Athletes Turned Actors

Famous sports figures who tried their hand at acting — with mixed results

Some of these guys found success on TV shows and big screen films — others went down as one hit wonders. But the one thing they have in common is they all got their start as professional athletes.

Here's our roundup of some of the more memorable athlete-turned-actors stories of the past 50 years.


Alex Karras

Sports career: Defensive tackle with the Detroit Lions (1958-1962) and (1964-1970)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Mongo in Blazing Saddles (1974)
— Sheriff Wallace in Porky's (1981)
— George Papadapolis in the TV series Webster (1983-89)
— TV sportscaster in Buffalo '66 (1998)



Bob Uecker

Sports Career: Catcher for the Milwaukee Braves (1962-1963), St. Louis Cardinals (1964-1965), Philadelphia Phillies (1966-1967), Atlanta Braves (1967)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle in Major League (1989), Major League II (1994), and Major League: Back to the Minors (1998)
— George Owens in the TV series Mr. Belvedere (1985-90)



Andre "The Giant" Rene Roussimoff

Sports Career: Wrestled under the ring names Andre Roussimoff, Butcher Roussimoff, Giant Roussimoff, Monster Roussimoff, Eiffel Tower, Monster Eiffel Tower, Jean Ferre, Geant Ferre, Giant Machine, and most notably, Andre the Giant

Notable Acting Roles:
Appeared in the TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man (1976), B.J. and the Bear (1979-81), and The Fall Guy (1982)
— Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987)


Brian Bosworth

Sports Career: Linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks (1987-1989)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Joe Huff/John Stone in Stone Cold (1991)
— Action Star in Three Kings (1999)
— Guard Garner in The Longest Yard (2005)



Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sports Career: Mr. Universe (1968), IFBB Mr. Olympia (1970-1975, 1980)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Arnold Strong 'Mr. Universe' in Hercules in New York (1970)
— Conan in Conan the Barbarian (1982)
— Conan in Conan the Destroyer (1984)
— The Terminator in The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2 (1991), and Terminator 3 (2003)
— Kalidor in Red Sonja (1985)
— John matrix in Commando (1985)
— Dutch in Predator (1987)
— Ben Richards in The Running Man (1987)
— Julius Benedict in Twins (1988)
— Douglas Quaid in Total Recall (1990)
— Detective John Kimble in Kindergarten Cop (1990)
— Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin (1997)



Carl Weathers

Sports Career: Linebacker for the Oakland Raiders (1970-71) and the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League (1971-73)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Apollo Creed in Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), and Rocky IV
Dillon in Predator (1987)
— Action Jackson in Action Jackson (1988)
— Chubbs in Happy Gilmore (1996)
— Chubbs in Little Nicky (2000)
— Col. Brewster in Tour of Duty (1989-90)
— Adam Beaudreaux in Street Justice (1991-93)
— Chief Hampton Forbes in The Heat of the Night (1993-94)



Fred Dryer

Sports Career: Defensive end for the New York Giants (1969-71), Los Angeles Rams (1972-81)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Det. Sgt. Rick Hunter on the TV series Hunter (1984-91)
— Appeared on Cheers (1982-87), Laverne & Shirley (1980), CHiPs (1982), and Diagnosis Murder (1997-98)



Howie Long

Sports Career: Defensive end for Oakland/L.A. Raiders (1981-93)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Kelly in Broken Arrow (1996)
— Jesse Graves in Firestorm (1998)
— Jack in 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
— Appeared on the TV series' King of the Hill (2000) and Malcolm in the Middle (2002)



Kareem-Abdul Jabbar

Sports Career: Center for the Milwaukee Bucks (1969-75), L.A. Lakers (1975-89)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Hakim in Game of Death (1978)
— As himself in Airplane! (1980)
— Appeared on the TV shows Emergency! (1974), Diff'rent Strokes (1982, 1985), 21 Jump Street (1990), and Amen (1991)



