"I wasn't really serious about acting—I was serious about baseball," said Kurt Russell, who traded his success as a young movie and TV actor for a couple of years as a minor league player. And he's not unique in this respect. Here, as Russell celebrates his 67th birthday, are 14 stars whose talents weren't limited to the arts.
An actor from the age of 11 (he made his debut in an Elvis movie), Russell played second base for two California Angels' minor league affiliates from 1971–72. His father, Bing Russell, was an actor and baseball club owner who knew Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. In 1973, Kurt moved up to AA ball in Texas, but when an injury ended his sports career, he went back to acting full-time.
Tommy Lee Jones
Not only did Jones play football at Harvard, he was the offensive guard on the school's undefeated team in 1968. That's the one that played in what has been called "the most famous football game in Ivy League history," the Harvard-Yale grudge match that ended in a 29-29 tie.
The singer-songwriter was engaged to one of the world's most notorious athletes, Lance Armstrong. But she herself also competed in sports. While attending high school in Missouri, Crow was an all-state track star, medaling in the 75-meter low hurdles.
"The Rifleman" wasn't just born in Brooklyn; in 1949, he played for the Dodgers. But Connors was in the lineup only once before leaving to join the Chicago Cubs. Before his baseball career, he won a basketball title with the Rochester Royals and even played for the Boston Celtics. Connors was also drafted by the Chicago Bears, though he never played professional football.
You may think of him as a boxer, but Weathers—best known as Apollo Creed in the "Rocky" movies—originally wanted to be a football star. After stints on a couple of college teams (he graduated from San Francisco State), Weathers became a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, playing in 1970 and 1971 under legendary coach John Madden. He then joined the Canadian Football League, but in 1974 he turned his attention to acting.
Clooney tried out for the Cincinnati Reds in 1977, while he was still in high school. Although he showed a lot of talent, he didn't make the cut. He went on to graduate in 1979, after which he attended Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati.
He dreamed of playing in the NFL and was offered a number of football scholarships. Reynolds chose Florida State University, where he became a star halfback. But an injury in the first game of his sophomore year—compounded by a subsequent car crash—killed his football career. He then toyed with the idea of becoming a police officer before a teacher encouraged him to try acting.
The "aquamusical" movie star of the 1940s and '50s was clearly a gifted swimmer. Before she signed her first contract with MGM, Williams planned to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the games were cancelled with the breakout of World War II.
Before taking up acting, he appeared to be following in the footsteps of his Heisman Trophy-winning father, Tom Harmon. Mark was the starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins football team from 1972-73. In his first game at UCLA, he managed an upset win over the defending champion Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the Bruins' two seasons under his leadership ended with a record of 17-5.
He knew his way around the court long before Spike Lee cast him as the father of a top basketball prospect in 1998's "He Got Game." While earning a degree in drama and journalism at Fordham University, Washington played guard under coach P.J. Carlesimo, who went on to the NBA.
The Duke grew up in Southern California, so naturally he was a surfer. He was also a talented athlete who got into USC on a football scholarship. Then came a run of bad luck: The future actor broke his collarbone while bodysurfing, the brass at USC pulled his scholarship and he had to drop out of school for lack of funds. As a favor to his coach, director John Ford hired John Wayne as a prop boy. And we know how that turned out.
Mulder—er, Duchovny—graduated from Princeton in 1982, with a degree in English literature. But he also had athletic interests. Duchovny played center field on Princeton's junior varsity baseball team and shooting guard on its varsity basketball squad.
Way before we came to know him as Al Bundy, O'Neill excelled at football. He attended Ohio University on a football scholarship and in 1969 was invited to training camp by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although he didn't make the team, O'Neill went on to work with Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who appeared twice as a guest star on "Married ... With Children."
Selleck attended the University of Southern California on a basketball scholarship and played for the famed USC Trojans. Then, at the suggestion of a drama coach, he turned to acting.
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