10 Entertainers that Became Politicians

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A Brief History

On January 4, 1999, former professional wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura was sworn in as the Governor of Minnesota.  A veteran of at least 11 movies prior to his inauguration, Ventura had previously served in the US Navy in the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team during the Vietnam War, an assignment similar to that of Navy SEALS.  Other people from the world of entertainment, sports, singing, acting and other forms, have also enjoyed success in being elected or appointed to high office.  Today, we list 10 of those such persons.

Digging Deeper

1. Jesse Ventura, pro wrestler, actor, Governor of Minnesota.

Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura (center) testifies on China’s participation in the WTO in March 2000.

A real life tough guy (just look at his Navy credentials), he was known as “The Body” when he wrestled for his imposing pile of muscles.  He is probably best known for his role in the 1987 film, Predator, in which he played mercenary Blaine Cooper who carried an M134 minigun.  Ventura went on to continue his career in acting but branched off to become the Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (1991-1996) before being elected Governor of Minnesota (1999-2003).  The Body has also dabbled in television commercials and hosting television shows, and even had a stint as bodyguard for the Rolling Stones!  Jesse also teased about possibly running for President of the US.

2. Ronald Reagan, actor, Union President, Governor of California, President of the United States.

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan invariably played “good guys” in movies, leading the public to believe the man was the same as the character he played.  One must wonder if Reagan would have had political success had he played the “bad guy” in most of his films.  Serving as President of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan got a taste of politics that he parlayed into being elected Governor of California (1967-1975), and then President of the United States (1981-1989).  What you might not know is that Reagan was also a snitch for the FBI against fellow Hollywood types during the Red Scare of the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger, body builder, actor, Governor of California.

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California.  Photograph by Gage Skidmore.

Arnold, known as “The Austrian Oak,” is best known for his impressive musculature, having won the Mr. Universe title at the age of 20 and winning the Mr. Olympia title 7 times.  As the best known body builder in the world, Arnold was a natural target for movie producers to put him on the big screen, but of course, he had to learn to speak English, which he kind of sort of did!  Arnold went on to star in numerous action-adventure films, and even showed an engaging and charismatic side while acting in comedies.  Arnold served as Governor of California from 2003 to 2011, and even generated wistful musings about changing the US Constitution to allow a naturalized citizen to run for President of the US.  Alas, the big man’s political career was derailed by news of him fathering a child out of wedlock, news that also cost Arnold his wife, the former Maria Shriver, who was the daughter of the sister (meaning she was the niece) of former President John F. Kennedy.

4. Sonny Bono, singer, actor, Mayor of Palm Springs, Member of Congress.

US Congressional picture of Sonny Bono.

The not so much better half of the singing duo Sonny and Cher, Bono and his famous wife divorced in 1975.  Sonny branched off into a career as an actor, appearing in movies and television shows.  Fed up with his local government, he ran for and won the mayorship of Palm Springs, California, serving from 1988 to 1992.  From 1995 to 1998 he served as a US Representative to Congress from California (44th District).  Unfortunately, Bono died of injuries incurred from hitting a tree while skiing in 1998.  His wife at the time, Mary Bono, was elected to serve the rest of Sonny’s term in Congress.

5. Clint Eastwood, actor, Mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Mr. Clint Eastwood speaks with Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Washington D.C. premier of the movie J. Edgar on November 8, 2011.  Photograph by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo.

Better known as his movie persona, Dirty Harry, Eastwood played notable cowboy, police and military roles, almost always as a “tough guy.”  A longtime Republican, Eastwood now considers himself a Libertarian, and has long espoused conservative values.  He was elected in a non-partisan election as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, serving from 1986 to 1988.  California Governor, Gray Davis (Democrat), appointed Eastwood to the California State Park and Recreation Commission in 2001.  Eastwood is infamously remembered for his perplexing performance at the  2012 Republican National Convention where he spoke on behalf of Mitt Romney (who was running against incumbent President Barack Obama).  In that memorable, though disturbing incident, Eastwood engaged in an impromptu conversation with an empty chair that in his mind only contained Barack Obama.  Stick to movies, Clint!

6. Volodymyr Zelensky, actor, comedian, screenwriter, director, producer, President of Ukraine.

Official portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky.  Photograph by Адміністрація Президента України.

The Ukraine is a troubled land with a troubled history, long vexed by invaders and oppressors, and has recently become the focus of American politics as the breeding ground of President Donald Trump’s political fiascoes that have resulted in the President being impeached.  Perhaps the poorest single country in Europe, Ukraine is also the largest (by area) country entirely within Europe.  No thanks to Russia, that is trying to eat up some Ukrainian territory and is engaged in a war with Ukraine.  Ukrainian politicians have been divided over Russian interference and subject to epic amounts of corruption ever since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.  What does this troubled country need to lead it out of the wilderness?  A comedian!  Yeah, that’s the ticket!  Volodymyr Zelensky got elected to the Presidency of the Ukraine in 2019, and as if he did not have enough problems, American politics soon overcame Ukrainian politics and made things even harder.  Hard to believe that was possible.  Zelensky achieved fame as a comedian and branched off into acting in films as well.  He then became involved in various aspects of the entertainment industry before entering politics and getting himself elected to the top job in his country at only 41 years of age. Prior to running for office, it was revealed Zelensky had donated over $1 million to the Ukrainian Army to help with its fight against Russian hegemony, a fact that infuriated Russians who called for the banning of Zelensky from performing in Russia and a boycott of his movies.  (Ukraine and Russia have gone tit for tat with bans of each other’s performers.)

