When people think of celebrities – cargo pants, combat boots, and intense military training aren’t typically what comes to mind. Usually, red carpets appearances, glitzy award ceremonies, and expensive designer outfits fit closer to the bill.
In the case of these A-list stars, they spent some of their time doing a very selfless act, serving their country. From Tom Selleck to Adam Driver, when you see some actors and actresses playing military personnel on screen, just know there is a sliver of truth to their performance. Keep reading; you’ll be surprised to learn which Hollywood A-listers traded in boot camp for life in front of the camera.
Morgan Freeman: United States Air Force, 1955
Actor Morgan Freeman is best known for his self-assured, melodic voice. The singular trait, along with his acting skills, has landed him in many critically acclaimed comedies, dramas, and even thrillers. And while he began acting at the young age of nine through his high school career, Freeman turned down a partial drama scholarship to Jackson State in favor of enlisting in the United States Air Force.
Starting as an ATR Repairman, the ever-so-diligent Freeman quickly rose in the ranks, achieving the rank of Airman 1st Class by the end of his time in the air force. He served in the military for four years before moving to Los Angeles, California.
Chuck Norris: United States Air Force, 1958
Former actor Chuck Norris broke the internet a while back with his tough-guy “I’m invincible” reputation. The reputation was well-earned, as Norris is a professional martial artist, a skill that landed him quite a few action roles throughout his acting career. But before his acting career took off, Norris was enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Norris enlisted in the air force back in 1958 as an air policeman. Shortly after, he was sent overseas to the Osan Air Base in South Korea. There, he received multiple awards and found the martial art of Chun Kuk Do. Norris was discharged in 1962, making his first film debut in 1968.
Shaggy: United States Marine Corps, 1988
Shaggy is a Jamaican reggae singer, DJ, and musician. He is probably best known for his song “It Wasn’t Me,” and his very distinct vocals. But a lot of people don’t realize that the seven-time Grammy Award nominee served in the United States Marine Corps for 11 years.
Enlisting in 1988, Shaggy obtained the MOS of Field Artillery Cannon Crewman and served in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian War. The highest rank the singer achieved was lance corporal but was demoted a few times for unknown reasons. The good news is he was able to perfect his singing voice while serving!
Adam Driver: United States Marine Corps, 2002
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, actor Adam Driver enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton with the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, as an 81mm mortarman. There, he was training for deployment but fractured his sternum, resulting in a medical discharge.
After leaving the corps, Driver audition for Julliard, and was accepted. Unfortunately, he found it hard to fit in with his artsy classmates, as they were a world apart from the marines. Nevertheless, he found success in acting, becoming the villain Kylo Ren, and receiving many esteemed nominations and awards.
Bob Ross: United States Air Force, 1961
In 1961, at the age of 18, friendly painter Bob Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force. While stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Ross became a Drill Instructor. On his position, Ross said, “The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.”
He kept true to that promise. After serving 20 years in the military, Ross stepped away to focus on his painting. Taking inspiration from the Alaskan landscapes, Ross developed The Joy of Painting.
James Earl Jones: The United States Army, 1953
James Earl Jones is known to have “one of the best-known voices in show business, a stirring basso profondo that has lent gravel and gravitas.” His career spans over 70 years, including stage, film, and voiceover work. But, before he used his iconic voice to entertain folks, he served in the United States Army.
With the war growing in Korea, Jones was drafted into the army after college. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, promoted to first lieutenant, and was training fellow soldiers. Jones was on his way to having a military career but decided to leave that life behind him, opting for a career in entertainment.
Kris Kristofferson: United States Army, 1960
One could say singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson had the military in his blood. Growing up, he is what people would call a “military brat,” traveling and living in various places due to his father’s career in the military. Then, when he was old enough, his family kind of forced him to enlist.
Joining the United States Army in 1960, Kristofferson was commissioned as a second lieutenant before obtaining the rank of captain. But instead of making a career out of the army, Kristofferson decided to try his hand at songwriting. He moved to Nashville in 1965 after his time in the military.
