One of the most beloved screen actors to have risen to leading man fame in the 1980s, Kurt Russell is for many of us the embodiment of a real Hollywood movie star, every bit as much at home playing hard-hitting action or light-hearted comedy. However, while many of us know him purely as a man’s man actor who first got big in the 80s, there’s a whole lot more to Kurt Russell than you might know…
20. He’s been a professional actor since he was 12 years old
Kurt Vogel Russell was born on 17th March 1951 in Springfield, Massachusetts, into a show business family.
Kurt’s father Bing Russell was an actor, while his mother Louise Russell was a dancer.
It was perhaps inevitable, then, that their son would follow in their footsteps and tread the boards.
Russell made his film debut aged 12 with an uncredited appearance in 1963 Elvis Presley movie It Happened at the World’s Fair.
This breakthrough led to a slew of child actor roles for the charismatic young Russell.
His early credits include the title role in TV series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, and a guest appearance on TV’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
19. He’s been in a relationship with Goldie Hawn since 1983 – but they’ve never married
- Credit: Rick Rowell/ABC via Flickr
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn first worked together on 1968 movie The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.
15 years later, following Russell’s four-year marriage to Season Hubley, he and Hawn started a relationship that endures to this day.
Despite having one of the longest-lasting celebrity relationships ever, Russell and Hawn have never married.
The 80s saw Hawn and Russell become one of Hollywood’s golden couples, as they also co-starred in 1984’s Swing Shift and 1987’s Overboard.
More recently, Hawn cameoed alongside Russell in Netflix movie The Christmas Chronicles; she’s poised to have a much more prominent role in its upcoming sequel.
When asked why the couple never wed, Russell has simply replied, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
18. He turned down Sylvester Stallone’s offer to join The Expendables
Kurt Russell once collaborated with fellow 80s action man Sylvester Stallone on 1989’s Tango & Cash.
20 years later, when word broke that Stallone was planning to unite as many old action heroes as possible in The Expendables, many expected Russell to be involved.
However, when Stallone approached him with an offer to appear in the 2010 action team-up movie, Russell declined. It’s thought he was offered Mr Church, the part subsequently taken by Bruce Willis.
As Stallone explained to disappointed fans at the time, Russell’s agent informed him the actor was “‘not interested in ‘ensemble acting’ at this time.”
However, this did not stop Russell going on to join the largely younger ensemble of the Fast & Furious franchise in 2015’s Furious 7.
Asked why he chose Fast & Furious over The Expendables, Russell told IGN, “I’m glad Sly’s done well with this. He’s a great person… [but] it’s not a beat I get. It’s like looking backwards to me.”
17. He was a contender to play Han Solo in Star Wars
With a different roll of the dice, Kurt Russell might have been the man entrusted to take the helm on the Millennium Falcon. The actor was in his mid-20s when he auditioned for the role of Han Solo in that magnum opus of writer-director George Lucas, Star Wars.
Russell was one among a slew of contenders for the iconic role that would ultimately go to Harrison Ford.
Russell admits he “didn’t have any idea what he was talking about” on reading his scene for George Lucas.
When Lucas seemed unsure about casting him, Russell opted to take himself out of the running and accepted a lead role in TV western The Quest.
16. He witnessed a famous alleged UFO incident
As he missed out on Star Wars, 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 marked the first time that Kurt Russell has portrayed an extra-terrestrial.
However, while promoting that film Russell surprised many by revealing that he had a UFO experience.
Speaking on the BBC’s The One Show, Russell claimed he was the previously unidentified pilot in the ‘Phoenix Lights’ UFO incident of March 1997 – a matter he later discussed again with Jimmy Kimmel in 2018 (starting around 1.30 in the video above).
The actor was flying his stepson Oliver into Phoenix when they saw a “bank of lights, six lights in the shape of a triangle going back, right over the airport.”
- Credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic via Getty
Russell recalls, “Oliver said, ‘hey Pa, what are those lights?’ and I said ‘I don’t know.'” Following procedure, Russell reported the matter to the airport tower.
Russell says he never thought twice about the incident until a few years later when Goldie Hawn was watching a TV show about UFOs which made reference to the incident and an unidentified pilot, which Russell then realised was him.
15. He’s played Elvis twice, and once co-starred with the King himself
Kurt Russell made his first big-screen appearance alongside Elvis in the 1963 movie It Happened At the World’s Fair. However, this was by no means the last time Russell took a role associated with The King.
Most notably, Russell portrayed the man himself in 1979’s TV movie Elvis, which was his first time working with director John Carpenter.
This wasn’t the last time Russell portrayed Elvis, although the second time around he did so without screen credit.
The actor provided the voice of the rock’n’roll legend in 1994 Oscar-winner Forrest Gump.
Finally, Russell took on another Elvis-related role in 2001 crime thriller 3000 Miles to Graceland, alongside Kevin Costner.
The film centres on a casino heist carried out by Elvis impersonators, and it is claimed that Russell’s character is a lovechild of Elvis.
14. He was a pro-baseball player in the 1970s
Even though he’d acted since his youth, this wasn’t Russell’s only professional aspiration.
