It's no secret that a ton of celebs found fame at a super young age and were child stars. But others become famous and successful much later in life -- sometimes after having completely different careers and lifestyles altogether. Some have pretty surprising careers or work super odd jobs before finding fame in the acting world. A lot of celebs were actually star athletes before turning to Hollywood. Sometimes they were athletes in college or they actually went pro for a period of time. Here are 15 celebs who started out as successful and talented athletes.
15 O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson, of course, is best known for being accused of killing his wife and getting acquitted... and also for being suspected of being Khloe Kardashian's biological father. But before all that, he was a massively successful athlete nicknamed "the Juice." O.J. won the 1968 Heisman trophy playing football at USC, and then played in the NFL for 11 years for both the Buffalo Bills and then the San Francisco 49ers. He holds the record for the single season yards-per-game average, and he was the only player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a 14-game season. Seasons are now 16 games, by the way. In the 1970s and 1980s he acted in a bunch of different films and starred in the The Naked Gun trilogy.
14 Elsa Hosk
Elsa Hosk made it big as a Victoria's Secret model, but she actually played professional basketball in Sweden before making that career switch. She started modelling in high school but wanted to focus on school and then her athletic career. She played pro for two years before many awesome modelling offers came pouring in and she moved to the U.S. to take them. In addition to Victoria's Secret Elsa has also done campaigns for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Free People, Ungaro, H&M, Lilly Pulitzer, and Guess, the latter of which was shot by Ellen Von Unwerth. In 2015 she was officially announced as one of the new Victoria's Secret Angels. She also won Sweden's Next Top Model in 2012.
13 Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow grew up in Missouri where she was a majorette and an all-state track athlete. She medaled in the 75-meter low hurdles. She was also a beauty queen as well as a star student. In college she got her Bachelor of Arts degree in music composition, performance, and education, and later taught music while she sung in bands on the weekends. In the 1980's she actually made a ton of money singing jingles for commercials, once mentioning that she made $40,000 on a single McDonald's one. In 1987, she went on tour with Michael Jackson as a backup singer before really making it big as a solo artist in the 1990s. Here's an awesome quote about her longevity in the industry: "I have been around for a long, long time. I didn't make it 'til I was older. I went through the period when women were not getting signed, particularly if you were writing songs that were lyrically propelled."
12 Ed O'Neill
Ed O'Neill is one of the most memorable sitcom actors of all time and that's mostly because of his roles as Al Bundy on Married With Children and Jay Pritchett on Modern Family. He also started out as an athlete: he was a high school football star in Ohio and was awarded a scholarship to play at Ohio state before transferring to Youngstown State University. He planned to go pro but got cut during training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he went back to school where he hopped into the theater program. He started out with roles on Broadway and in commercials, but really made it big with the 1986 Al Bundy role. Al was also a former football star who reminisced about his "glory days" and to play off the storyline the show welcomed former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw as a guest star.
11 Rick Fox
Rick Fox played basketball at the University of North Carolina before going pro with the Boston Celtics, and then getting traded to the Lakers, where he won three NBA titles. In the 1990's he actually started getting acting roles as a basketball player in films like Eddie and He Got Game, but it was in 1997 that he really broke through with his role on Oz. For a while he was balancing both an acting career and an NBA career. He's talked about how crazy it is to balance those things: "Penny Marshall is court side. You got Jack (Nicholson) and Denzel (Washington). The head of the William Morris Agency is there. (Ally McBeal creator) David E. Kelley comes to some games ... I want to jump into conversations with them, but I'm working!"
10 Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon was born to a Heisman Trophy winning football player and broadcaster dad, and for a while, he followed in his footsteps. You may know him from NCIS, but before that, Mark was the starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins in 1972 and 1973, where he received the National Football Foundation Award for All-Round Excellence. After college he decided to pursue an acting career and got his first acting job on Ozzie's Girls since he had an in. His sister's in-laws were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. By 1986 he was named People's Sexiest Man Alive. Shows like St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, West Wing, and NCIS have been some of his biggest hits. He has said, "I was raised with the idea of maximum effort: as long as you could look in the mirror and say, 'I gave it everything I had,' it was OK. But if you gave it less, that would disgrace you."
9 Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
The Rock played football for the University of Miami and also played in the Canadian Football League before turning to pro wrestling. Both his grandfather and his father had been professional wrestlers as well, so you could say it was sort of the family business. From 1996 to 2004 Dwayne was known as "Rocky Maivia" in the WWF/E. He has had ten championship reigns and is considered one of the biggest stars in the history of WWE. His acting career really kicked off with some mainstream blockbuster films, starting with The Mummy Returns in 2001 and The Scorpion King in 2002, and it's never slowed down. In 2013 Forbes actually named him the top-grosssing actor, which was partly in thanks to the success of Fast & Furious 6, which grossed $789 million globally, as well as the other acting projects he was involved in.
