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Steven Seagal

Steven F. Seagal (born April 10, 1951) is an American action movie actor, producer, writer, director, martial artist and singer-songwriter. He belongs to a generation of movie action hero actors (including Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Bruce Willis) who were featured in many of the Hollywood blockbuster action films of the late 1980s and 1990s.

A 6' 4" (193 cm) 7th-dan black belt in aikido, Seagal began his adult life as an aikido instructor in Japan. He became the first foreigner to ever own and operate an aikido dojo in Osaka, Japan. He later moved to the Los Angeles, California area where he made his film debut in 1988 in Above the Law. Since then, Seagal has become a well recognized action star, mainly due to his action films of the 1990s such as Under Siege (1992) and Under Siege 2 (1995) where he played Navy SEALs counter-terrorist expert Casey Ryback. In total his movies have earned in excess of $850 million worldwide.

Seagal is also a recording artist and guitarist and the founder of Steven Seagal Enterprises. In addition to his professional achievements, he is also known as an environmentalist, an animal rights activist and, like other actors such as Richard Gere, is a supporter of Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibetan independence. Spiritualism and Buddhism play an important role in Seagal's life and he has been recognized by Tibetan lama Penor Rinpoche as a reincarnated Tulku (Chungdrag Dorje). According to Seagal in a November 2006 interview: "I was born very different, clairvoyant and a healer".

Early years

Youth

Seagal was born in Lansing, Michigan, where he lived until he was five years old. His mother, Patricia, was a medical technician, and his father a high school math teacher. The family relocated to Fullerton, California, where Seagal attended the Buena Park High School in Buena Park, California. Following his graduation, Seagal held one of his first jobs at the local Burger King.

It was allegedly at the age of seven that Seagal first began studying martial arts under the direction of renowned Shito-ryu karate master Fumio Demura and aikido under Rod Kobayashi, the President of the Western States Aikido Federation. He earned belts in aikido, karate, judo, and kendo and in his late teens, Seagal became part of Demura's Karate Demonstration Team and performed daily demonstrations in the former Japanese Village and Deer Park, in Southern California. In 1974, he was promoted by Kobayashi-sensei to shodan in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (a fact disputed by ex-wife Miyako Fujitani [below]).

Japan

After graduating from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, Seagal moved to Japan with then-girlfriend Miyako Fujitani, native of Japan whom he later married, and lived with her parents, who owned an aikido school; allegations surfaced that he left to avoid the Vietnam draft at the time, and married Ms. Fujitani to provide reasonable evidence to his remaining there in spite of a possible draft-call.

During this time in Japan, Seagal changed affiliation from Koichi Tohei's Ki Society and Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido to the Aikikai. Under the title Master Take Shigemichi, Seagal was reputedly the first foreigner ever to own and operate an aikido dojo in Japan (though his in-laws, and not himself, were the actual owners): the Aikido Tenshin Dojo in the city of Osaka. Seagal claims that he battled the yakuza (Japanese mafia) over the rights to the Aikido Tenshin Dojo, which he claims that his wife's father lost in a gambling game; however, his former wife Miyako Fujitani, claims "it's a lie", and that he "yelled at some drunks, but never fought anyone".

Return to the U.S.

Seagal initially returned to Taos, New Mexico, with senior student, and later stuntman, Craig Dunn. There, they opened a dojo, but Seagal spent much of his time pursuing a film career and other ventures. Dunn stayed in New Mexico and continued to run the dojo. After another period in Japan, he returned to the U.S. with senior student Haruo Matsuoka in 1983. They opened an aikido dojo, initially in Burbank, California, but later moved it to the city of West Hollywood. Seagal left Matsuoka in charge of the dojo, which he ran until the two parted in 1997. It was during that period that Seagal first found himself in contact with Hollywood. Initially, he worked as the martial arts co-ordinator for the films The Challenge (1982) starring Scott Glenn and Toshirô Mifune, and Never Say Never Again (1983) starring Sean Connery. Seagal then became a bodyguard to celebrities, such as future wife Kelly LeBrock and Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz. It was Ovitz who, impressed with Seagal's martial arts abilities, personally financed his screen test in front of Warner Bros. Executives, too, were impressed, and signed Seagal for his first film.

