Celebrities Who Have Served In The Military

Although we tend to think of celebrities as leading luxurious and even opulent lifestyles, some of them have backgrounds that include the not-so-glamorous but highly honorable duty of military service. While there are a few celebrities who have well-publicized links to the military, there are many others whose service is not so well-known. Read on for a list of celebrities who have been involved in military service in some regard. Some of the names here will be immediately recognizable as veterans and others might surprise you!

Johnny Cash Formed His First Band While In The Service

Johnny Cash in uniform, age 20
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Johnny Cash, the guitarist and singer-songwriter known to fans as “the Man in Black,” enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1950 when he was 19 years old. He received basic and technical training in San Antonio before being sent to Landsberg, Germany, where he intercepted Soviet Army messages as a Morse code operator.

While in Germany, Cash formed his first band which he called “The Landsberg Barbarians.” It’s also said that he wrote the lyrics for the iconic song “Folsom Prison Blues” during his time overseas.

Read on for the highest-ranking actor in U.S. military history

Chuck Norris Was An Air Policeman In The Air Force

Chuck norris is a veteran
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Actor, director, and martial artist Chuck Norris enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Air Policeman in 1958. Then known by his given name Carlos, he received the nickname Chuck during his service and it stuck.

Norris was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where he began his martial arts training. After returning to the United States, Norris continued to serve as an Air Policeman at March Air Force Base in California. He’s now one of the most recognizable actors and martial artists in the world.

Dr. Seuss Designed Posters For The Treasury Department During WWII

Dr. Seuss in the military
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Many people are unaware that the children’s author Dr. Seuss, real name Theodore Geisel, served in the military. Famous for titles like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat In The Hat, Geisel joined the Army in 1943 and served the country in a unique capacity. He was a commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.

In this role, Geisel had artistic duties such as designing posters, illustrations, and other materials to promote enlistment and the purchasing of war bonds.

Tom Selleck Was Dropped From His Fox Contract After Serving

Tom Selleck
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Best known for his work on the 1980s television series Magnum, P.I., Tom Selleck served in the military before he became a household name. He was already involved in acting, even scoring a contract with Twentieth Century Fox, before he was issued draft orders during the Vietnam War. He joined the California National Guard, serving from 1967 to 1973. He even appeared in recruiting posters.

Of his military service, Selleck says, “I am a veteran, I’m proud of it. I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.” Fox dropped Selleck’s contract during his time serving. But as we know, he made it in show business anyway!

Rob Riggle Frequently Mentioned His Service On The Daily Show

Marine Rob Riggle
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After getting his pilot’s license in 1990, actor and comedian Rob Riggle joined the Marines with the hopes of becoming a Naval Aviator. Although he opted to leave flight school in order to pursue comedy, he was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Riggle went on to attain the rank of lieutenant colonel and received numerous awards for his service.

During his time on The Daily Show, Riggle frequently talked about his military service and even joked that he could kill anyone on the show. Following 23 years of service, he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in January of 2013.

From The Army To The Star Fleet

Uniformed Leonard Nimoy holding a mop
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Long before he dressed in the Star Fleet costume in the Star Trek franchise, actor Leonard Nimoy proudly wore an Army uniform. He was a soldier with the United States Army from 1953 to 1955, during which time he was stationed in Fort Ord, California, Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort McPherson, Georgia.

Already an actor by the time he enlisted in the military, Nimoy worked with the Army Special Services, where he wrote, narrated, and hosted shows for the troops. On Veterans Day 2013, Nimoy posted a photo of himself in uniform to Twitter. He passed away in 2015.

Elvis Was Already A Superstar When He Joined The Army

Elvis Presley in front of a tank
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The story of Elvis Presley’s time in the military is pretty well-known. He was already one of the most famous people in the world when he was drafted in March 1958. Although he was offered special deals by the Army and the Navy, Presley opted not to take them for fear of angering people with a “celebrity wimp-out”.

“The army can do anything it wants with me. Millions of other guys have been drafted, and I don’t want to be different from anyone else,” he stated publicly. His fans called his induction day, March 24, 1958, “black Monday.” News crews from around the world were present to watch the superstar taken away by bus after passing his physical exam.