Jason Lee

Sports Career: Former professional skateboarder

Notable Acting Roles:
— Brodie in Mallrats (1995)
— Banky Edwards in Chasing Amy (1997)
— Zavitz in Enemy of the State (1998)
— Azrael in Dogma (1999)
— Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous (2000)
— Brodie Bruce/Banky Edwards in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
— Brian Shelby in Vanilla Sky (2001)
— Lance Dowds in Clerks II (2006)
— Earl Hickey on the TV series My Name is Earl (2005-present)



Jim Brown

Sports Career: Halfback for the Cleveland Browns (1957-65)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Robert Jefferson in The Dirty Dozen (1967)
— Slammer in I'm Gonna Git you Sucka (1988)
— Montezuma Monroe in Any Given Sunday (1999)
— Fireball in The Running Man (1987)
— Appeared on the TV shows CHiPs (1979, 1983), Knight Rider (1984), T.J. Hooker (1983-84), and The A-Team (1986)



Joe Namath

Sports Career: Quarterback for the New York Jets (1965-76), Los Angeles Rams (1977)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Captain Hollis in The Last Rebel (1971)
— Leroy in The Avalanche Express (1979)
— Newt Newton in The Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984)
— Appeared on the TV shows Fantasy Island (1981), The Love Boat (1980-81), The A-Team (1986), and The Brady Bunch (1973)



Kelly Slater

Sports Career: Professional surfer (1990-present)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Jimmy Slade in Baywatch (1992-93)




Bubba Smith

Sports Career: Defensive end for the Baltimore Colts (1967-71), Oakland Raiders (1973-74), Houston Oilers (1975-76)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Moses Hightower in Police Academy 1-6 (1984-89)
— Appeared on the TV shows Good Times (1978), Charlie's Angels (1979), Wonder Woman (1978), Eight is Enough (1980), Taxi (1982), Married with Children (1991), MacGyver (1991), and Family Matters (1993)



Lawrence Taylor

Sports Career: Outside linebacker for the New York Giants (1981-93)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Luther "Shark" Lavay in Any Given Sunday (1999)
— Lamont in Shaft (2000)



Merlin Olsen

Sports Career: Defensive tackle for Los Angeles Rams (1962-76)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Jonathan Garvey in Little House on the Prairie (1977-81)
— John Michael Murphy in Father Murphy (1981-83)



Ray Allen

Sports Career: Shooting guard with Milwaukee Bucks (1996-2003), Seattle Supersonics (2003-07), Boston Celtics (2007-present)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game (1998)
— Marcus Blake in Harvard Man (2001)



Terry Bradshaw

Sports Career: Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1970-83)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Played himself in The Cannonball Run (1981)
— Al in Failure to Launch (2006)
— Appeared on the TV shows The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1994), Blossom (1994), King of the Hill (2000), Malcolm in the Middle (2002),and Las Vegas (2008)



Wilt Chamberlain

Sports Career: Center for the Harlem Globetrotters (1958-59), Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors (1959-64), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-68), Los Angeles Lakers (1968-73), San Diego Conquistadors (1973-74)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Bombaata in Conan the Destroyer (1984)



Roger Clemens

Sports Career: Pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (1984-96), Toronto Blue Jays (1997-98), New York Yankees (1999-2003), Houston Astros (2004-06), and the New York Yankees (2007)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Opposing pitcher in Cobb (1994)
— Skidmark in Kingpin (1996)



John Cena

Sports Career: WWE World Heavy Weight Champion

Notable Acting Roles:
— Big Tim Kingman in Manhunt (2001)
— John Triton in The Marine (2006)
— Det. Danny Fisher in 12 Rounds(2009)



O.J. Simpson

Sports Career: Running back for the Buffalo Bills (1969-77) and the San Francisco 49ers (1978-79)

Notable Acting Roles:
— Det. Nordberg in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
— Det. Nordberg in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991)
— Det. Nordberg in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)

See Also:
"Fittest" Movie Ever?
Jamie Foxx: Chameleon
2009 Fattest Cities in America

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