Major Historical Events and Celebs Who Were a Part of Them
No matter one’s upbringing or level of success, history affects everyone. Celebrities may have a unique influence on society, but are not spared when it comes to tragedy, patriotic duty, or even coincidence. Read about these celebrities who witnessed history first-hand and the real-life roles they played – some of whom have had a lasting impact on the world.
Bill Paxton — JFK’s Last Public Address
Eight-year-old Bill Paxton was among thousands who gathered in the parking lot of the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth to see President John F. Kennedy speak on Nov. 22, 1963. It would be Kennedy’s last public address before his assassination in Dallas. Paxton recalled seeing Kennedy’s speech with his older brother, Bob, and their dad, John.
Audrey Hepburn — World War II Dutch Resistance
Prior to her rise as one of Hollywood’s beloved stars for her iconic roles in hit films such as My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, film star Audrey Hepburn bravely volunteered in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.
Steve Buscemi — 9/11 Volunteer Firefighter
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Steve Buscemi began his career as a New York City firefighter when he was 22 years old. He served on Engine Co. 55 in Manhattan’s Little Italy for four years before leaving to become a successful American actor, writer and director. Buscemi has starred in a number of films and shows including Armageddon, Con Air, Monsters, Inc. and HBO’s The Sopranos.
Jimmy Stewart — World War II
Jimmy Stewart was always interested in aviation, but as a young man, his father steered him away from joining the U.S. Naval Academy. Instead, he enrolled in Princeton where he first became involved in acting. During the Great Depression, Stewart made the move to Hollywood and began working in cinema. During this time, he also pursued his passion for aviation.
Samuel L. Jackson — MLK Jr.’s Funeral
Samuel L. Jackson was a sophomore attending the all-male, historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. Days later, he flew to Memphis with others, including Robert Culp, to continue Dr. King’s work by participating in a march supporting garbage workers.
Sigourney Weaver — Hollywood Bowl Beatles Concert
Sigourney Weaver was just 14 years old when she saw the Beatles perform at the Hollywood Bowl. “I didn’t know anyone, but I went to the Hollywood Bowl,” recounts Weaver, whose family had recently moved to the area. The Beatles’ concert at the Hollywood Bowl was filmed by George Martin from Capitol Records. The film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (released in 2016) shows footage of the concert, including a glimpse of the young Sigourney Weaver enjoying the show.
George Takei — Japanese Internment in World War II
During World War II, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the United States were forced into concentration camps in the interior of the country, simply because of their ancestry. George Takei and his family were among the imprisoned and they spent more than two years in a Japanese internment camp.
Eleanor Roosevelt — Sinking of the SS Britannic
Before the Titanic there was the SS Britannic, an ocean liner of the White Star Line that primarily carried immigrant passengers from Liverpool to New York City. On May 19, 1887, the Britannic collided with the SS Celtic in a dense fog about 350 miles east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The Celtic, with 870 passengers aboard, was headed for New York, while the Britannic and its 450 passengers was enroute to Liverpool.
Pat Sajak — Korean War Disk Jockey
The iconic Wheel of Fortune host was once a member of the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He joined the army in 1968, but was fortunate enough to avoid frontline military action. Instead, he worked as a disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio. Sajak admits feeling somewhat guilty about his “soft duty,” but says he felt a little better when guys from the field returned to town. They would thank him and the other DJs for “bringing them a little bit of home.”
Yogi Berra — D-Day
Yogi Berra was an 18-year-old baseball prospect when the U.S. entered World War II. Putting his baseball career on hold, the eventual Hall of Famer and Yankees catcher bravely served the U.S. as a Navy gunner on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). The World War II veteran says he was young and naive and remembers thinking the planes and blasts looked “like the Fourth of July.”
Sir Michael Caine — Korean War
Born Maurice Micklewhite Jr., Sir Michael Caine was drafted into the British army in May 1951. He was stationed on the front lines in Korea and saw extensive combat, often participating in dangerous nighttime patrols. Caine confesses that his time in the war changed him forever. He was forced to battle rats and swarms of mosquitoes, as well as the enemy.
Johnny Cash — Joseph Stalin’s Death
The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, is famously regarded as a talented country singer, but that’s not his only claim to fame. Cash was the first American to know that Joseph Stalin was dead. He knew it before President Eisenhower, the head of the FBI, and the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.
Hedy Lamarr — Bluetooth Technology
Austrian-born American film actress, Hedy Lamarr, is well-known for her scandalous love life and as the actress who depicted the first on-screen female orgasm in the movie Ecstasy. What many don’t know is that in addition to her talent as an actress, Lamarr was also incredibly adept at technology.
