20 Real People Behind Classic Characters 

Robert Wabash
215.3k views 20 items

Think the most famous characters of all time are just a figment of someone's imagination? Well, that's like, your opinion, man. Many of the greatest television characters and the best movie characters of all time were either loosely or wholly based on real people. This list of iconic characters based on real people will show you that truth is stranger than fiction, and some of the weirdest and most wonderful characters of all time actually existed off the big screen.

From the barking efficiency of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, to the men of Les Miserables, to Cosmo Kramer (for real, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David took a lot of liberties when creating the many memorable Seinfeld characters), there are more real people behind great characters than you'd imagine. 

What memorable characters were based on real people? Who are some of the real people famous and classic fictional characters were based on? If you think you knew everything there is to know about your favorite movie characters and the best parts ever written for the small screen, this list of iconic characters based on real people might just change your mind.
Ed Gein is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 20 Real People Behind Classic Characters
Photo: Mistyday22/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Norman Bates (Psycho), Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs), and Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) are some of the most iconic killers to ever appear on film. They were all inspired by the crimes of Ed Gein.

Ed Gein was a murderer who would keep the skin and bones of his victims. He would also steal bodies from graves to take their skin and bones. He was eventually captured and spent his life serving out a prison sentence in a mental hospital.

Age: Dec. at 78 (1906-1984)

Birthplace: Wisconsin, USA

Hiram Bingham III is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 20 Real People Behind Classic Characters
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Indiana Jones is the title character from the Steven Spielberg-directed, George Lucas-created Indiana Jones series. He is an intelligent explorer with a strong sense of adventure.

Hiram Bingham III was an academic explorer who later became a U.S. politician. He is often cited as the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones. George Lucas has also cited Sean Connery's portrayal of James Bond to have also been a primary influence for Indiana Jones.

Age: Dec. at 81 (1875-1956)

Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

Jeff Dowd: Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski
Jeff Dowd is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 20 Real People Behind Classic Characters
Photo:  sagindie/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski is a pot-smoking, bowling enthusiast who gets mixed up with a group of pornographers and nihilists after being confused for a rich man who is also named Jeffrey Lebowski in the film The Big Lebowski.

Jeff Dowd is a producer and political activist who met The Big Lebowski creators, Joel and Ethan Coen, when they were promoting their first film, Blood Simple. The Coen Brothers were so inspired by Dowd that they loosesly based the character of "The Dude" on his personality traits.

Age: 69

Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States of America

Dave Toschi: Dirty Harry
Dave Toschi: Dirty Harry... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 20 Real People Behind Classic Characters
Photo: Nancy Wong/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

"Dirty" Harry Callahan is a San Francisco Police Department Inspector who works to bring the vicious Scorpio killer to justice in the Dirty Harry film series.

Dave Toschi is a former San Francisco Police Department Inspector who investigated the Zodiac Killer case in late-60s and early-70s. Dirty Harry was loosely based on the people and events involved with the Zodiac Killer investigation.