He was also a keen baseball player, and proved good enough to go pro in the early 1970s.
Russell played second baseman for a number of teams until a shoulder injury forced him to quit in 1973.
Years later, writer-director Ron Shelton offered Russell the lead in his 1988 baseball movie Bull Durham.
Unfortunately for Russell, he wound up losing out on the title role to Kevin Costner.
Though initially hurt by this snub, Russell was ultimately impressed with the film and praised Shelton and Costner’s work.
13. He’s a fully licensed pilot
- Credit: Gage Skidmore
Like a number of his Hollywood contemporaries, Russell is fully licensed to fly a private plane.
Concurrent with his pro-baseball career, he had served in the California Air National Guard in the 70s.
Despite this, Russell says he didn’t actually become a trained pilot himself until the mid-90s.
Russell owns several small aircraft including a Rockwell Commander, a Cessna Crusader, a Cessna 414, a Cessna Conquest and a Starduster biplane.
He has said that “flying has taught me more about who I really am than anything I’ve ever done.”
Other big-name Hollywood actors who share Russell’s passion for aviation include Harrison Ford, John Travolta and Angelina Jolie.
12. He turned down Flash Gordon, Lethal Weapon and Highlander
Kurt Russell has enjoyed no shortage of major leading roles, but there are a fair few big parts that he chose to say no to.
For one, he declined producer Dino De Laurentiis’ offer to take the title role in 1980 space opera Flash Gordon, which ultimately starred Sam J. Jones.
Later, Russell passed on the role of Connor MacLeod (taken instead by Christopher Lambert) in Highlander, in favour of playing Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China.
Russell was also considered for the lead roles in Jurassic Park, Jumanji, The Rocketeer, Batman Forever and I Am Legend.
11. He (secretly) directed 1993’s Tombstone
Another of Kurt Russell’s best-loved movies is 1993 western Tombstone, in which he portrays legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.
The film had a troubled production, with original director Kevin Jarre fired after a month of shooting.
However, it has since been declared by Russell, Val Kilmer and others involved with the film that Tombstone’s true director was Russell himself.
Cosmatos reportedly followed the wishes of his leading man, as some claim was the case on his earlier collaborations with Stallone.
Despite this, Russell insisted on taking no credit, and swore to Cosmatos that he would not reveal the truth during the director’s lifetime. (Cosmatos passed away in 2005.)
10. He’s credited as his own stunt performer on Backdraft
Kurt Russell has done more than his share of hands-on, action-oriented roles, but only once has he received screen credit as a stunt performer.
Russell and his co-stars Robert De Niro, William Baldwin and Scott Glenn underwent intensive training for their roles.
The actors trained at the Chicago Fire Academy, and accompanied firefighters on real calls to get a feel for the work.
Despite these efforts, and the fact that the film’s screenwriter Gregory Widen is himself a former firefighter, Backdraft was widely criticised by firefighting professionals for its inaccuracy.
Still, few could deny it made for some thrilling big screen entertainment, and Russell’s very physical performance is a big part of that.
9. He spent 18 months beefing up for Soldier, then broke his ankle a week into shooting
One of the least auspicious entries on Russell’s résumé is 1998’s Soldier, a sci-fi action movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil).
Now largely forgotten, Soldier was an expensive critical and commercial catastrophe, and most involved admit the film didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped.
Nonetheless, it was a big deal for Russell at the time, as the role of genetically-engineered super-soldier Todd 3465 landed him one of his biggest paydays: a reported fee of $20 million.
Already in his late 40s, Russell took the physical challenges of the role seriously, and at his request the actor was given 18 months to get in the best shape of his life, training for three to four hours daily throughout that time.
Alas, after all that effort, disaster struck when Russell broke his ankle a mere week into production. Nonetheless, the actor continued shooting in spite of the injury.
A press release was issued claiming Russell broke his ankle when a stunt went wrong, but it has since been revealed that it actually happened off-camera – when the actor tripped over an ornamental cabbage.
8. He was friends with Princess Diana
Russell first met Diana, Princess of Wales at a Royal screening of his 1991 movie Backdraft in London.
The actor wound up sitting with the Princess of Wales at the screening, reportedly seated between her and Prince Charles. (This was the year before the Royal couple separated.)
- Credit: John Matthew Smith via Wikimedia Commons
Russell became friendly with Diana – although, unlike his Hollywood contemporaries Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone, his interest was purely platonic.
Russell later invited Diana to come and visit the Colorado ranch where he lived with Goldie Hawn; the Princess had talked to Russell about the strain of living with the paparazzi, and the actor suggested his ranch might be a good place for her to get some peace.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Diana took him up on the offer, bringing the young William and Harry for a reported 10-day vacation, although Russell and his family were not present at the time.
Russell said years later that Hawn arranged the visit in co-ordination with Diana’s sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson.
7. He’s a successful winemaker
In common with such big name actors as Dwayne Johnson, Dan Aykroyd and Ryan Reynolds, Kurt Russell has also side-stepped into the booze business.