7. Donald Trump, reality television star, President of the United States.

President Donald Trump poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 6, 2017.  Official White House Photograph by Shealah Craighead.

After a career as a real estate mogul and developer, The Donald delved into the casino and golf course business, while ghost writing a book that became a best seller.  A self-promoter of monumental proportions, Trump rubbed shoulders with many rich and powerful people, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.  (He previously was a Democrat.)  Trump also made appearances in commercials and cameo bits in movies, while his big step into the public spotlight was his television show, The Apprentice (2004-2017).  Trump had become increasingly vocal about politics in the past decade, and was an extreme critic of President Barack Obama, as well as being the primary source of “birtherism,” claims that Obama was not really a natural born American citizen.  In an incredible, almost surreal course of events, Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by an astonishing almost 3 million votes.  His Presidency has been turbulent and controversial since, and in 2019 the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, only the third US President to be impeached.

8. Al Franken, actor, comedian, writer, Senator from Minnesota.

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN).  Photograph by U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Rebecca Hammel.

Best known as a writer and performer on the Saturday Night Live television show, Franken also appeared in films.  From 2004 to 2007, Franken espoused liberal ideas on his radio show, The Al Franken Show (originally called The O’Franken Factor.)  Encouraged by the positive reception of his political talk, Franken was elected as a Senator from Minnesota and served from 2009 to 2018.  Unfortunately for the funny guy, his past as a comedian caught up with him when a photograph appeared of him pretending to be about to grab the breasts of a sleeping female talk show hostess was made public.  Although the photo was taken back in 2006 during a USO tour, the allegations by the talk show hostess that Franken had also tried to kiss her without permission created a controversy and backlash against Franken that ultimately resulted in his resignation from the Senate under heavy pressure from fellow Democrats.  By 2019, some of the allegations against Franken had been refuted and seriously called into question, causing some of those that called for his resignation from the Senate to publicly regret their actions.  Other women have also accused Franken of inappropriate behavior.

9. Fred Thompson, actor, Senator from Tennessee, Presidential candidate.

Fred Thompson, former U.S. Senator, actor, and candidate for President.

Kind of a sleepy looking, good ol’ boy type, Thompson has been called Fred Basset for his resemblance to the loveable Basset Hound dog breed.  Like the Basset Hound, Thompson has appeared in numerous movies, television shows and commercials, especially noted for his continuing role on the television crime busting show, Law & Order, in which he portrayed a District Attorney.  Thompson delved into conservative politics as a Republican, serving as a Senator from Tennessee from 1994 to 2003.  He also tried to generate a campaign for President of the US, though he failed to gather enough support to win his party’s nomination.  Thompson appeared in a Citizen’s United television commercial in 2003 espousing the invasion of Iraq.  Oops!  Another political faux pas of Thompson’s was to become a member of the defense for Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a political operative convicted of lying to Federal investigators concerning the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame (a shameful political chapter in American politics).  He died in 2015 at the age of 73 from cancer.

10. Manny Pacquiao, boxer, Representative and Senator in Philippines.

Sarangani Lone District Representative Emmanuel Pacquiao during a courtesy call at the Music Room of the Malacañan Palace on Wednesday, December 18, 2013.  Photograph by Ryan Lim / Lauro Montellano, Jr. / Exequiel Supera / Malacañang Photo Bureau.

Possibly the greatest boxer of all time, Manny has held the championship title in 8 weight classes, something no other boxer has ever accomplished.  Born in 1978, he began boxing at the age of 14.  His professional record stands at 62–7–2, and it is not yet sure whether or not he will enter the ring again.  He has served as Senator in the Philippines since 2016 after first serving in the Philippine House of Representatives since 2007. He is also a Colonel in the Philippine Army Reserve.  Manny currently holds the WBA (Super) welterweight title at the age of 41.  Many Pacquiao is largely regarded as a national treasure in the Philippines, a role he risks by dabbling in politics!

Question for students (and subscribers): Who would you add to the list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Vaughn, Stephen.  Ronald Reagan in Hollywood: Movies and Politics.  Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Wright, Lauren.  Star Power: American Democracy in the Age of the Celebrity Candidate.  Routledge, 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of Senator Chuck Grassley and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura holding a Press Conference on Trade on October 5, 2000, is in the public domain, because it was taken by an employee of the Congress as part of that person’s official duties or because it has been released into the public domain and posted on the official websites of a member of Congress. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.