Fats Domino — Hurricane Katrina
Rock and roll icon Fats Domino kept the country dancing through the ‘50s and ‘60s with his songs Blueberry Hill and Ain’t That a Shame, but it was his song Walking to New Orleans that would later be emblematic of his beloved town staring down Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Julia Child — World War II Spy
The world-famous chef didn’t start her career preparing delectable eats. After impulsively quitting her job as advertising manager at a furniture store, she applied for a new job (under her maiden name McWilliams) with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a WWII era spy agency, that would eventually become the CIA.
Bea Arthur — One of the First Female Marines
Bea Arthur wasn’t always Dorothy in a houseful of Golden Girls. Born Bernice Frankel to Philip and Rebecca Frankel in 1922, she followed her family to Maryland where they opened a clothing store. Although she denied it her entire life, uncovered documents reveal that Arthur spent two-and-a-half years in the Marines as a truck driver.
Dustin Hoffman — Greenwich Village Explosion
Not everyone is familiar with the Greenwich Village Explosion of 1970 that killed three members of the Weather Underground, but Dustin Hoffman was a little too close for comfort to the event, which happened next to the townhouse in which he lived with his wife Anne Byrne.
Jet Li — 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
Kung Fu star Jet Li was in the Maldives when the picturesque island he was visiting was hit with an earthquake, followed by a tsunami. Li walked out onto the beach with his two daughters and nanny when the water began to rise rapidly, covering the heads of his nanny and daughter, Jada.
Mel Brooks — Bomb Diffuser in the U.S. Army
Funnyman Mel Brooks wasn’t always making people laugh. After graduating high school and with just one year of college under his belt, Brooks was drafted into the U.S. Army. Being a bright young man, he was sent to the Army Specialized Program where he was taught such tasks as horse riding, saber wielding and the more practical job of combat engineering.
Christopher Lee — Britain's Royal Air Force
Christopher Lee is best known as an actor who portrayed cunning and mysterious villains, such as Dracula, the Sith Lord Count Dooku in Star Wars and the evil wizard in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
Joaquin Phoenix — Children of God Cult
Her star Joaquin Phoenix, now 40, has held most details of his childhood close. This might be because his upbringing was extremely unconventional. Phoenix was born into and spent his childhood in the Children of God cult in South America.
Dennis Wilson — Charles Manson’s Roommate
Beach Boy member Dennis Wilson fell under the spell of Charles Manson and eventually became his roommate. Manson first entered the Beach Boy’s life by chance after Wilson picked up two female hitchhikers in 1968 on the Sunset Strip. The women told Wilson that Manson was their guru and Wilson could help him get discovered because he was a well-connected entertainer.
Kim Cattrall — PanAm Flight 103 Terrorist Attack
Most people wouldn’t cancel a flight to do a little shopping, but Kim Cattrall didn’t want to board her flight on June 20, 2007 without the teapot she had planned to buy for her mom. So, she took a later flight instead.
Kurt Vonnegut — Bombing of Dresden
Kurt Vonnegut, author of the book Slaughterhouse Five, wrote the story after surviving the 1945 aerial bombing of Dresden, Germany. He survived by hiding in a slaughterhouse meat locker and the experience formed the plot of his story, which was written 21 years later.
Sir Alec Guinness — D-Day
British-born actor Alec Guinness was a versatile artist who played many different roles, like Fagan in Oliver Twist and Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Guinness, who won an Academy Award for his role as Colonel Nicholson in Bridge Over the River Kwai, also served as a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.
James Doohan — Commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army
James Doohan saw a lot of action in outer space, but before playing the role of Scotty on Star Trek, Jimmy Doohan was a World War II hero, serving as a commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army.
Russell Crowe — Al-Qaeda Kidnapping Target
The FBI trailed him for nearly two years beginning back in 2001, but it wasn’t until much later that Russell Crowe discovered he had been targeted for kidnapping by Al-Qaeda as part of a “cultural destabilization plot.” Because of the threat, Crowe was placed under FBI protection.
Steven Tyler — Woodstock
After losing a weekend gig, a young 21-year-old Stephen Victor Tallarico (a.k.a. Steven Tyler) was freed up for a last-minute trip to Bethel, New York, for the famous weekend-long concert. Tyler admits to “tripping my brains out” on acid during the three-day-long music fest.
Marlon Brando — March on Washington
The Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C. was a star-studded event with a long list of Hollywood A-listers in attendance, including Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr. and Charlton Heston.
Rob Riggle — 9/11 Bucket Brigades
Few know comedian Rob Riggle for his military career, but for more than 20 years, Riggle served in the United States Marine Corps, before announcing his retirement in January 2013. His first ambition as a servicemember was to become a pilot, but he left flight school to pursue comedy and became a Public Affairs Officer.