Hollywood career

The 1990s: the action hero years

In 1988, Seagal began work on his first film, Above the Law (titled Nico in Europe), with director Andrew Davis and reportedly as a favour to a former Aikido student, the agent Michael Ovitz, who believed he could make anyone a star . Following its success, Seagal made three more movies — Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, and Out for Justice — that were box office hits, making him an action hero. Later, he achieved wider, mainstream success in 1992 with the release of Under Siege (1992). That film reunited Seagal with director Andrew Davis, and was a blockbuster in the U.S. and abroad, grossing $156.4 million worldwide.

After the success of Under Siege, Seagal made his directorial debut with On Deadly Ground (1994) in which he starred with Michael Caine. The movie failed with audiences and critics, and was an estimated financial loss of $50 million to make, while grossing less than $39 million in the U.S.

To regain popularity, he filmed a sequel to his most successful film Under Siege titled Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) and the cop drama The Glimmer Man (1996). In 1996, he had his first supporting role, in the Kurt Russell film Executive Decision (1996), which featured him as in a starring role, but kept secret his character's fate. Then, he again made an environmentally-conscious film, Fire Down Below (1997), wherein he was an EPA agent fighting industrialists dumping toxic waste in the Kentucky hills, but the movie was commercially unsuccessful. This film ended his original multi-picture contract with Warner Bros., and because of its failure, his contract was not renewed.

Direct-to-video years

The next year, Seagal made The Patriot, another environmental thriller which was his first direct-to-video release in the United States (though it was released theatrically in most of the world). Seagal produced this film with his own money, and the film was shot on-location on and near his farm in Montana.

After taking a couple years to produce Prince of Central Park, Seagal returned to cinema screens with the release of Exit Wounds in March 2001. The film had fewer martial arts scenes than Seagal's previous films, but it was a commercial success, taking almost $80 million worldwide. However, he was unable to capitalise on this success and his next two projects were both critical and commercial failures. Ticker co-starring Tom Sizemore and Dennis Hopper, and filmed in San Francisco before Exit Wounds, went straight to DVD while Half Past Dead, starring rap star Ja Rule, made less than $20 million worldwide.

As of May 2008, all of the films Seagal has made since 2003 have been released direct-to-video (DTV) in North America, with only limited theatrical releases in the rest of the world. Though Seagal is credited as a producer (and sometimes a writer) on many of these DTV movies, it is unclear how deeply involved he was in their production - his voice is often dubbed in by another actor as seen in the film Attack Force and a double is used in almost any scene where his face is not shown clearly. The most notable stunt doubles are in his films Black Dawn, Belly of the Beast, Out of Reach and Submerged.

His latest direct-to-video films include Urban Justice (2007) and Pistol Whipped (2008). Another DTV film, Kill Switch, is due out in 2008. He is currently filming Ruslan for a projected 2009 release, and a self directed project, Prince of Pistols is also in the works. He has signed on with Sony to make a action film called The Keeper for director Keoni Waxman.

Work as filmmaker

Seagal intends to have his films remembered; "I am hoping that I can be known as a great writer and actor some day, rather than a sex symbol. Seagal has clarified the purpose of his films: "Above the Law was a politically conscientious movie. On Deadly Ground was environmentally conscientious so I want to keep making movies like that which are more geared with a certain entertainment value but also bring people forward into contemplation.

Seagal has produced many of the movies that he stars in, and has also participated in writing and directing. Seagal's roles do not fit the standard action hero archetype; instead, Seagal's characters are usually "born perfect", displaying no limitations, character flaws, or character development (as is typically included in the story arc for most action heroes). His characters are often associated with attributes given to action movie antagonists or villains, such as clandestine government associations (Under Siege), great wealth and high-level corporate ties (On Deadly Ground), high-level biochemical research skill (The Patriot). Seagal's characters are normally nigh-on invincible and are unable to be beaten or even slowed down. Reports state that Seagal insists on such roles, even allegedly becoming hysterical when his character was scripted to die a heroic death in the movie Executive Decision, when director Stuart Baird insisted he must do it as scripted. Seagal held up filming for a few days, and finally acted the death scene as scripted after threat of contractual breach.