Tony Bennett: United States Army, 1944
Grammy Award-winning singer Tony Bennett is best known for his song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” His sultry, big band voice is still highly recognizable today, with many fans still attending his concerts. But a lot of people tend to forget that Bennett spent a few years of his life in the United States Army.
Drafted by the army in 1944, during the final stages of World War II, Bennett trained as an infantry rifleman. He then entered the frontlines in 1945 before the war came to an end. At that time, he decided to stay in Europe and study music before returning to the States.
Sinbad: United States Air Force, 1979
Born in Michigan, David Adkins grew up to be the famous comedian Sinbad. his popularity grew in the 90s when he landed a few of his own HBO specials, parts in television series, and even roles in films such as Good Burger and First Kid. Before hitting the big time, though, Sinbad was part of the United States Air Force.
Starting off in the comedy troupe Tops in Blue, Sinbad’s military career went downhill fast. When the comedian didn’t make the Air Force basketball team and went AWOL, he thought he’d be dishonorably discharged. He wasn’t. Instead, he was discharged for parking his car in the wrong position.
Ice-T: United States Army, 1977
Starting as an underground rapper in New Jersey during the 80s, Ice-T quickly became a huge name in the music industry. In 1987, the rapper released his debut album, Rhyme Pays, becoming the second artist to have an “explicit content” sticker. The very next year, he founded the label Rhyme $yndicate and released a second album, Power, which eventually went Platinum.
What a lot of people don’t know about Ice-T is that he is a United States Army veteran. He served in the 25th Infantry Division, and, while in Hawaii, Ice-T taught himself the art of turntablism and rapping. He was released with an honorable discharge in 1979.
Robin Quivers: United States Air Force, 1975
Although she is best known for co-hosting The Howard Stern Show, Robin Quivers had quite a military career. After graduating from the University Of Maryland School of Nursing in 1974, Quivers worked at a trauma facility. But, believing her talents could be used elsewhere, in 1975, Quivers enlisted in the United States Air Force.
There, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant, entering active duty and raising to the rank of first lieutenant after only six months. Two years later, she was awarded the rank of captain. Quivers was honorably discharged in 1978 but remained inactive in the reserve until 1990.
Mr. T: United States Army, The Mid-1970s
Growing up in Chicago, Mr. T was known for his physical abilities from a young age. Winning two city-wide wrestling titles in high school and landing a college scholarship to Prairie View A&M University for football, it looked at though Mr. T was going to make it out of his poor neighborhood.
He was expelled after his first year at the university, turning to the United States Army. There, he served in the Military Police Corps. And, in 1975, he was elected “Top Trainee of the Cycle” out of his six thousand peers. After Mr. T was honorably discharged, he tried out for the NFL; it didn’t work out.
Harry Belafonte: United States Navy, 1944
The “King of Calypso,” Harry Belafonte, is considered to be the most successful Jamaican-American pop star in recent history. Known for popularizing Caribbean-style music, Belafonte was the first artist to have an LP sell a million copies. But before he began his music career, Belafonte served in the United States Navy during World War II.
After his time served, Belafonte found himself working as a janitor’s assistant in New York City. There, a tenant gave him tickets to see a theatre performance. He fell in love with the art, dedicating his life to acting and music. Through his career, Belafonte won three Grammys, a Tony, and an Emmy.
George Carlin: United States Air Force, 1954
George Carlin was a United States comedian who was best known for his reflection of politics with dark comedy, something that made him “the dean of counterculture comedians.” And while his 14 comedy specials pretty much criticized everything and everyone, including the government, Carlin did serve in the military.
In 1954, Carlin joined the United States Air Force, where he trained as a radar technician; he was only 17. Stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana, Carlin was court-martialed three times before he was given a general discharge on July 29, 1957. Two years later, he joined a comedy team, and the rest is history.
