Celebrities Who Served In The Military

It's not often that you hear about celebrities who served in the military. After all, many of them have become famous for their acting, singing, or other showbiz activities and are usually too busy to serve. However, there are definitely some stars out there who either served before becoming famous or decided to take a break from their celebrity lives and enlist in the armed forces.

Many famous American military veterans went on to have illustrious careers in the movie entertainment industry. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly actor Clint Eastwood served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and almost perished in a plane crash. The plane landed in the ocean near Fort Ord, CA, but Eastwood was able to swim to safety. Roughly 40 years later, he won his first two Oscars for Unforgiven. Other well-known actors who have served in the military include Paul Newman, Morgan Freeman, and Chuck Norris. 

Some surprising celebrities who also served include musicians and rock stars, such as Jimi Hendrix and Nate Dogg. Other celebrity vets include actor Tom Selleck, comedian Sinbad, and rapper Ice-T.

Do you think that serving in the military gave these famous people the discipline they needed to succeed in their careers?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • James Stewart
    Photo: US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It's a Wonderful Life star James Stewart was rejected from the U.S. Army when he was first drafted because he didn't meet the weight requirement.  He then worked out, bulking up enough to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

    • Age: Passed at 89 (1908-1997)
    • Birthplace: Indiana, Pennsylvania
  • William Sanderson
    Photo: Greg2600 / Flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    William Sanderson served in the U.S. Army.

    William Sanderson (born January 10, 1944) is an American character actor famous for his roles in Blade Runner (1982), Newhart (1982–1990), Deadwood (2004–2006, 2019) and True Blood (2008–2010, 2012).
    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Jesse Ventura
    Photo: Kingkongphoto / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    Former politician and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam.

    Jesse Ventura (born James George Janos; July 15, 1951) is an American media personality, actor, author, retired professional wrestler, and former politician who served as the Mayor of Brooklyn Park from 1993 to 1995 and as the 38th Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. He was the first and only candidate of the Reform Party to win a major government position, but later joined the Green Party of the United States. Ventura was a member of the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team during the Vietnam War. After leaving the military, he embarked on a professional wrestling career from 1975 to 1986, taking the ring name Jesse "The Body" Ventura. He had a long tenure in the World Wrestling ...more
    • Age: 71
    • Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Don Rickles
    Photo: Joseph Scandore / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Casino star and comedian Don Rickles served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

    Donald Jay Rickles (May 8, 1926 – April 6, 2017) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and author, known especially for his insult comedy. His film roles included Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) with Clark Gable and Kelly's Heroes (1970) with Clint Eastwood, and beginning in 1976 he enjoyed a two-year run starring in the NBC television sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey. Rickles received widespread exposure as a frequent guest on talk and variety shows, including The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Show with David Letterman, and later voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles ...more
    • Age: Passed at 90 (1926-2017)
    • Birthplace: Queens, New York City, New York
  • Charlton Heston
    Photo: U.S. Information Agency Press and Publications Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Ben Hur star Charlton Heston served in the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII.

    Charlton Heston (born John Charles Carter; October 4, 1923 – April 5, 2008) was an American actor and political activist.As a Hollywood star, he appeared in almost 100 films over the course of 60 years. He played Moses in the epic film The Ten Commandments (1956), for which he received his first nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama. He also starred in Touch of Evil (1958) with Orson Welles, Ben-Hur (1959), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid (1961), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Secret of the Incas (1954), The Big Country (1958) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).Even though he was a supporter ...more
    • Age: Passed at 84 (1923-2008)
    • Birthplace: Evanston, Illinois
  • Kirk Douglas
    Photo: Cinema Center Films / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Actor Kirk Douglas, father to Michael Douglas, served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

    Kirk Douglas (December 9, 1916-February 5, 2020) was an American actor, filmmaker, and author. He had his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Douglas soon developed into a leading box-office star throughout the 1950s, known for serious dramas, including westerns and war movies. During his career, he appeared in more than 90 movies. Douglas became an international star through positive reception for his leading role as an unscrupulous boxing hero in Champion (1949), which brought him his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Other early films include Young Man with a Horn (1950), playing opposite Lauren Bacall and Doris Day, Ace in ...more
    • Age: Dec. at 103 (1916-2020)
    • Birthplace: Amsterdam, New York
  • Adam Driver
    Photo: Dtstuff9 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    After the 9/11 attacks, Girls and Star Wars actor Adam Driver joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He served for two years and eight months before being medically discharged.

    • Age: 39
    • Birthplace: San Diego, California
  • M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr served in the U.S. Army.

