Celebrities are often associated with being talented artists who can do a number of things really well: sing, dance, act and not much else. The concept of vapid personalities dominating Hollywood has recently come under fire as a growing number of celebrities are seeking professional careers outside of movies, concerts and their talk shows. It is no secret that the world of celebrities has hundreds of artists with Bachelor’s degrees in their craft, whether it be theater, music production, screenwriting or literature. However, there are a select few in the business that have gone above and beyond their comfort zone.
The following list highlights people who have made millions doing what they love, while simultaneously working hard towards advanced degrees, including masters, Ph.Ds. and law degrees from some of the nation’s and world’s top academic institutions. There are superstars such as Ke$ha who excelled in school by scoring a 1500 on her SATs and earning a scholarship to Columbia-affiliated Barnard College to study psychology. However, the celebrities highlighted on this list only includes artists who have completed an advanced degree in their second passion. They are living proof that you can crush it in their public careers while also studying in a private environment that earned them top grades from nerds everywhere.
15. Hill Harper
Hill Harper helped himself by playing a brainy coroner in hit show CSI: NY for nearly a decade, shaping the image of the 50-year-old as an intellectual performer. Harper’s acting career blossomed following his time in his undergrad Brown University, where took theater courses and rocked the stage with a number of stage performances. He received his degree from the Ivy League institution in 1988, garnering the honor of valedictorian as he wore a graduation gown that included magna cum laude honors to it.
The award-winning actor pursued advanced degrees after college, following in the footsteps of his parents, who were both physicians. Harper went on a slightly different route, earning admission from Harvard University’s renowned Law School. Apart from studying law, he also obtained a degree in public administration and spent summers at various firms. Ultimately, he was more interested in the educational side of the law rather than the practice of it, prompting him to pursue an illustrious career in acting.
14. Greg Graffin
Bad Religion front man Greg Graffin has earned himself a place in punk rock lore as he wrote and performed in some of the genre’s most influential albums, including 1994 classic Stranger than Fiction, which went Gold in the U.S. Outside of his gnarly vocals, catchy guitar riffing and his ability to dance on the piano’s ivories, Graffin’s used his smarts to excel in the study of animals, raking in three degrees in the process.
The 52-year-old double-majored in anthropology and geology in UCLA, and followed his passion of nature by getting a master’s in geology from the same school. The singer went Ivy League for his Ph.D in zoology from Cornell University, writing his dissertation on his evolutionary and atheistic beliefs. He wrote a memoir/manifesto called Anarchy Evolution, detailing his naturalist beliefs that feed off of his musical anti-religion thematic concerns. To top it all off, Graffin joined Cornell’s zoology faculty, teaching a course on evolution twice a week.
13. Peter Weller
Peter Weller is a celebrity from a bygone era, rocketing to the peak of stardom in the 1980s before experiencing a steady decline in his timeless career. For those of you too young to remember, he played the titular character in RoboCop and its sequel RoboCop 2, a persona that is constantly being referenced or imitated in subsequent action films that pay homage to the pop culture staple. Some may remember Weller from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a cult classic where he played a super-genius who is a physicist, neurosurgeon, pilot and rock star.
The film gave us a preview of what Weller was capable of outside of Hollywood as he spent more than two decades pursuing his passion for art history. He completed a master’s in Roman and Renaissance Art from Syracuse University in 2004, as well as a Ph.D in Italian Renaissance art history ten years later. The man behind RoboCop combined his film and academic background in one of the several classes he has taught, requiring students to watch sandal epics such as Ben Hur while reading about the history of the Romans to educate students with a full-fledged image of the complexities that defined that civilization.
12. Rachel Maddow
MSNBC’s host of The Rachel Maddow Show is a trailblazer in more ways than one, becoming one of the first and most successful female TV hosts in the U.S. Rachel Maddow is also the first openly gay anchor at a major prime-time news program in the country, inspiring millions with her liberal beliefs that offer insight and opinion into some of the biggest topical subjects at any given day. The California-native has won numerous awards for her well-informed content, thoughtful analysts and unapologetic attitude within the industry, including the “Breakout Star of 2008” by The Washington Post in 2008.
In order to add credibility to her screen career, Maddow raked in quite an impressive academic CV, including a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University. She also earned a PhD in political science from Oxford University, attending as a Rhode Scholar—these scholarships are offered to some of the world’s brightest and hardest-working students in the world pursuing a postgraduate degree.
11. Ron Jeremy
The name Ron Jeremy is usually linked with his controversial career path of acting in adult entertainment films. Nicknamed “The Hedgehog,” Ron Jeremy is liked by many due to his friendly disposition and openness about the industry he works in, while many others denounce his work and everything it stands for. Whatever your opinion on Jeremy may be, it is hard to argue against his intellectual background as he dedicated the first stage of his professional life towards educating the country’s youth.
The 63-year-old double-majored in education and theater, and he followed his undergrad work with a master’s degree in special education. He focused on high school special education classes, aiding autistic children and teens who suffer from schizophrenia. Jeremy also did some substitute teaching before coming to the conclusion that teaching was not for him. After spending some years struggling to eat, the actor joined the adult entertainment industry and his career took off.
