10 Sets of Siblings Who Achieved Greatness

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

A Brief History

On January 19, 2014, one year ago today, Serena Williams, the reigning Number 1 female tennis player in the world, was upset in the fourth round of the Australian Open.  Along with her sister Venus, the Williams girls are the two most successful sibling tennis players ever.  History is full of brothers and sisters who have achieved greatness either in the same endeavor or in separate careers.  Here we list 10 such relatives from a variety of professions.   (History and Headlines Note: If Jeb Bush is elected President of the United States in 2016, he and his brother George W. will have achieved perhaps the most profoundly famous achievements of any siblings ever, both having been governor of a state and president of the country.)

Digging Deeper

10. Leon and Michael Spinks.

Winners of the Olympic gold medals in boxing at the 1976 games in the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions respectively, Leon and Michael Spinks both went on to become World Boxing Association (WBA) champions later in their careers.  Leon, a former U.S. Marine like fellow boxers Ken Norton and Jack Dempsey, won his heavyweight championship against Muhammad Ali, the self-proclaimed “Greatest.”  Michael won his light-heavyweight title by defeating Larry Holmes, one of boxing’s all-time greats.

9. Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty.

These two Hollywood icons are sister and brother, both of whom have won an Oscar and have been nominated for many more.  Other famous acting siblings include: the Wahlbergs (Mark and Donny are actors, the others run a famous hamburger joint and have their own TV show); the Baldwins (Alec, Daniel, William and Stephen); Lee Marvin and James Coburn; James Arness and Peter Graves; Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland; John and Joan Cusack; Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal; Zooey and Emily Deschanel, and many more.

8. Mary I and Elizabeth I.

This pair of English queens were actually only half sisters who could not have been more different.  Mary fought to restore Catholicism and the authority of the Pope in England and became known as “Bloody Mary” as a result, whereas Elizabeth, who became known as “Gloriana,” was a committed Protestant who headed the Anglican Church during her reign.  Though they agreed on little in life, when she died, Elizabeth chose to be buried next to her sister who had died 45 years previously, and on their joint tomb is inscribed, “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.”

7. Various Siblings in the Music Business.

The music world is filled with examples of siblings who hit it big. Phil and Don Everly have had their share of acrimonious breakups in the most un-brotherly of ways, as have Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fogerty brothers.  The Bee Gees, a.k.a. the Brothers Gibb (Maurice, Robin and Barry) along with little brother Andy, were a huge musical success, though marked by tragedy.  The Allman Brothers were crowd pleasers, and The Carpenters were brother and sister.  Ray and Dave Davies formed the heart of the Kinks, and of course the rocking girls from Heart are sisters.  Utah produced Donnie and Marie Osmond (and their other siblings).  And who could forget the band of brothers in the Jackson 5 and their sisters Janet and Latoya.  The Cowsills were a real family (but the Partridge Family was not!).  Feel free to mention any others you can think of.  (Clue: Think Van Halen, AC/DC, Devo, The Beach Boys, Isleys, Radiohead, Oasis, etc.)

6. Various Sets of Brothers in the National Football League (NFL).

Football is a field with many famous brothers, to include these premier pass throwers Peyton and Eli Manning.  The 2013 Super Bowl saw Jim and John Harbaugh face each other as head coach of the respective teams, and another set of coaching brothers is Rex and Rob Ryan.  Archie and Ray Griffin were both Ohio State Buckeyes who turned professional, with Archie being the only 2-time Heisman Trophy winner.  Merlin, Phil and Orrin Olsen became a family trifecta in the NFL.  Chris and Matt Bahr kicked their way into the NFL, and Walter and Eddie Payton ran the ball.  The sons of football player, Clay Matthews, Sr., Clay Jr. and Bruce Matthews, are members of a football dynasty, their 4 sons, Clay Matthews III,  Kevin Matthews, Jake Matthews and Casey Matthews, also being professional players.  In all, at least 348 sets of brothers have played in the NFL, too many to list all of them!

5. Various Sets of Brothers in Professional Baseball

The baseball players in the DiMaggio family were headlined by “Joltin” Joe, the “Yankee Clipper,” successor to Babe Ruth as the biggest star of the Yankees and one of the all-time greatest players ever.  Brothers Vince and Dom did not achieve Joe’s level of success but were solid players.  Other famous baseball brothers include: the Alou brothers (Jesus, Matty and Felipe); Ken and Clete Boyer; George and Ken Brett; Cal and Billy Ripken; Dizzy and Daffy Dean; Sandy and Roberto Alomar; Gaylord and Jim Perry; and Phil and Joel Niekro, just to name a few.  History and Headlines Fact:  Joe DiMaggio was married to Marilyn Monroe.

4. The Kennedy Brothers.

Joe, the eldest, is the least known Kennedy brother because he passed away young, dying during a mission in World War II.  John, the second oldest, became a senator and then President of the United States.  Like his older brother, he was a decorated war hero.  Robert, the third oldest, was U.S. Attorney General and a senator and possibly president had he not been assassinated.  Edward, the youngest, was one of the longest-serving senators ever.  His involvement in the Chappaquiddick incident cost him his presidential aspirations however.

3. Venus and Serena Williams.

These Amazonian-like tennis machines have been destroying opponents professionally for over 15 years now, with Serena snagging 18 Grand Slam events and Venus 7.  Serena is currently Number 1, and Venus has been ranked Number 1 on 3 occasions.  They even play doubles tennis together, winning numerous tournaments.  They have 4 Olympic gold medals each, 3 of them being in doubles.

2. Vitaly and Wladimir Klitschko.

Between the 2 of them, these Ukrainian heavyweight boxers have held all the boxing heavyweight championship titles for several years now.  Vitaly an Wladimir Klitschko have had more success than any other boxing brothers in history.  Nearing the end of their careers, both of them will certainly rank among the best  heavyweights of all time.  Headlines and History Fact: Incredibly, both of these guys are highly intelligent and have PhDs!  So much for the stereotype that boxers are Neanderthal brutes.

1. Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Inventors of the first successful powered, heavier-than-air airplane to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard, the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, created a technology that defined travel, transport and warfare in the 20th century.  And no, Orville did not invent microwave popcorn.

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

If you liked this article and would like to receive notification of new articles, please feel welcome to subscribe to History and Headlines by liking us on Facebook and becoming one of our patrons!

Your readership is much appreciated!

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Florio, John and Ouisie Shapiro.  One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, And The Myth Of The Heavyweight Title.  Lyons Press, 2013.

Kluger, Jeffrey.  The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us.  Riverhead Books, 2012.

Maurer, Richard.  The Wright Sister: Katherine Wright and her Famous Brothers (Single Titles).  Roaring Brook Press, 2003.


About Author

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.