    Jamie Farr (born Jameel Joseph Farah; July 1, 1934) is an American television and film comedian and theatre actor. He is known for playing a cross-dressing corporal (later sergeant) from Toledo, Ohio, bucking for a Section 8 discharge, in the role of Maxwell Q. Klinger in the CBS television sitcom M*A*S*H.
    • Age: 88
    • Birthplace: Toledo, Ohio
  • Bob Newhart
    Photo: Alan Light / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Comedian Bob Newhart was drafted to the U.S. Army and served in Korea.

    George Robert Newhart (born September 5, 1929) is an American stand-up comedian and actor, noted for his deadpan and slightly stammering delivery. Newhart came to prominence in 1960 when his album of comedic monologues, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, became a worldwide bestseller and reached number one on the Billboard pop album chart; it remains the 20th-best selling comedy album in history. The follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!, was also a success, and the two albums held the Billboard number one and number two spots simultaneously.Newhart later went into acting, starring as Chicago psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley in The Bob Newhart Show during the 1970s and then ...more
    • Age: 93
    • Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois
  • Actor Henry Fonda served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

    Henry Jaynes Fonda (May 16, 1905 – August 12, 1982) was an American film and stage actor with a career spanning five decades. Fonda made his mark early as a Broadway actor. He also appeared in 1938 in plays performed in White Plains, New York, with Joan Tompkins. He made his Hollywood debut in 1935, and his career gained momentum after his Academy Award-nominated performance as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, a 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about an Oklahoma family who moved west during the Dust Bowl. Throughout five decades in Hollywood, Fonda cultivated a strong, appealing screen image in such classics as The Ox-Bow Incident, Mister Roberts, and 12 Angry Men. Later, Fonda ...more
    • Age: Passed at 77 (1905-1982)
    • Birthplace: Grand Island, Nebraska
  • Sinbad
    Photo: Jerry Crawford / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    Comedian Sinbad served in the U.S. Air Force and regularly performed his stand-up routine during this time.

    David Adkins (born November 10, 1956), better known by his stage name Sinbad, is an American stand-up comedian and actor. He became known in the 1990s from being featured on his own HBO specials, appearing on several television series such as Coach Walter Oakes in A Different World (1987–1991) and as David Bryan on The Sinbad Show (1993–1994), and starring in the films Necessary Roughness, Houseguest, First Kid, Jingle All the Way, Good Burger, and Planes (2013).
    • Age: 66
    • Birthplace: Benton Harbor, Michigan
  • Actor Ernest Borgnine served in the U.S. Navy for a total of 10 years.

    Ernest Borgnine (born January 24, 1917 – July 8, 2012) was an American actor whose career spanned over six decades. He was noted for his gruff but calm voice and gap-toothed Cheshire Cat grin. A popular performer, he also appeared as a guest on numerous talk shows and as a panelist on several game shows. Borgnine's film career began in 1951, and included supporting roles in China Corsair (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), Vera Cruz (1954), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and The Wild Bunch (1969). He also played the unconventional lead in many films, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for Marty (1955). He achieved continuing success in the sitcom McHale's Navy (1962–1966), in which ...more
    • Age: Passed at 95 (1917-2012)
    • Birthplace: Hamden, Connecticut
  • Humphrey Bogart
    Photo: Warner Bros / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart served in the U.S. Navy.

    Humphrey DeForest Bogart (; December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957) was an American film and theater actor. His performances in numerous films from the Classical Hollywood era made him a cultural icon. In 1999, the American Film Institute selected him as the greatest male star of classic American cinema.Bogart began acting in Broadway shows after World War I. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he began his movie career in Up the River, a comedy directed by John Ford. The film also starred Spencer Tracy; Bogart played the romantic role in a part as large as Tracy's, despite Bogart's much lower billing. Bogart appeared in various supporting parts, struggling for several years, sometimes ...more
    • Age: Passed at 57 (1899-1957)
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
  • Apocalypse Now actor served in Korea as a soldier of the U.S. Army.

    Robert Selden Duvall (; born January 5, 1931) is an American actor and filmmaker whose career spans more than six decades. He has been nominated for seven Academy Awards (winning for his performance in Tender Mercies) and seven Golden Globe Awards (winning four), and has won a BAFTA, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Emmy Award. He received the National Medal of Arts in 2005. Duvall has starred in numerous films and television series, including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Twilight Zone (1963), The Outer Limits (1964), Bullitt (1968), True Grit (1969), MASH (1970), THX 1138 (1971), Joe Kidd (1972), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), Network ...more
    • Age: 92
    • Birthplace: San Diego, California
  • Gene Hackman
    Photo: Bill Chodubski / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    French Connection actor Gene Hackman served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

    Eugene Allen Hackman (born January 30, 1930) is a retired American actor and novelist. In a career that spanned more than six decades, Hackman was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning Best Actor in The French Connection and Best Supporting Actor in Unforgiven. He won four Golden Globes, one SAG Award and two BAFTAs. He first came to fame in 1967 with his performance as Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, when he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His major subsequent films include: I Never Sang for My Father (1970), when he received his second Best Supporting Actor nomination; The French Connection (1971) for which he was awarded the Oscar for Best ...more
    • Age: 93
    • Birthplace: San Bernardino, California
  • Alan Alda
    Photo: Bridget Laudien / Wikimedia Commons / OTRS

    M*A*S*H star Alan Alda was a member of the ROTC and served in the Army Reserve.