Morgan Freeman Turned Down A Scholarship To Enlist

Young Morgan Freeman in uniform
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By the time he was in high school, Morgan Freeman was already showing promise as an actor. He appeared in many school plays and even won awards for his talents. But a love of war films, especially those about fighter pilots, led him to join the Air Force after he graduated instead of pursuing an acting career. He even turned down a dramatic scholarship from Jackson State University to enlist.

Freeman’s dream of flying jets was short-lived. The moment he actually sat in a cockpit, he recalls, he had a “distinct feeling [he] was sitting in the nose of a bomb. I had this very clear epiphany. You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.” He left the service in 1959.

Jimmy Stewart Is The Highest-Ranking Actor In U.S. Military History

Captain James Stewart has changed his occupation from making feminine hearts throb to making bomber motors roar over occupied territory.
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James “Jimmy” Stewart is one of the most iconic and beloved actors in the history of Hollywood. And as most of his fans know, he is also the highest-ranking actor to serve in the United States military. Stewart, who won five Academy Awards for his acting, was inducted into the Army on March 22, 1941.

At the end of WWII, Stewart had flown a total of 20 combat missions and stayed in the USAF Reserve after the war. He was promoted to Brigadier General on July 23, 1959, and in 1985 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan.

Drew Carey Started Doing Comedy In The Marine Corps Reserve

Comedian Drew Carey gestures out the window of a KC-135 Stratotanker December 25, 2002 as he visits Camp Justice in Afghanistan.
Nathan G. Bevier/USAF/Getty Images

Comedian Drew Carey, the current host of The Price is Right, served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve for six years beginning in 1981. He says that he began doing stand-up comedy during his time in the military. “While in the Marine Reserves, I was looking for a way to make some more money, and it was suggested that I try using my jokes,” he recalls.

Although he was paid about $10 per joke back then, his comedic chops led to a career in showbiz. Today, Carey frequently performs for troops stationed at military bases overseas with the USO.

Read on for another game show host who’s served!

Bea Arthur Was Promoted To Staff Sergeant

celebrity veteran Bea Arthur
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Well before she became known as an actress on Broadway and the small screen, Bea Arthur (real name Bernice Frankel) enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943. She served as a typist and truck driver and was also a member of the Women’s Reserve. Stationed at Marine Corps and Navy air stations in Virginia and North Carolina during her service, she was honorably discharged in 1945.

Fans of Arthur’s later acting roles, such as the sassy Dorothy Zbornak in the Golden Girls, will enjoy reading assessments from her enlistment interviews, in which she was labeled “argumentative” and “over aggressive.”

Hugh Hefner Traded In His Uniform For A Velvet Bathrobe

Playboy founder Hugh-Hefner in uniform
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The iconic founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, didn’t spend his early years lounging poolside in his trademark bathrobes. A young Hef enlisted in the Army as an infantry clerk in 1944, after graduating from high school. During his time in the service, he was a rifleman, a typist, and a contributor for Army newspapers.

One of Hefner’s biographers believed that the mogul’s Army service helped pave the way for the media empire he later founded. “Without that time in the military to sit behind a desk and spend time working on creative things, his life would’ve been different,” Susan Gunelius told The Washington Post.

Ice-T Served For Four Years

Rapper/Actor ICE T performs at the Uncle Jamm's Army Reunion
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Gangster rapper-turned-actor Ice-T, born Tracy Lauren Marrow, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1979. His reason for joining the service was a practical one, as he was struggling to support his girlfriend and their child in South Los Angeles at the time.

He served for four years in the 25th Infantry Division and received Advanced Infantry Training. Ice-T was a squad leader at Schofield Barracks while deployed in Hawaii. Of his decision to enlist, he’s said, “When I had my daughter I was like, man, I’m going to go to jail, I got to do something, and I went to an enlistment office. Next thing you know, I’m in the military, four years infantry.”