8 Burt Reynolds
Out of high school, Burt Reynolds got a lot of football scholarship offers and ended up choosing Florida State where he played as a fullback. However in his second year he was injured and then later re injured in a car accident, which prevented him from taking his career to the professional level. He continued to take classes at a junior college where he was encouraged to try out for a play called Outward Bound, for which he won the 1956 Florida State Drama Award for his performance. For a while he continued to act here and there, take classes, and work odd jobs before he got up the guts to go full Hollywood. It was his 1972 performance in Deliverance that really made him a star, and then his nude Cosmopolitan spread that gave him a lot of notoriety.
7 Caitlyn Jenner
Bruce Jenner was a college football player and the 1980 Olympic winner for the decathlon. He became an actor and had roles like playing a motorcycle cop on CHiPs in the 1980's and continued to do motivational speaking. Eventually he married Kris Jenner, and we all know what happened when his stepdaughter Kim had a tape released and launched the entire family into stardom. Bruce had been living a life full of secrets until he announced his gender transition and went through the subsequent surgeries to begin life as Caitlyn Jenner. Here's an awesome, inspiring quote: "I learned that the only way you are going to get anywhere in life is to work hard at it. Whether you're a musician, a writer, an athlete or a businessman, there is no getting around it. If you do, you'll win - if you don't, you won't."
6 Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a pretty strange journey from bodybuilder to actor to governor of California. He started weight training at the age of 15 and by 20, had won the title of Mr. Universe. He went on to win Mr. Olympia seven times and is considered one of the best bodybuilders of all time. In 1982 he broke through into the acting world with Conan the Barbarian then in 1984 with The Terminator, the latter of which went on to become of course a massive franchise. Predator, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop are just a few of the other movies he's done since. He has said, "I knew I was a winner back in the late sixties. I knew I was destined for great things. People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way - I hope it never will."
5 Jason Statham
You may not know this, but Jason Statham was a member of the British National Diving Squad for twelve years before becoming an actor. He even competed for England at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. It was while he was training at London's Crystal Palace National Sports Centre that a sports modelling agency spotted him and he began a modelling career. He quickly got a gig with French Connection and some roles in music videos. But he kept making extra money by selling fake perfume and jewelry on street corners which later worked out pretty well. When he was modelling he was introduced to Guy Ritchie who was trying to cast a street savvy con artist, and when he found out that Jason had personal experience he cast him in his 1998 crime comedy thriller Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Things of course continued from there.
4 Terry Crews
These days, Terry Crews is well-known for his roles Everybody Hates Chris, Brooklyn 99, and the Old Spice commercials, but he too started out as a football player. For college he was actually awarded both an art scholarship and a football scholarship to Western Michigan University where he played as a defensive end. In 1991 he was drafted to the then Los Angeles Rams, but also played for San Diego Chargers, the Washington Redskins, and the Philadelphia Eagles. He made extra cash by painting portraits of his teammates, and then he retired in 1997 and began acting. He has said, "I always wanted to be that guy who pushed the envelope in all kind of ways and tried something new. When I keep that rule going, it always takes me to a new place. There are times when I fail miserably, but I always find myself knowing one more thing better, doing one more thing that I never did before."
3 Jason Lee
Jason Lee is known for playing the title role on My Name is Earl, but before he was an actor, he was actually a professional skateboarder. He grew up in Orange County and after finding success as a pro skateboarder in the 80s and 90s he cofounded a skate company called Stereo Sound Agency. When he started acting in the early 1990's he was spotted by director Kevin Smith who decided to cast him in Mallrats which was a big break for him. Films like Chasing Amy and Dogma continued to grow his star, as did films like Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous.
2 Stacy Keibler
The actress is pretty much known for dating George Clooney (you might have heard of him), but before that, she found success as a wrestler. As a kid, she was a dancer and had some small acting roles, then became a cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens at the age of 18. She later moved on to her professional wrestling career as a part of the Nitro Girls in WCW which was later purchased by WWE. She was known as both "The Legs of WCW" and "The Legs of WWE" for having extremely long legs, which also helped her in the modelling world. At 5'11" Stacy was one of the only women capable of stepping over all three ropes in the wrestling ring and had a classic move of doing so where the fans could see her panties. She moved to L.A. in 2004 where she has picked up some acting roles and did her stint on Dancing With the Stars.
1 John Wayne
John Wayne (born Marion Mitchell Morrison), was actually a football player on scholarship at USC back in his day. He had an injury when he went bodysurfing which effectively ended his career, and then he found work at local film studios. In 1939, he starred in John Ford's Stagecoach, became super famous, and he went on to star in 142 films. Biographer Ronald Davis has said: "John Wayne personified for millions the nation's frontier heritage. Eighty-three of his movies were Westerns, and in them he played cowboys, cavalrymen, and unconquerable loners extracted from the Republic's central creation myth." He was one of the top box office draws for three decades and an Academy Award winner for True Grit in 1969.