    Alan Alda (born January 28, 1936) is an American actor, director, screenwriter, comedian and author. A six-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner, he played Hawkeye Pierce in the war television series M*A*S*H (1972–1983). He has also appeared on television programs such as Scientific American Frontiers, The West Wing, and 30 Rock, and in films such as Same Time, Next Year (1978) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). He also experienced success as a director with 1981's The Four Seasons. In 2004, Alda was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Aviator.
    • Age: 87
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
  • Kurt Vonnegut
    Photo: WNET-TV / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Author Kurt Vonnegut recalled his experience as a WWII POW in his novel Slaughterhouse Five.

    Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (; November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then ...more
    • Age: Passed at 84 (1922-2007)
    • Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Jack Lemmon
    Photo: Alan Light / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    The Odd Couple actor Jack Lemmon joined the U.S. Navy before finishing college.

    John Uhler Lemmon III (February 8, 1925 – June 27, 2001) was an American actor who was nominated for an Academy Award eight times, winning twice. He starred in over 60 films, such as Mister Roberts (1955, for which he won the year's Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Irma la Douce (1963), The Great Race (1965), The Odd Couple (1968, and its sequel The Odd Couple II (1998), both with frequent co-star Walter Matthau), Save the Tiger (1973, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), The China Syndrome (1979), Missing (1982), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
    • Age: Passed at 76 (1925-2001)
    • Birthplace: Newton, Massachusetts
  • Danny Aiello
    Photo: Mike L. Photos / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Actor Danny Aiello enlisted in the U.S. Army.

    Daniel Louis Aiello Jr. (; born June 20, 1933) is an American actor who has appeared in numerous motion pictures, including The Godfather Part II (1974), The Front (1976), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Harlem Nights (1989), Hudson Hawk (1991), Ruby (1992), Léon: The Professional (1994), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Dinner Rush (2000), and Lucky Number Slevin (2006). He had a pivotal role in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing (1989) as Salvatore "Sal" Frangione, earning a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He played Don Domenico Clericuzio in the miniseries The Last Don (1997).
    • Age: Dec. at 86 (1933-2019)
    • Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, New York
  • Harry Belafonte
    Photo: U.S. Information Agency Press and Publications Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Singer Harry Belafonte served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