While his acting performance in Above The Law gained praise from the likes of Roger Ebert, Seagal has repeatedly faced criticism from both actors and fans who accuse him of playing the same character in many of his movies (see typecasting), as well as displaying a lack of emotional range.

Others have surmised that Seagal's unorthodox approach to film is actually an elaborate joke. This is supported by Seagal's statement regarding humor: "I’m a very funny guy, if you’ll forgive me for saying so. When I did The Glimmer Man with Keenan Ivory Wayans, he and I were talking about who was funniest, and...I kicked his ass every day. In addition, some of Seagal's own self-parody supports this view. In at least one commercial for Orange SA, Seagal pokes fun at his action star archetype.

Other career areas

Music

In addition to acting and aikido, Seagal also plays the guitar, and his songs have been featured in several of his movies (such as Fire Down Below and Ticker). In 2005, he released his first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, which has a mix of pop, world, and blues music. It features duets with Tony Rebel, Lt. Stichie, Lady Saw, and Stevie Wonder. The soundtrack to Seagal's 2005 film Into the Sun features several songs from the album. One of his album tracks, "Girl It's Alright", was also released as a single in parts of the world alongside an accompanying music video created for it.

Seagal's second album, titled Mojo Priest, was released in April 2006. Subsequently, he spent summer 2006 touring the United States and Europe with his band, Thunderbox, in support of the album. Having received good support from UK audiences, the tour continues through early 2007.

Seagal uses a blend of Blues, Country, and World Music in his unique compositions, reflecting the eclectic mosaic style of his martial arts and film work, both of which combine different styles (aikido/gunfire and action/lecture are respective examples). Seagal is also known for his live cover versions including seminal works like Don Macleans' 'American Pie' and Hot Gossips' 'I Fell In Love With a Starship Trooper'.

Work as a Deputy Sheriff

According to Seagal himself, while appearing as the guest host in episode 6 of the fourth series of The Friday Night Project on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, he is currently an active police officer of his home community of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Seagal was given an honorary US Customs ID in New Orleans, La. This led to an incident where Seagal attempted to board a commercial plane with a firearm. Seagal was not allowed to board because he was not a real federal agent. This also caused some embarrassment for the US Customs Service.

Desmond Tutu Body Guard

On the same show, "The Friday Night Project", Steven claimed that during the days of Apartheid in South Africa he was a bodyguard for Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Business ventures

Seagal Enterprises markets an energy drink known as Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt, as well as an herbal oil product line. Seagal personally endorses this drink, "I have traveled the world creating this drink; there is none better that I know." He also has his own aftershave called Scent of Action. Seagal has his own imprint of Kershaw Knives. The "Steven Seagal Edition" knives feature 4" blades with his signature etched in, and no auto-assisted opening mechanism.

Personal life

An only son, he has three sisters, one older and two younger. He now keeps a ranch in Colorado and a home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. He has adopted many animals from shelters, including the cats Sylvester and Gap, and the dogs Gruff, Cole, Tyson, Hamlet, and Chaos.. Steven travels back and forth to a home in Eads, Tennessee, a rural unincorporated area located just east of Memphis, Tennessee.

Marriages

  1. Miyako Fujitani (1975–1986) (divorced) 2 children
  2. Adrienne La Russa (1984-1987) (annulled)
  3. Kelly LeBrock (1987–1996) (divorced) 3 children

Seagal has gained some notoriety for being a bigamist. When he left his first wife Miyako Fujitani to go back to America (reportedly, Steven's last words to her were, "You are crazy; I want a divorce"), he married former Days of Our Lives actress Adrienne La Russa, despite his divorce to Fujitani not yet being finalized. During his marriage to La Russa he met actress/model Kelly LeBrock, with whom he began a relationship and who eventually became pregnant with his child. When news of this emerged, Seagal's marriage to La Russa was annulled and he then married LeBrock on September 5, 1987. In 1994, LeBrock filed divorce papers citing "irreconcilable differences". During this time it emerged that Seagal was having an affair with Arissa Wolf, who was hired to be a nanny to Seagal and Lebrock's children.

