Most of us only get to read about history, not be a part of it. At the right place and time, however, even the most ordinary individual can shape the course of human existence.
On rare occasions, these everyday people become famous later on in life. Some huge stars found themselves wrapped up in monumental events that shaped the world as we know it. The influence of these celebrities goes far beyond their achievements in film or music, as they had a firsthand view of humanity’s highs and lows…
1. Audrey Hepburn: Few people know that Hepburn was also part of the Dutch resistance during World War II. She donated earnings from ballet performances to anti-Nazi organizations and delivered messages between operatives.
2. Johnny Cash: The ‘Man in Black’ began walking the line with a stint in the Air Force, where he served in a radio squadron. In 1953, he was the first American to receive word that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had died.
3. Alec Guinness: “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” asked the British Navy — more or less. Guinness did more than his fair share during World War II. He commanded a troop transport during the invasions of Sicily and Normandy.
4. Samuel L. Jackson: While at Morehouse College, Jackson served as an usher at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. The actor was later expelled when he locked a board of trustees in a room until they made certain reforms. Ironically, the trapped group included King’s father.
5. Dennis Rodman: Since he met Kim Jong-Un in 2013, the basketball star improbably became the face of American and North Korean relations. He helped bring sports to Korea, but also has made excuses for the country’s many human rights violations.
6. Jimmy Stewart: This famous man became a war hero in the middle of his acting career. He flew over 20 combat missions during the Second World War. The Air Force later promoted Stewart to Brigadier General for his outstanding bravery.
7. Steve Buscemi: The character actor worked as a New York City firefighter before his big break. However, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he rejoined his old company and volunteered to contain the damage and search for survivors.
8. George Takei: The Star Trek actor and his family spent over two years in a government internment camp, like 100,000 other Japanese-Americans. Upon their release, the Takeis received just a handful of train tickets and $20 to rebuild their lives.
National Park Service / AP
9. Michael Caine: The distinguished actor saw a great deal of action as an infantryman in the Korean War. As part of the famous Royal Fusiliers regiment, he escaped a brush with death after a major Chinese offensive separated his patrol from the rest of the British Army.
10. Sigourney Weaver: Before she was fighting off aliens, Weaver glimpsed a different kind of invasion — the British Invasion. She was one of the thousands to attend The Beatles’ legendary concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
11. Bill Paxton: An eight-year-old Paxton (circled below) was thrilled when he saw John F. Kennedy in Fort Worth, and a stranger hoisted him up for a better view. He was also one of the last people to see the President alive as the President was assassinated later that afternoon.
12. Jet Li: This action star performs his own stunts. His greatest stunt of all, however, was saving his daughter from the 2004 tsunami. While on vacation in the Maldives, he swiftly carried her to safety before the wall of water could sweep them away.
13. Eleanor Roosevelt: This first lady was on board the SS Britannic ocean liner, which collided with another ship in 1874, killing several passengers. Fortunately, Roosevelt and her family escaped unscathed.
14. Christopher Lee: This perennial movie villain — he was Dracula, Saruman, and Count Dooku, to name a few — was a real-life hero. Lee joined British Special Forces during WWII and helped track down Nazi criminals.
15. Snoop Dogg: Did you know the rapper partnered with American legend Buzz Aldrin? No, Snoop was not involved in the moon landing, but he did produce Aldrin’s novelty hip-hop single “Rocket Experience.” All proceeds from the song went to Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation.
16. Dennis Wilson: This drummer was once close friends with maniacal cult leader Charles Manson. The Manson Family even lived in Wilson’s home for a short while before moving to a California ranch.
17. Yogi Berra: This baseball catcher valiantly served his country as a Navy gunner on D-Day. Berra admitted he was quite naive during the invasion and thought the planes and explosions looked like the Fourth of July.
18. Hedy Lamarr: She was one of the most iconic stars of the 1940s, but Lamarr had brains as well as beauty. She developed a frequency-hopping technology that laid the foundation for Wifi and Bluetooth. In 2014, she posthumously received membership into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
19. Fats Domino: The blues great was long one of New Orleans’ most dedicated residents. In fact, not even Hurricane Katrina could chase him away. Some outlets reported his demise in 2005, but it turned out he waited out the worst of the storm at home to care for his ailing wife.
AP / Cheryl Garber
20. Pat Sajak: The host of Wheel of Fortune, Sajak served in Vietnam as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio. He did make an unfortunate blunder by accidentally cutting off transmission of President Richard Nixon’s address to the troops.
These stars are historic in ways far beyond their pop culture contributions!
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