Kurt Russell

Active - 1963 - 2021  |   Born - Mar 17, 1951 in Springfield, Massachusetts, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Action, Science Fiction, Drama, Thriller

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

One of the most iconic action stars of all time, Kurt Russell (born March 17th, 1951) is among the few to make the successful transition from child star to successful adult actor. As a youth, Russell aspired to follow the footsteps of his father, Bing Russell, who, in addition to being a big league baseball player, was also an actor (he was perhaps best known for his role as the sheriff on the TV Western Bonanza). That his heroes Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris did the same thing only strengthened Russell's resolve to have both a baseball and acting career.

He first broke into acting on television, starring in the series The Travels of Jamie McPheeters, and he made his film debut playing the boy who kicks Elvis in the 1963 Elvis Presley vehicle It Happened at the World's Fair.

After signing a ten-year contract with Disney, Russell got his big break as a juvenile actor in 1966, starring opposite Fred MacMurray in Disney's live-action feature Follow Me Boys! His association with the studio lasted through 1975, and produced such comedic family movies as The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968), The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), The Barefoot Executive (1971), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). The last film marked Russell's final collaboration with Disney, aside from his voicing the character of Copper in the studio's The Fox and the Hound (1981). Still an avid baseball enthusiast during those years, Russell nurtured his dreams of becoming a professional ball player until a shoulder injury permanently changed his plans.

After ending his association with Disney, Russell disappeared from features for a few years. He appeared in a few television movies, most notably playing the title role in Elvis, John Carpenter's made-for-television biopic. His next role as a sleazy used car salesman in Robert Zemeckis' hilariously caustic Used Cars (1980) allowed him to counter his wholesome, all-American nice guy image, and prove that he was an actor of untapped range. Director Carpenter recognized this and cast Russell as ruthless mercenary Snake Plissken in his brooding sci-fi/action film Escape From New York (1981). The role would prove to be one of legendary status, and one that would cement Russell as a cult hero for generations to come. Carpenter also cast Russell as a scientist stranded in the Antarctic in his chilling 1982 remake of The Thing. Realizing that his characters were larger than life, Russell typically played them with a subtle tongue- in-cheek quality. He also used this comic intuition in comedies like 1987's Overboard, in which he starred alongside his long-time life-partner and mother of his child Golide Hawn.

In 1983, Russell moved to serious drama, playing opposite Cher and Meryl Streep in Silkwood. The success of that film helped him break into a more mainstream arena, and he was later able to win praise for his dramatic work in such films as Swing Shift (1984), Tequila Sunrise (1988), and Winter People (1989). However, it is with his performances in action films that Russell remains most widely associated. He has appeared in a number of such films, all of disparate quality. Some of Russell's more memorable projects include Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Tango and Cash (1989), Backdraft (1991), Tombstone (1993), and Executive Decision (1996). In 1996, he reprised his Snake Plissken character for Carpenter's Escape From L.A. The following year, he starred opposite Kathleen Quinlan in the revenge thriller Breakdown before returning to the sci-fi/action realm with Soldier in 1998. It would be two years before movie-going audiences would again catch a glimpse of Russell, though with his roles in 2000 Miles to Graceland (again carrying on the Elvis associations that have haunted his career) and Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, the versatile actor proved that he was still very much on the scene. Is some of Russell's later day roles had stressed the action angle a bit more than the more dramatic aspects of the stories, the release of Dark Blue in 2003 combined both with Russell cast as a volitile police officer tracking a killer against the backdrop of the 1992 L.A. riots.

In 2005, Russell played a frustrated father and horse-man in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, showing audiences that for all his on-screen bombast, he still had a sensitive side. He quickly leapt back into the action-packed saddle, however, with a leading role in 2006's remake of The Poseidon Adventure, Poseidon. Soon afterward, he accepted a role that took a decidedly self-aware perspective on his own fame as an over-the-top action star as he signed on for the leading role in Death Proof, Quinten Tarantino's half of the double-feature Grindhouse. A tribute to the fantastically violent B-exploitation films of its title, Grindhouse would cast Russell as Stuntman Mike, a literal lady-killer with a car that can be crashed and smashed without ever allowing the driver to be hurt.

Movie Highlights

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  • Appeared with Elvis Presley in 1963's It Happened at the World's Fair, 16 years before portraying him in a TV biopic; was also the uncredited voice of Elvis in 1994's Forrest Gump and an Elvis impersonator seven years later in 3000 Miles to Graceland.
  • Starred in a string of popular Disney films as a youth.
  • Played minor-league baseball in the early '70s and wanted to turn pro, but a shoulder injury cut his career short.
  • Had his first date with Goldie Hawn on Valentine's Day 1983 after auditioning to costar with her in Swing Shift.
  • Was the real director of 1993's Tombstone, although credit went to ghost director George P. Cosmatos. Russell reportedly told Cosmatos that he wouldn't accept credit for directing the film for as long as Cosmatos lived. Cosmatos died in 2005.
  • Confirmed in 2007 that Walt Disney's last written words were "Kurt Russell," scribbled on a sheet of paper. Russell never learned why his name was written down.