J. R. Martinez: United States Army, 2002
Before becoming an actor and motivational speaker, in 2002, J. R. Martinez enlisted in the United States Army. He served during the Iraq War, from 2002 to 2003. Sadly, when Martinez deployed to the Middle East in 2003, his Humvee hit an IED, leaving him with burns covering 34 percent of his body.
Soon after, he was honorably discharged, receiving a Combat Action Ribbon for his service. Because of his experience, Martinez became a motivational speaker, talking about how he overcame the trauma. Then, in 2008, he tried his hand at acting, landing roles in All My Children, and competing in Dancing with the Stars.
Clint Eastwood: United States Army, 1951
Clint Eastwood grew up in an affluent part of California. Although it is unclear whether or not Eastwood graduated from high school, it didn’t stop him from landing random jobs throughout his adolescence. Then, in 1951, the actor tried to enroll at Seattle University.
He never made it to the institution, being drafted by the United States Army that year to serve in the Korean War. According to one of Eastwood’s former partners, the actor enjoyed talking about his time in the army, hoping people thought he was a war hero. He was discharged in 1953 and used his G.I. Bill to study drama at City College of L.A.
Montel Williams: United States Navy, 1980
Montel Williams is an American television host who is probably best known for his tabloid talk-show The Montel Williams Show. But before he found fame and fortune, in 1974, William’s enlisted in the United States Corps. Then, after showing his military interest in the corps, Williams had a chance to serve in the Navy.
Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980, Williams found himself in Guam, breaking codes for naval intelligence. He left the navy with many awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal, and at the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After his honorable discharge, Williams began working on his talk show.
Mel Brooks: United States Army, 1944
Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning director, actor, and composer Mel Brooks has led quite an accomplished life. He is known to be one of the best directors to come out of the 1970s, with his films as some of the top ten moneymakers of the year. But before all of his fame, Brooks was drafted by the United States Army.
In 1944, Brooks attended the Virginia Military Institute, where he learned how to defuse land mines during World War II. By the end of the war, Brooks organized shows for the prisoners as well as the American troops.
Kirk Douglas: United States Navy, 1941
Late actor Kirk Douglas was a box-office star through the 1950s, playing iconic roles in films such as The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life, and Detective Story. Of course, out of 90-plus films, one of his more famous roles is his portrayal of the gladiator Spartacus.
But Douglas wasn’t always a critically acclaimed actor. In 1941, Douglas enlisted in the United States Navy, wanting to help his country during World War II. During his time served, Douglas worked as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He was medically discharged in 1944 after being injured by a depth charge explosion.
Bea Arthur: United States Marine Corps, 1943
At the age of 21, late actress Bea Arthur was one of the first people to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. During World War II, she started off as a typist but put in a transfer to complete Motor Transport School.
After completing the necessary courses, Arthur became a truck driver and dispatcher before she was honorably discharged in 1945. But she didn’t go into acting right away, first studying to become a medical technician. It wasn’t until 1947 she decided to move to New York to study drama. Of course, her biggest claim to fame is as Dorothy in the popular sitcom Golden Girls.
Jimi Hendrix: United States Army, 1961
Guitarist Jimi Hendrix seemed to have lived a rock-and-roll lifestyle his entire life. Because after a few run-ins with the law, police officers gave the musician an ultimatum: enlist in the army or go to jail. Hendrix chose the latter, and in 1961 he was officially a member of the United States Army.
After basic training, Hendrix was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Because of his love for the guitar and his dislike for the strict rules of the army, Hendrix was an incompetent soldier. His superiors took notice, releasing him with a discharge under honorable conditions in 1962.
Pat Sajak: United States Army, 1968
Would you believe that before Pat Sajak became “the guy who hosts Wheel of Fortune,” he worked as a DJ in the United States Army during the Vietnam War? during his time in the army, the television personality also took over the Dawn Buster radio show, signing on with the infamous phrase, “Goooooooooood morning, Vietnam!”
