20 Real People Behind Classic Characters

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: Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill, Leatherface
    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.
    • Born: 08-27-1906
    • Age: Dec. at 77 (1906-1984)
    • Birthplace: Wisconsin, United States of America
  • Hiram Bingham III: Indiana Jones
    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.
    • Born: 11-19-1875
    • Age: Dec. at 80 (1875-1956)
    • Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
  • Jeff Dowd: Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski

    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.
    • Born: 11-20-1949
    • Age: 73
    • Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States of America
  • Dave Toschi: Dirty Harry

    Dave Toschi: Dirty Harry
    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.
  • Palle Huld: Tintin
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Tintin is a young adventurer who travels the world with his dog, Snowy, in The Adventures of Tintin comic series.
    Palle Huld was an actor and writer who, at age 15, traveled the world after winning a Jules Verne-inspired contest. Huld is largely believed to have inspired Belgian cartoonist Hergé to create the character of Tintin.
    • Born: 08-02-1912
    • Age: Dec. at 98 (1912-2010)
    • Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark, Hellerup
  • Cosmo Kramer is Jerry Seinfeld's whacky neighbor on the classic sitcom "Seinfeld."  Cosmo Kramer rarely works, but he regularly comes up with crazy schemes that impact Jerry's life.

    "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David lived across the hall from stand-up comedian Kenny Kramer for several years. David used his neighbor as inspiration for the character of Kramer, having the character love golf, hot tubs, and crazy inventions just like his real-life counterpart.
    • Born: 05-01-1943
    • Age: 79
    • Birthplace: New York