For decades, athletes have been making cameos in TV shows and films, much to viewers’ delight. Some roles have been significant (hello, Mike Tyson in The Hangover) while others have been just small appearances, like LeBron James in that one episode of Entourage.
But some athletes have followed up illustrious sporting careers with significant acting roles on both the small and big screen, bringing impactful performances of a totally different kind than their time on the court, the field, or even the ring.
Here are 10 of the most interesting and successful sports stars who have each parlayed their celebrity status into an acting payday.
Johnson has enjoyed so much success in the acting biz that it’s sometimes easy to forget he became famous as an extremely popular professional wrestler. Scratch that: who can forget that signature raised eyebrow and “do you smell what The Rock is cooking” catchphrase? While he still works with the WWE from time to time, Johnson is a bonafide superstar. He most recently appeared in the latest film in the Fast and the Furious franchise Furious 7, has multiple other franchises in the works, and serves as star and executive producer of HBO’s Ballers.
This pivot was clearly a smart move – Johnson was ranked by Forbes as the highest-paid actor of 2016, raking in an impressive $64.5 million last year, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
O.J.: Made In America
These days, OJ Simpson’s legacy is more of a cautionary tale than anything close to a happy ending, but before his many notorious run-ins with the law, Simpson was both a legendary sports icon, and later, a beloved film star. Even before his official retirement from a highly successful football career that saw him earn titles like the fastest player to gain 1,000 rushing yards in a season, Simpson starting dabbling in acting. Early roles were in TV series like Roots (1977) and The Klansman (1974). On the big screen, Simpson is probably best remembered for his role in The Naked Gun trilogy films.
His fall from grace has been well documented, but back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, he was beginning what looked to be a successful acting career. In fact, just prior to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and the controversial trial that followed, Simpson had completed the pilot for an NBC TV movie called Frogmen that ended up never airing.
Trained in the martial art of Tang Soo Do while serving as an Air Policeman in the United States Air Force, Norris ran a chain of karate schools after being discharged in 1962. He continued to compete in tournaments, eventually becoming the first Westerner to be named an 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master in Tae Kwon Do. But Norris also began crafting his acting chops alongside his martial arts ones. The role that really got him noticed was as Bruce Lee’s nemesis in 1972’s Way of the Dragon.
He went on to star in a number of films like An Eye for an Eye (1981) and Delta Force (1986), as well as all nine seasons of the popular (and laughably terrible) ‘90s CBS series Walker Texas Ranger. Most recently, Norris hit the big screen with Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 2.
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