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