Sensing that he had a knack for television, Sajak returned the United States to pursue a career on screen. Starting off as a weatherman in Nashville, Sajak quickly moved up to the big times, once NBC caught wind of him. In 1983, he was hired to host Wheel of Fortune.
Zulay Henao: The United States Army, Year Unknown
After graduating from high school, American-Colombian actress Zulay Henao enlisted in the United States Army. She completed her three-year military contract and decided to try her hand at acting after being discharged. Her first step was to enroll in the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.
From there, Zulay appeared in a few small films and television programs, including Army Wives. Her big break came in 2007 after she was cast as CC Reyes in the Jenifer Lopez produced film Feel the Noise.
Hugh Hefner: United States Army, 1944
Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner is famous for founding Playboy. His first magazine was launched in 1953 and featured a revealing Marilyn Monroe in a calendar shoot. This first edition of Playboy sold over 50,000 copies. From the success of the brand, Hefner went on to open clubs and live in a mansion with the Playboy name.
But what a lot of people don’t know about the publisher is that he was part of the United States Army from 1944 until 1946. There, he worked on the military newspaper as a writer.
Dennis Franz: United States Army, 1968
Retired actor Dennis Franz is best known for his role as Detective Andy Sipowicz in the popular series NYPD Blue. He received multiple awards for the role, including a Golden Globe, four Primetime Emmys, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. But before perfecting his craft, Franz was drafted into the United States Army.
After he graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in speech and theatre in 1968, Franz was drafted into the army. Deployed to Vietnam, Franz served 11 months with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. After returning home, his focus shifted towards acting.
Johnny Carson: United States Navy, 1943
Before he became the recipient of six Emmys, a Peabody, and a Governer’s Award, the late television host Johnny Carson was a member of the United States Navy. Enlisting in 1943, Carson hoped to train as a pilot. Instead, he was sent to Columbia University to train as a V-12 Navy College Training Program officer.
It wasn’t until later in the war that he was stationed on the USS Pennsylvania, winning amateur boxing matches while waiting for the war to end. When he returned home, Carson went straight into radio, hosting multiple shows throughout the 50s, including The Johnny Carson Show.
Tom Selleck: United States Army, 1967
Actor Tom Selleck is best known for, ironically, his breakout role as the private investigator Thomas Magnum in the hit series Magnum, P.I. His performance in the show led him to win many awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
But before he tried his hand in acting, in 1967, Selleck received a draft notice from the United States Army during the Vietnam War. From the time of the notice until 1973, Selleck was a sergeant in the 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry, of the California Army National Guard.
Rob Riggle: United States Marine Corps, 1990
Actor Rob Riggle is best known for his comedic characters. But before his characters from SNL, 21 Jump Street, Step Brothers, and The Hangover became well-known, Riggle was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. After getting his pilot license, Riggle joined the corps, believing he would have a career as a Naval Aviator.
But he left flight school in pursuit of a career in comedy. During his time in the corps, Riggle went overseas to Iraq to report for the Daily Show as well as entertain the stationed troops. The comedian obtained the rank of lieutenant colonel, receiving multiple awards for his 23 years of service.
Drew Carey: United States Marine Corps, 1980
American comedian and tv personality Drew Carey is known for hosting a variety of game, and variety shows, including The Price Is Right and Whose Line Is It Anyway? And while most people know him for his silly banter and jokes, a lot of people don’t realize Carey served in the United States Marine Corps for six years.
After leaving Kent State University, Carey joined the marines. During his time in the military, the comedian worked in the 25th Marine Regiment as a field radio operator. Of course, he also spent his time in the marines working on his stand-up comedy.
Harvey Keitel: United States Marine Corps, 1956
Instead of completing high school, actor Harvey Keitel enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1956, when he was only 16 years old. The decision took him overseas to Lebanon during Operation Blue Belt, a mission that was called to order due to the rising political and religious tensions occurring in the country.
When he returned to the states, Keitel didn’t go straight into acting. Instead, he was a court reporter for many years. Of course, when he finally got into acting, he wound up becoming one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation.