor for the film.
All the attention to detail that went into making the film as realistic as possible certainly paid dividends, as the film went on to bag two Oscars.
9. Magician Ricky Jay designed Lt Dan’s wheelchair
Forrest Gump sees Sinise’s character Lt Dan injured while in action in Vietnam, causing him to lose both of his legs.
In order to make it seem as though Sinise was amputated from the thighs down, his legs were wrapped in blue fabric.
This made it possible for his lower legs to be digitally edited out in production.
Things were a little more complicated when it came to the scenes where Lt Dan uses a wheelchair, however.
Lt Dan’s wheelchair was designed by magician Ricky Jay. It used an illusion to make it seem as though Sinise had lost his legs.
Sinise had to contort his body while sitting in the chair, which meant that he could only be seated in it for around ten minutes at a time.
8. Ron Howard let Sinise pick whichever part he wanted in Apollo 13
Sinise was approached about appearing in Apollo 13 after Tom Hanks had signed on for the role of Jim Lovell.
Director Ron Howard was keen to secure Sinise, and so gave him free reign when it came to choosing his part.
Sinise opted for the role of Ken Mattingly, an astronaut who was set to take part in the Apollo 13 mission before coming down with German Measles.
According to IMDB, Sinise was instantly drawn to Mattingly and recognised the importance of his role.
“When I looked at it, I said, ‘I want to play that guy.’ Without him, they won’t get back,” he said.
By coincidence, Sinise actually shares a birthday on 17 March with the real Ken Mattingly.
7. All of his movies with Tom Hanks have been nominated for Best Picture
Tom Hanks and Sinise make quite the dynamic duo in Forrest Gump, with the former starring as the movie’s eponymous hero and the latter as Lt Dan.
Back in 1994, this was the first time Hanks and Sinise had appeared on screen together.
But it certainly wasn’t the last. In fact, Forrest Gump is one of three movies which feature Hanks and Sinise side-by-side.
The next was Apollo 13, released in 1995, which saw Hanks star as Jim Lovell and Sinise as Ken Mattingly.
Then came the Green Mile in 1999, which featured Hanks as death row corrections officer Paul Edgecomb and Sinise as reporter Burt Hammersmith.
All three of these movies were nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture Oscar, with Forrest Gump winning back in 1995.
6. John Frankenheimer compared Sinise to John Gielgud and Richard Burton
Sinise may have hit the big time (relatively) late in life – he appeared in Forrest Gump when he was almost 40 – but that doesn’t mean he’s not made a big impression.
It seems that Sinise has succeeded in charming most directors he’s worked with – even those who are legends in their field.
He even earned the respect of the late John Frankenheimer, the iconic director who is credited with shaping the political thriller genre.
Frankenheimer directed Sinise in the TV movie George Wallace. Under Frankenheimer’s direction, Sinise’s performance ended up bagging him an Emmy.
“When I worked with John Gielgud or with Richard Burton it was the same thing,” Frankenheimer told the Guardian in 2002. “His choices are 100% right.”
“Gary Sinise is, quite simply, a great actor. If I had my way, I’d have him in all my movies,” he added.
5. His dad was an editor of slasher films
A lot of adults would struggle to sit through gory slasher films – but it seems that Sinise, even as a child, was never phased by them.
His father, Robert L Sinise, worked as a film editor who initially specialised in editing slasher movies.
According to the Guardian, these would be “C-grade horror flicks such as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!”.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2000, Sinise recalled his experience of watching his father at work while he was a young boy.
“I remember as a kid going down to the editing room,” he said. “and my dad would be working.”
“I remember being five years old looking at these slasher movies of my dad, all this blood, chainsaws and screaming.”
4. One of his jokes in Forrest Gump predicted the future
One scene in Forrest Gump sees Lt Dan joke that if Forrest ever becomes a shrimp boat captain, he will become an astronaut.
Of course, Forrest gets his shrimp boat (named after his true love Jenny), and Lt Dan even acts as his first mate.
But it doesn’t seem as though Lt Dan becomes an astronaut – although he does mention that his prosthetic legs are made from the same titanium alloy that is used on space shuttles.
However, despite Lt Dan not becoming an astronaut, Sinise himself did go on to (sort of) ‘become’ an astronaut.
Just one year later, in 1995, Sinise starred as astronaut Ken Mattingly in the film Apollo 13.
Sinise starred in the film alongside his Forrest Gump co-star, Tom Hanks, who featured as astronaut Jim Lovell.
3. He first set eyes on his wife during a Steppenwolf performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Steppenwolf helped launch the careers of many actors – including John Malkovich and Laurie Metcalf – but it also helped bring Sinise and his wife together.
Moira Harris was performing as Laura in a Steppenwolf production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when Sinise first laid eyes on her.
“It’s a good way to first see your future wife – in a negligee.” he told the Guardian in 2000.
They then met properly at an after-party. “It was at some party in a friend’s house after the show,” Harris recalled.
“I loved him because he was very quiet and sweet and shy. And of course I thought he was awfully handsome, like a young Paul Newman. And he took me home and that was it.”
The relationship hasn’t been plain sailing, with the couple breaking up and reconciling numerous times – but to this day they remain married.
2. Sinise has won multiple awards for his efforts to support veterans
Back in 2011, the actor founded the Gary Sinise Foundation, its aim to support veterans and their families.
Sinise continues to give ample amounts of his time and money to various other veterans’ charities.
He’s even been honoured with numerous awards for his efforts. He won the USO Patriot Award in 2011, the Spirit of Hope Award in 2012 and The Noble Award in 2015.
Sinise is also on the Advisory Council of Hope For The Warriors, which is a nonprofit organisation that is dedicated to providing care to soldiers wounded in combat and their families, as well as the families of the fallen.
A message on their website reads: “Hope For The Warriors provides comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans, and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement, and connections to community resources.
“Together, our board of directors, staff, and volunteers work tirelessly to serve those who have sacrificed so much.”
1. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Patriot Award for his charity work supporting veterans
Sinise is committed to charity work which supports US veterans and their families, and has won a variety of awards for his efforts.
In 2020, he was awarded with his most prestigious award to date: the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Patriot Award.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website: “The Patriot Award is the highest honor that the Congressional Medal of Honor Society bestows to Americans who, through a lifetime of work, have distinguished themselves for their dedication to freedom, selflessly helping others, and the ideals represented by the Medal of Honor.”
In 2020 Sinise received the award, alongside Dave McIntyre, president and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.
“To receive this award from [the society] is very special,” Sinise said upon receiving the award.
“I’ve been involved with the society for many years going back to 2007 and I’ve done many events with them. I’ve made such good friends amongst this incredible group of people and to have them acknowledge me is just a great, great honor.”