Most of us won’t retire until we reach old age, but this is not the case for professional athletes. Due to the nature of their profession, athletes are forced to hang up their boots usually in their 30’s, with a few making it to 40+ where their body will begin to say no but the heart still says yes. When athletes retire there are many different paths that they could take. They could either sit on their millions if they were successful or smart with their money, or they could pursue other options. Many go into coaching or become analysts and reporters, but there are also many that eye the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Ordinarily, when an athlete makes an attempt at acting it can be rather painful and embarrassing, but sometimes athletes look as comfortable on set as they do out on the field of play. Some athletes will try their hand at acting in one film (usually playing themselves) and often whilst they are still performing, like Michael Jordan in Space Jam, and then quickly realize that acting is no walk in the park and stick to what they know best. There are also athletes that have persevered and worked hard to become respectable actors, and this is to be admired as transitioning between athlete and actor is certainly no easy feat.
It is the aspirations of millions of people to become a professional athlete or an actor, and the majority of us never get to experience either. In a few cases there are individuals who not only get to experience both, but become respected in both lines of work and become huge names in the entertainment business.
Here are 15 athletes who became successful actors.
15 Howie Long
Howie Long played in the NFL from 1981-93 as defensive end for the Oakland/L.A. Raiders, and in this time he became a Super Bowl champion, co-Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Lineman of the Year and he would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Long is an important figure in Raiders history, and he has remained in the game as a broadcaster.
14 Bubba Smith
Bubba Smith had a highly successful college football career and would go on to become the 1st pick and play nine years in the NFL. In this time he won the Super Bowl and was named to two Pro Bowls, as well as becoming an All-Pro. Sitting on this success upon retirement was not enough for Smith, who decided to try his hand at acting. After a few minor roles he finally landed a key role, playing Moses Hightower in Police Academy and the subsequent sequels. This helped him earn fame away from the football field, and he would go on to perform in a range of other films as well as advertisements and TV programs.
13 Shaquille O’Neal
Not only is Shaq one of the biggest players to have played in the NBA, but he is also one of the biggest personalities. This meant that it was inevitable that he would try his hand at acting at some point, and he has appeared in dozens of films and will often play himself. He may not be the most skilled actor, but he has the important ability to make people laugh and has therefore been heavily used in comedies. Shaq has played roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm, My Wife & Kids, Blue Chips, The Parkers, Scary Movie 4, Grown Ups 2 and he has also done some voice acting for The Smurfs 2 and The Lego Movie.
12 Terry Bradshaw
11 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
10 Lawrence Taylor
Hall of Famer L.T is unquestionably one of the all-time greats and enjoyed a legendary career with the Giants. In his playing days, Taylor became a two-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, MVP and firmly established himself as perhaps the greatest defensive player to play the game. He had an enormous impact on the NFL, but following his retirement he wanted to undertake a new adventure.
9 Bob Uecker
Bob Uecker played catcher for the Milwaukee Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, becoming a World Series Champion in 1964 with the Cardinals. Uecker would go on to provide commentary after retiring, and thanks to his sense of humour he also was able to launch a career as an actor and media personality which he is now more famous for.
8 Jim Brown
Jim Brown is widely considered to be one of the greatest football players of all time, as well as one of the best athletes in the history of the USA. Despite a historic, record setting career in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, he retired at just 30 years old to launch a career in the film industry.
7 Alex Karras
6 Vinnie Jones
5 Fred Williamson
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson first succeeded on the gridiron as a defensive back in both the NFL and AFL, and he became famous for his hard tackles and self promotion, as he would often state that he would deliver hammer blows to opposing players. It seemed that he was perfect for Hollywood, and as it turned out this was true as he has been in a staggering amount of movies and TV shows. This includes M*A*S*H, Black Caesar, Starsky & Hutch, Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn where he co-starred with George Clooney and Tarantino, The Godfather of Harlem and dozens more.
4 Carl Weathers
3 Dwayne Johnson
You can’t help but smile anytime you see Dwayne Johnson, or “The Rock” as he is better known, on television. He has gone from one of the most entertaining and impressive wrestlers of all time through to a firmly established Hollywood action superstar.
Like many athletes, Johnson is typecast due to his fame and body shape, but he has proven himself to be a skilled actor in his performances. Johnson wasn't only a wrestler, he was also a national champion at the University of Miami, and was an All-American at defensive end. After going undrafted in the NFL, he had a brief stint with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL.
His smooth transition to acting could be due to playing a character in the WWE, but whatever the reason, you can’t deny his strong presence in Hollywood these days and he is also a very hard worker with many films under his belt. The People’s Champion has had a remarkable career both in and out of the ring, and he shows no signs of slowing down just yet.
2 Chuck Norris
Chuck Norris is best known as an actor, but this would not be the case had it not been for his stellar Martial Arts career. Norris won many titles over his career, with 1969 being a particularly dominant year where he took home Karate’s Triple Crown after winning the most tournaments that year. He has since been inducted into the Martial Arts History Museum’s Hall of Fame and been presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.
1 Arnold Schwarzenegger
Once Arnold Schwarzenegger dominated the body building world, it was his goal to next crack Hollywood. His first attempt at this was with the laughable Hercules in New York, where his acting could be described as painful and his accent so thick that upon release his voice was overdubbed, plus there was also a scene where he wrestles with a man in a very cheap bear suit. Things would improve years later for Arnie however, and he would go on to become an action film icon.
He has appeared in dozens of films and still relied on his enormous frame, but a few of his classics include Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator films, Commando, Predator, Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop. He would of course go on to become the Governor of California, adding another string to his bow and helping him to become one of the most likeable and recognizable celebrities in the business.
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