Children

Seagal has six known children from three relationships in which he has been involved. With Fujitani, he had a son, model and actor Kentaro Seagal (b. October 3, 1975), and a daughter, writer and actress, Ayako Fujitani (b. December 5, 1979). His three children with LeBrock are daughters Annaliza (b. 1987) and Arissa (b. 1993), and son Dominic (b. 1990). Seagal and Arissa Wolf have one daughter, Savannah (b. 1996).

In addition to his biological children, Seagal's Tibetan Buddhist beliefs have also placed him in the role of guardian to a Tibetan child, Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo. Rinzinwangmo, or "Renji", is the only child of the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet. Renji studied in the United States at American University, and Seagal was her guardian and bodyguard.

Views and activism

Animal rights work

Seagal has been an outspoken opponent of animal cruelty which can be seen in a scene in the movie Out for Justice. This is consistent with his views on spirituality, as well as his environmentalist views (as showcased in On Deadly Ground). Seagal believes in reincarnation: "When I walk into a room some people see a dog, some people see a cow. I am all of what they see. It is their perception.

Steven has described his activism method as "shaming companies into changing," a theme that is visible in such films as On Deadly Ground and Fire Down Below. He has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to discourage the fur trade, and has written to the Prime Minister of India to seek increased legal protection for cows. Seagal worked effectively towards saving dogs destined to drown in Taiwan; he successfully sought the Premier of Taiwan to sign legislation limiting animal cruelty.

This activism has not diminished in recent years. For these and other efforts, Seagal was awarded a PETA Humanitarian Award in 1999. In 2003, Seagal wrote an open letter to the leadership of Thailand, urging them to enact law to prevent the torture of baby elephants.

Mystical dog incident

While being interviewed by PETA, Seagal was asked to provide an example of a special interaction with an animal. To lend context and meaning to his animal rights work, Seagal offered the story about a dog which approached him during his early aikido years in Japan. Seagal described feeling as if he had known this white dog forever. After keeping the dog for a few days, the dog (by barking) warned Seagal that his dojo was on fire. Seagal quickly summoned help to put out the conflagration. Seagal never saw the dog again.

Native American issues

Seagal is a concerned advocate for the rights and interests of Native Americans. In his film On Deadly Ground, Seagal depicted himself as The Chosen One, sent to save the Inuit people from the evils of "Big Oil".

Outside of his film work, Seagal has volunteered, lending his voice as a narrator for an activist film project, Medicine Lake Video, which seeks to protect sacred tribal ground near his ranch in Siskiyou County.

Tesla coils

Seagal is a great admirer of Tesla coils and has even collected a few. Seagal has donated three Tesla coils to California state universities.

Parody portrayals

Seagal has become the target of Internet-based criticism. However, the line between Seagal's own work and a parody portrayal of Seagal is becoming increasingly blurry. The above-mentioned commercials for Orange SA and Mountain Dew poke fun at his action aikido style. Seagal is sometimes considered to be in on the joke.

In the TV show, madTV, Seagal was portrayed by Will Sasso. In various skits involving the actor, Seagal was portrayed to be an unintelligent, disrespectful, and egotistical actor for comedic effect. The trademark slapstick humor ranges from attempting to do stunts, but failing miserably, to random attacks on other characters in the scene (most notably, random chops or snapping necks).

A scene in an episode of Family Guy portrays Seagal in the Arctic fighting a group of seals for killing a village's fish.

In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will goes to a martial arts instructor saying he wants to be like Steven Seagal. The instructor responds "You want to be a bad actor"?

In My Giant, Zack answers the phone and it turns out to be Steven Seagal. Zack doesn't believe him, so he ridicules him with such comments as "Get some acting ability."

A group of cartoonists known as "The Toilet Boys" parodied Steven Seagal in a three-part Flash series known as The Steven Seagal Show. The cartoons feature Seagal in random brawls with other characters; his martial arts moves are highly exaggerated.