Willie Nelson’s Service Might Come As A Surprise To Some

A young Willie Nelson in uniform
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As a musician and marijuana legalization proponent with long braided hair, Willie Nelson might not seem like a typical military man. But in 1950, when he was just 17 years old, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio until being discharged due to a back injury nine months later.

Of his time in the service, Nelson has had this to say: “I was in the Air Force a while and they had what they call “policing the area.” That’s where you looked around and if there’s anything wrong here, there, anywhere, you took care of your own area. And I think that’s a pretty good thing to go by.”

The “King Of Cool” Saved Five Marines’ Lives

Close-up of American actor Steve McQueen
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The film actor Steve McQueen, known to many by the nickname “The King of Cool,” served in the United States Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950. Although his penchant for rebelliousness led to him being demoted to private on seven separate occasions, he was eventually promoted to private first class after getting his act together.

During an Arctic exercise in which a transport ship struck a sandbank and several tanks and their members were tossed into the freezing water, McQueen pulled five Marines to safety. He was honorably discharged from the service in 1950.

Humphrey Bogart Joined The Navy After Leaving School

(Original Caption) Humphrey Bogart in sailor dress while he was in the Navy. Full length photograph, 1919.
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After being expelled from school, Humphrey Bogart opted to join the service rather than look for a civilian job. He enlisted in the United States Navy in the spring of 1918, during World War I. He later recalled, “At eighteen, war was great stuff. Paris! Sexy French girls! Hot damn!”

Reportedly a model sailor, Bogart spent much of his military career ferrying troops between Europe and the United States. He was honorably discharged in 1919 with the rank of seaman second class, and turned to acting after returning home. He’s now considered one of the most celebrated actors of Hollywood’s golden era.

Before Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak Was A DJ In The Army

 First Lt. Angelina Maguinness (L) and 2nd Lt. Joe Thompkins of the 547th Intelligence Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, NV appeared on the television game show
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Game show host Pat Sajak served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In his own words: “Before I was Pat Sajak of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ I was Pat Sajak Vietnam DJ – I was an Army Spc. 5th class who had joined the service, been trained as a clerk typist, was sent to Vietnam as a finance clerk.”

It paid off. “After repeated attempts, I had been transferred to Saigon to be a disc jockey, as I had been in civilian life,” Sajak continued. “The Army can work in mysterious ways.” As an early-morning DJ with the American Forces Vietnam Network, Sajak used the phrase “Good morning Vietnam!” as he greeted his audience each day.

George Carlin Enlisted To Pay For Broadcasting School

George Carlin at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO
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The groundbreaking and controversial comedian George Carlin joined the Air Force after high school in 1954 so the GI Bill would cover the costs for broadcasting school. During his service, where he was trained as a radar technician, he worked as a DJ for a local radio station. This set the stage for his future entertainment career.

Carlin later had this to say about the military: “So I do have this ambivalence. Obviously I’m against militaries, because of what militaries do. In many ways though, the Air Force was unmilitary-like. They dropped bombs on people, but…they had a golf course.” Carlin also said he was proud to have been generally, instead of dishonorably, discharged.

Jimi Hendrix Completed One Year Of Service

Jimi Hendrix in uniform
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In 1961, James “Jimi” Marshall Hendrix was caught riding in a stolen car (for the second time) and given the choice to go to prison or join the Army. He chose the latter, and was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division. As might be expected, his rebellious attitude was not a fit for military service.

Hendrix was constantly in trouble with his commanding officers and was frequently found playing his guitar at night, keeping the other soldiers awake. One commanding officer reported that “his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar.” After just a year of service, Hendrix was granted an honorable discharge in 1962, by a superior who was fed up with his misbehavior.

Adam Driver Joined After 9/11

military photo of adam driver
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Star Wars actor Adam Driver was inspired to enlist with the United States Marine Corp after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. He served as an 81mm mortar man with the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines until a broken breastbone led to a medical discharge. He had reached the rank of Lance Corporal.

In 2006, Driver and his wife Joanne Tucker founded a non-profit called Arts in the Armed Forces. The organization provides arts programming to active-duty service members, veterans, support staff, and military families.