In 2008, Russell founded his very own wine label, GoGi Wines, based in the Santa Rita Hills of California.
Tried Kurt Russell's GoGi "Goldie Chardonnay and got the Palette of Wine and Cheese. The Chardonnay is spectacular pic.twitter.com/50cgkyZB5E
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) September 14, 2016
Russell was inspired to move into winemaking after enjoying cycling trips through the vineyards of France, sampling the local produce along the way.
The actor says these fine wines “didn’t just steal my palate, they stole my heart.”
— Paulina (@heartdisney10) March 10, 2017
GoGi Wines produces two types of luxury wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, ranging from $50 to $75 a bottle.
In 2018, Russell signed a deal with distributor Southern Glazer’s to launch GoGi Wines across several states in the US.
6. He worked with director John Carpenter five times
- Credit: Rysher Entertainment/Paramount Pictures
Just as Robert De Niro was for many years synonymous with Martin Scorsese, Kurt Russell is most closely associated with one director above all.
That filmmaker is John Carpenter, the director, composer and occasional writer behind some of the most beloved horror, sci-fi and action films of the 80s.
- Credit: 20th Century Fox
While both Carpenter and Russell have made great films independently of one another, they made a few of their absolute best together.
Their first collaboration was actually a TV movie, 1979’s Elvis, in which Russell portrayed the rock’n’roll legend he’d made his screen debut alongside 16 years earlier.
- Credit: Studiocanal
Russell and Carpenter last worked together on 1996 sequel Escape from L.A., which also marks Russell’s sole credit as writer and producer.
5. He’s the father of two sons and stepfather to Goldie Hawn’s children
- Credit: Newsmakers via Getty
Kurt Russell’s relationships with Season Hubley and Goldie Hawn have seen him father two children.
Hubley (who had a supporting role in Escape from New York) gave birth to their son Boston Russell in February 1980, three years before the couple divorced.
Later in July 1986, Goldie Hawn gave birth to Russell’s second biological child, Wyatt Russell.
On top of this, Russell is also stepfather to Hawn’s children, Oliver Hudson and Kate Hudson. They also have seven grandchildren.
- Credit: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Kate, Oliver and Wyatt all followed their parents into acting, while Boston has worked in movies behind the scenes.
Although their biological father is Hawn’s ex-husband Bill Hudson, both Kate and Oliver have said they consider Russell their father.
4. He’s played Dexter Riley more times than any other character
Kurt Russell may be a prolific film actor, but he hasn’t done too many sequels in his time.
For many fans, the first recurring Russell role that comes to mind is probably Snake Plissken of 1981’s Escape from New York and 1996’s Escape from L.A.
However, Russell had already played another role more times before that, although the character in question may not be so well remembered today.
We referring to Dexter Riley, the average college student who is turned into a genius by an electrical accident in 1969’s family comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.
This light-hearted live-action Disney movie was successful enough for Russell to reprise the role in 1972’s Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and 1975’s The Strongest Man in the World.
More recently, Russell took another recurring role as Mr Nobody in the seventh and eighth Fast & Furious movies (although he is not expected to appear in the upcoming Fast 9).
3. He was a last-minute replacement on both Death Proof and Tango & Cash
Some of the movie roles that Kurt Russell is best known for were originally set to be taken by other well-known actors.
For instance, it may be hard to imagine anyone other than Russell trading wisecracks with Sylvester Stallone in Tango & Cash.
Similarly, the part of the suave but sinister Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino‘s Death Proof was not intended for Russell in the beginning.
Tarantino originally cast Mickey Rourke in the role – but Rourke quit during pre-production for reasons that neither he nor Tarantino have ever publicly discussed.
Death Proof proved to be the start of a long working relationship between Russell and Tarantino: the actor reunited with the filmmaker on The Hateful Eight, and took a cameo role (again as a stuntman) in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
2. He was best man at Ted Nugent’s wedding
- Credit: Larry Philpot
Kurt Russell is known to be a close friend of notorious American rock star Ted Nugent.
In fact, Russell even served as best man when Nugent married his second wife, Shemane Deziel.
- Credit: Gage Skidmore
Nugent and Deziel tied the knot in a Las Vegas casino in 1989, and remain married to this day.
While Kurt Russell is a lot less outspoken and provocative on the issue than Ted Nugent, both men are known firearm enthusiasts.
- Credit: Pixabay
Like Nugent, Russell is an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and has spoken out against proposed gun control measures in the US.
Where Nugent was a vocal supporter of the most recent Republican administration, Russell is a Libertarian, but generally prefers to avoid discussing politics in interviews.
1. His name was the last thing ever written by Walt Disney
- Credit: Flickr
As a young actor, Russell got some of his first major credits working for Walt Disney Pictures.
In fact, the year that Russell signed a contract with the company, 1966, was also the year that their legendary founder Walt Disney himself passed away.
The very last words that Disney wrote down before his demise on 15th December 1966 were ‘Kurt Russell.’
Exactly what Disney meant in writing down the young actor’s name remains a mystery to this day.
Russell’s early films for Disney include 1966’s Follow Me, Boys! and 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.