Celebrities Who Used Fame to Launch Careers in Politics
The current U.S. President is proof positive that a little bit of celebrity can't hurt when it comes to making the transition into politics. After all, a race for political office is essentially a popularity contest, and many celebrities-turned-politicians happily use their famous names to get the audiences they need to get elected.
From President to Governor and various other positions in the political pecking order, these celebs made the transition to public service with varying degrees of success. Let’s see how many famous faces you remember.
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is one of only two celebrities to successfully turn a popular persona into the presidency. The other celebrity was once an actor, but he didn’t have the same level of name recognition that Donald Trump had. Trump was a bona fide A-lister before he even launched his television show.
Sonny Bono is often remembered for his marriage to Cher and his tragic demise in a skiing accident in 1998. Often lost in the shuffle is the fact that Bono served as mayor of Palm Springs, California, and later served in the United States House of Representatives.
Glenn Jacobs is known by most as Kane, the often-masked wrestler famous for intimidating his opponents with his sheer size and gruffness. In 2018, he became much more than a wrestler when he followed in the footsteps of former wrestling great Jesse Ventura and successfully won a race for political office.
Ronald Reagan is one of the most respected presidents in history, partially because he managed to avoid much of the partisan bickering that we see today. Before he toppled the Soviet Union, revived a previously lagging American economy and implored Russian President Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was the star of Bedtime for Bonzo.
Shirley Temple Black
Younger generations probably haven't heard of Shirley Temple Black — a.k.a. singing, dancing, child sensation Shirley Temple. She hasn't been culturally relevant for quite some time, thanks to the fading nature of celebrity, but Black was more than just a celebrity. The child star of the ‘30s and ‘40s got her second wind as a politician.
If Clay Aiken was invisible, as his most popular song imagines, then he wouldn’t have been much of a politician or a musician, for that matter. As it is, Aiken is one of the most well-known American Idol runners-up.
Instead of Harold and Kumar going to White Castle, it looks like Kumar was more intent on going to the White House. At least, that’s the impression you might get when you hear that actor Kal Penn — obviously of Harold and Kumar fame — took a detour into politics for a while.
The First Lady of Wrestling as the wife of WWE founder Vince McMahon, Linda McMahon apparently had some big dreams of her own. Beyond being the CEO of WWE, she had some political aspirations.
All the OG Law and Order fans will immediately recognize Fred Thompson as District Attorney Arthur Branch, who always offered sage advice. Thompson's Southern drawl and silver tongue were no act, and he took those attributes to the political arena when he won a U.S. Senate seat in 1994.
Some stars, including Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, end up becoming more famous for their political status than their previous celebrity status. That’s not true for Clint Eastwood, who was once the mayor of Carmel, California. That fact is impressive but pales in comparison to his ongoing acting and directing accolades.
Manny Pacquiao is a stone-fisted boxer who stands at only 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Height aside, the Pac-Man has a career record of 62-7 and is still fighting at the young age of 40. In recent years, he has parlayed his massive stature in his home nation of the Philippines into a political career.
Wrestlers like Kane turning to a political life would seem a bit absurd if it weren't for Jesse Ventura, who proved that a career in WWE wasn't a non-starter for political life. In fact, Ventura's notoriety as the wrestler known as "The Body" may have been an advantage in launching his political career.
Al Franken is one of the names on this list that younger generations may only know as a politician. Those who are a little more seasoned know Franken as a former comedian on Saturday Night Live first and as a politician second.
Stacey Dash was first introduced to the world in the movie Clueless, which dropped in 1995. She went on to have a modest career in film and television and a more successful career as a model. She has transitioned into a political figure in recent years, showing support for President Trump and even launching her own political foray.
The man behind "Perfect Gentleman" apparently thought he would be the perfect politician for his home nation of Haiti, which he has supported in his music throughout his career. Wyclef has massive name recognition in Haiti, but that wasn’t enough to propel him to the presidency of the troubled nation.
The man known as "Ah-nuld" is a massive, massive movie star, a career that started when he became the most successful bodybuilder of his time. Movies such as Terminator, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Junior, Predator and True Lies propelled Arnold to superstardom, so it was only fitting he would run for office in the state that is home to Hollywood.
Cynthia Nixon may not have been the most famous lady in the Sex and the City crew, but there's no denying she’s an extremely recognizable celebrity. She played some minor roles in other films and television shows, but her second career in politics is what has kept her relevant.
Bill Bradley is a name that Millennials and Gen Z may not know. Even older folks who don't follow professional sports may not recognize the name. Bradley, who has served in the United States Senate for nearly 20 years, had a long and illustrious career in the National Basketball Association before diving into politics.
Baseball buffs certainly know the name Jim Bunning, as he is one of only 23 pitchers to pitch a perfect game in their career. The man who was perfect as a pitcher eventually decided he wanted to try his hand at politics. It turns out that it was a pretty good choice.
Something about sports seems to translate well into politics. Maybe it’s the perception that athletes are gritty, tough and capable of pulling off a critical victory when faced with immense pressure. Maybe it’s just the prior name recognition. Either way, this former Buffalo Bills quarterback found success in both his sport and political lives.
Little House on the Prairie, anyone? If you're not a fan of the wholesome show from the ‘70’s, then you may not know Melissa Gilbert was once a TV celebrity. She decided to put the name recognition she had to the test when she decided to run for political office.
Steven Michael Quezada
Steven Michael Quezada is one of those character actors that you know from somewhere, but may not be able to remember exactly where. His most well-known project was a role playing a DEA agent in Breaking Bad alongside primary character, Hank Schrader.
Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? These are perhaps the most famous words associated with Ben Stein’s entertainment career, but he has served as much more than just a teacher to Ferris Bueller. He has played roles in other big-budget movies like Casper, The Mask, Ghostbusters 2 and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
John Gavin is an actor whose most notable role came in the horror classic Psycho. His career was on a steep upward trajectory. Many even believed he was next in line to play James Bond after George Lazenby. Sean Connery returned to nix that idea, but Gavin went on to great things nonetheless.
Ben Jones is definitely somebody the younger generation will struggle to recognize, as his most notable TV role was "Cooter," the lovable mechanic in the original television version of The Dukes of Hazzard. The bumbling mechanic act was obviously purely for fun, as Jones proved sharp enough to win political office.
Roseanne Barr gained a loyal following as a comedian who went on to star in a television show bearing her own name. In recent years, she has taken her sharp-tongued persona to the political arena, focusing on an anti-war message, as the presidential candidate for the Green Party.
Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! That was the chant of crowds during the course of The Jerry Springer Show's 27-season run. Springer was always willing to play mediator amidst the mayhem while trying to impart whatever life lessons he could to his typically misguided guests.
George Takei got his big break as Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise on the (not nerdy at all) sci-fi classic Star Trek. Takei has enjoyed something of a resurgence as a "cool" older guy among the younger generations, but they probably aren’t aware that he has a past in politics.
Antonio Sabàto Jr.
Okay, so Antonio Sabàto Jr. isn't exactly a household name, but he is technically someone who once qualified as a celebrity (however minor) and went on to launch a career in politics. If you don't know — and you can absolutely be forgiven for not knowing — Antonio Sabàto Jr., he was a model and an actor before hopping into politics.
Does an adult film actress ever really have a shot at succeeding in politics? Cherie DeVille put that question to the test when she announced her candidacy for President of the United States in the 2020 race. Sure, she ended up canceling her run before it ever really got started, but the candidacy still lasted 17 months!