    Harry Belafonte (born March 1, 1927) is an American singer, songwriter, activist, and actor. One of the most successful Jamaican-American pop stars in history, he was dubbed the "King of Calypso" for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) is the first million-selling LP by a single artist. Belafonte is perhaps best known for his recording of "The Banana Boat Song", with its signature lyric "Day-O". He has recorded and performed many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He has also starred in several films, including Otto Preminger's hit musical Carmen Jones (1954), ...more
    • Age: 91
    • Birthplace: Harlem, New York City, New York
  • Kris Kristofferson
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    Actor Kris Kristofferson joined the US Army and became a helicopter pilot.
    • Age: 86
    • Birthplace: Brownsville, Texas, United States of America
  • Dennis Franz
    Photo: flickr / CC0
    "NYPD Blue" actor Dennis Franz was drafted to the US Army during the Vietnam War.
    Dennis Franz Schlachta (; born October 28, 1944), known professionally as Dennis Franz, is an American former actor best known for his role as NYPD Detective Andy Sipowicz in the ABC television series NYPD Blue (1993–2005), a role that earned him a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards. He also portrayed Lt. Norman Buntz in the similar NBC series Hill Street Blues (1985–1987) and its short-lived spinoff, Beverly Hills Buntz (1987–1988).
    • Age: 78
    • Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Tony Curtis
    Photo: flickr / CC0
    "Some Like it Hot" actor Tony Curtis served in the US Navy during World War II.
    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1925-2010)
    • Birthplace: Bronx, New York, USA
  • "Star Trek" actor Leonard Nimoy served in the US Army.
    Leonard Simon Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015) was an American actor, film director, photographer, author, singer, and songwriter. He was known for playing Spock in the Star Trek franchise, a character he portrayed in television and film from a pilot episode shot in late 1964 to his final film performance in 2013.Nimoy began his career in his early twenties, teaching acting classes in Hollywood and making minor film and television appearances through the 1950s, as well as playing the title role in Kid Monk Baroni. Foreshadowing his fame as a semi-alien, he played Narab, one of three Martian invaders, in the 1952 movie serial Zombies of the Stratosphere. From 1959 to 1962 he ...more
    • Age: Dec. at 83 (1931-2015)
    • Birthplace: West End, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
  • Brian Dennehy
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    Actor Brian Dennehy served in the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
    Brian Manion Dennehy (July 9, 1938 - April 15, 2020) was an American actor of film, stage, and television. A winner of one Golden Globe, two Tony Awards and a recipient of six Primetime Emmy Award nominations, he gained initial recognition for his role as Sheriff Will Teasle in First Blood (1982). He has had roles in numerous films including Gorky Park (1983), Silverado (1985), Cocoon (1985), F/X (1986), Presumed Innocent (1990), Romeo + Juliet (1996), and Knight of Cups (2015). Dennehy won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for his role as Willy Loman in the television film Death of a Salesman (2000).
    • Age: Dec. at 81 (1938-2020)
    • Birthplace: Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States of America
  • "The Notebook" actor James Garner joined the National Guard and served in the Army during the Korean War.
    James Garner (born April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014) was an American actor, producer, and voice artist. He starred in several television series over more than five decades, including popular roles such as Bret Maverick in the 1950s western series Maverick and as Jim Rockford in the 1970s private detective show, The Rockford Files. He played leading roles in more than 50 theatrical films, including The Great Escape (1963) with Steve McQueen, Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily (1964) with Julie Andrews, Grand Prix (1966), Blake Edwards's Victor/Victoria (1982), and Murphy's Romance (1985) with Sally Field, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. Garner's career and ...more
    • Age: Dec. at 86 (1928-2014)
    • Birthplace: USA, Oklahoma, Norman
  • "Jaws" actor Roy Scheider served in the US Air Force.
    Roy Richard Scheider (November 10, 1932 – February 10, 2008) was an American actor and amateur boxer. Scheider gained fame for his leading and supporting roles in several iconic films from the 1970s through to the early-mid 80s, playing NYPD Detective Buddy "Cloudy" Russo in The French Connection (1971); NYPD Detective Buddy Manucci in The Seven Ups (1973); Police Chief Martin Brody in Jaws (1975) and Jaws 2 (1978); Doc in Marathon Man (1976); choreographer and film director Joe Gideon (whose character was based on Bob Fosse) in All That Jazz (which was co-written and directed by Fosse) (1979); and Dr. Heywood R. Floyd in the 1984 film 2010, the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider is ...more
    • Age: Dec. at 75 (1932-2008)
    • Birthplace: Orange, New Jersey, United States of America
  • Benny Hill
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    Comedian Benny Hill served in the combined entertainment services division in World War II.
    Alfred Hawthorne "Benny" Hill (21 January 1924 – 20 April 1992) was an English comedian and actor, best remembered for his television programme The Benny Hill Show, an amalgam of slapstick, burlesque and double entendre in a format that included live comedy and filmed segments with Hill at the focus of almost every segment. Hill was a prominent figure in British culture for nearly four decades. His show proved to be one of the great success stories of television comedy and was among the most-watched programmes in the UK with the audience peaking at more than 21 million in 1971. The Benny Hill Show was also exported to 97 countries around the world.
    • Age: Dec. at 68 (1924-1992)
    • Birthplace: Southampton, United Kingdom
  • Carl Reiner
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    "Dick Van Dyke" star Carl Reiner served in the US Army during World War II.
    Carlton "Carl" Reiner (March 20, 1922 – June 29, 2020) was an American comedian, actor, director, screenwriter, and publisher whose career spanned seven decades. In the 1960s, Reiner was best known as the creator, producer, writer, and actor on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner formed a comedy duo with Mel Brooks in "2000 Year Old Man" and acted in films such as The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), and the Ocean's film series (2001–2007). He also co-wrote and directed some of Steve Martin's most successful films, including The Jerk (1979), and also directed notable comedies such as Where's Poppa? (1970), Oh, God! (1977), and All of Me (1984) Reiner has won nine Emmy ...more
    • Age: 96
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America
  • Don Knotts
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    "Andy Griffith Show" actor Don Knotts joined the US Army.
    Jesse Donald Knotts (July 21, 1924 – February 24, 2006) was an American actor and comedian, best known for his role as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, a 1960s sitcom for which he earned five Emmy Awards, and for his role as Ralph Furley on the highly rated sitcom Three's Company from 1979 to 1984. He also starred in multiple comedic films, including playing Luther Heggs in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and Henry Limpet in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). In 1979 TV Guide ranked him #27 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.
    • Age: Dec. at 81 (1924-2006)
    • Birthplace: Morgantown, West Virginia, United States of America