  • The first showed Seagal punching through an old man and dragging him home.
  • The second showed him in a restaurant brawl where he kills several customers including Paul Hogan (in his Crocodile Dundee outfit). It is later revealed to be a nightmare.
  • The third shows Seagal against the animators themselves. However, one of them survives and challenges Seagal to a one-on-one challenge, often involving lightsabers. The fight ends when Steve Buscemi fatally shoots Seagal.

Most recently, he has parodied himself in the film The Onion Movie, starring in the fictional movie "Cock Puncher".

Filmography

  • Above the Law. (1988) — Playing a Chicago cop Nico Toscani who discovers a web of corruption in the city's police department, directed by Andrew Davis.
  • Hard to Kill (1990) — Playing a cop out for vengeance, with assistance from a nurse (played by then-wife Kelly LeBrock).
  • Marked for Death (1990) — Playing a retired DEA agent who returns to his hometown, to find an evil drug lord in charge.
  • Out for Justice (1991) — Playing an NYPD cop in Brooklyn on the hunt for an old childhood rival who killed his best friend
  • Under Siege (1992) — Another Andrew Davis movie, about a cook on a Navy ship who prevents nuclear armageddon. This was his most successful movie.
  • On Deadly Ground (1994) — A movie in which he befriends an Alaskan Native Indian tribe and fights against an evil oil company. This is Seagal's directorial debut; he also produced. However, the movie underperformed at the box office and damaged his career.
  • Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) — Seagal returns as Casey Ryback, this time out to foil a mad scientist who tries to hijack a satellite weapon hidden on-board a train.
  • Executive Decision (1996) — Playing Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis, head of an elite military team that must stop a plane carrying a nerve-gas bomb.
  • The Glimmer Man (1996) — Playing a detective who (along with Keenan Ivory Wayans) must find a serial killer.
  • Fire Down Below (1997) — Playing a hard-hitting EPA agent investigating a mine in Kentucky.
  • The Patriot (1998) — Playing a small town doctor who foils an evil, virus-releasing militia.
  • Prince of Central Park (2000) — Credited as producer.
  • Exit Wounds (2001) — Playing a tough urban detective who tries to clean up his precinct with the help of a wealthy business man who in turn is trying to free his brother from jail.
  • Ticker (2001) — Playing the leader of a bomb squad.
  • Half Past Dead (2002) — Playing a Russian FBI agent, Sasha Petrosevitch, who goes to jail undercover.
  • The Foreigner (2003) — Political intrigue and scandal plague Seagal's character, Jonathan Cold, in this film.
  • Out for a Kill (2003) — Playing an archaeologist who avenges the death of his assistant by the Chinese Triads.
  • Belly of the Beast (2003) — Playing a retired agent who must go to Thailand with his old partner to save his kidnapped daughter and her friends.
  • Out of Reach (2004) — Seagal attempts to save a kidnapped girl.
  • Clementine (2004) — Guest stars in this Korean martial arts film.
  • Into the Sun (2005) — Playing a CIA operative in Tokyo who must take on the yakuza.
  • Submerged (2005) — Playing a mercenary who must fight terrorists.
  • Today You Die (2005) — Seagal plays a former thief who is trying to go straight and seeks vengeance on those who framed him
  • Black Dawn (2005) — Seagal returns as Jonathan Cold in this continuation of "Foreigner" franchise.
  • Mercenary for Justice (2006) — Playing a mercenary who is blackmailed into a mission to save his family, only to turn the tables on his blackmailers.
  • Shadow Man (2006) — Playing a former intelligence operative who must find his kidnapped daughter in Bucharest while also defeating various parties who believe he has a lethal virus.
  • Attack Force (2006) — Plays Marshall Lawson, the leader of a strike-team.
  • Flight of Fury (2007) — Playing John Sands, a former soldier who is sent to retrieve a stolen stealth bomber.
  • Urban Justice (2007) — Out for revenge after his son is shot dead by the local gang leader.
  • Pistol Whipped (2008) — Playing an ex-cop with both alcohol and gambling problems.
  • The Onion Movie (2008) — Guest stars in a spoof of himself by the makers of The Onion.
  • Kill Switch (2008) — Playing Detective Jacob King
  • Ruslan (2008) - playing Ruslan a mobster.

Discography

References

External links

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