10. Dexter Holland
Dexter Holland is best-known as the singer, rhythm guitarist and main songwriter of multi-platinum selling artist The Offspring, and there’s a chance he would’ve been just as successful pursuing his second career. Holland earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from University of South Carolina, following this feat up by getting a master’s in Molecular Biology from the same school. The “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” vocalist could have gotten any job in the industry had he finished his Ph.D in Molecular Biology from the same school. Nevertheless, he could always go back to school or seek employment with his master’s if The Offspring ever call it quits.
His passion for the human form has been displayed in many of the band’s album covers, including a gruesome dissection of a man’s entrails in the art of their first album. 6x platinum-album Smash captures a skeletal scan of a man’s torso and head, the “She’s Got Issues” video features animated monsters and 2003 album Splinter shows a statue’s head breaking into pieces.
9. Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik has won the hearts of nerds everywhere with her role in The Big Bang Theory, where she plays a neuroscientist who is socially awkward, romantically troubled and insecure despite her great intellect. Over the course of the series, she wins the heart of one of the protagonists, advances her career, becomes an integral part of an established social group of nerds and adds a dose of adorable humor as she possesses a great heart. What makes the 40-year-old’s performance more impressive is how close she comes to the mark in portraying a neuroscientist due to the fact that she is a real neuroscientist.
Bialik earned a B.S. in neuroscience with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies, eventually netting a Ph.D in neuroscience. Her dissertation tackled the hypothalamic activity in patients who suffer from Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to the underdevelopment of muscles. She has helped to advance the field as well as parents everywhere by writing a book that tackles the challenges of parenting with her knowledge of the hormones of attachment we all possess.
8. Rowan Atkinson
Rowan Atkinson will forever be immortalized in television and film lore for his unique and iconic portrayal of Mr. Bean, the well-intentioned gentleman who is as quiet as he is clumsy. The British star continued his work as a hero to underachievers everywhere in Johnny English Reborn, serving as a tribute and parody to James Bond and other spy films from back in the day. Atkinson is a dying breed, relying on the slapstick humor that became the trademark of some of comedy’s greatest minds, including Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers and the minds behind The Three Stooges. However, the actor is far from being the clown that he pretends to be as he has challenged himself to obtain degrees in some challenging professions that require precision.
He studied in his native land, garnering a degree in electrical engineering from Newcastle University as well as an MSc from Oxford of all places. The renowned institution named him as an Honorary Fellow in 2006, but it was his theater work that in the Experimental Theatre Club of Oxford that helped Atkinson make a name for himself. In 2012, he decided to retire his Mr. Bean role due to the fact that he was no longer the spry, young comic that he built his career on.
7. Miuccia Prada
Born Maria Bianchi, Miuccia Prada is one of the greatest minds in fashion of the 20th and 21st century. She embodies her luxury brand as she is often seen wearing some of her classiest outfits while running a highly successful business. Building an empire like Prada’s does not happen overnight which begs the question of how she pulled it all off.
Descending from a conservative Catholic family helped to define what Prada did not want to embody in her style. She showed up at her school dressed like a hippie at age 14 during the 1960s, helping to set the tone of what her life would be dedicated to in the future. She started her fashion days with an academic career that was highlighted by a PhD in Political Science. She proceeded to work in the theater, designing outfits for actors that helped to form her avant-garde style. With a net worth of $11.1 billion, Prada is now one of the richest and brainiest women in the world.
6. Brian May
Brian May is an absolute legend who was constantly seeking to one-up his peers in Queen by writing bigger and better songs. The Middlesex guitarist penned some of the band’s most successful hits, including “We Will Rock You,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “The Show Must Go On.” One has to wonder where the grandiosity of May’s songwriting comes from, but it makes sense when you consider his passion for academia, which have earned him roles in numerous prolific scientific entities including NASA.
His astronomical intelligence was put in display during his days of higher education, which includes a BSc degree in physics, as well as a PhD degree that revolved around the reflection of light from interplanetary dust, among other universal quandaries from the astrophysicist. May’s passion for space was put in display by the aforementioned space organization in 2015 where he met with the team that is examining Pluto. The Queen star was at NASA as more than a spectator as May was named as a collaborator of interplanetary space probe New Horizons.
5. Ken Jeong
If there is one comedy that has defined the millennial generation, it is probably The Hangover. One of the film’s iconic elements was the character portrayed by Ken Jeong, who was a gangster leader with a Napoleonic complex that makes for comedic gold. Perhaps the only aspect of Jeong that matches the hilarity he is capable of conjuring is his talent as a physician. He got his undergraduate degree from Duke University, followed by an M.D. degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jeong established himself in New Orleans by completing his internal residency in a hospital there. He pursued his comedic work simultaneously, performing stand-up in a bid to make a name for himself. The Korean-American put in years as a doctor before making it as a comedian and actor. Jeong is licensed to practice medicine in California and he still takes patients when he isn’t working in order to keep his double life going. It all came full circle for the 47-year-old in 2015 when he was announced as the star of Dr. Ken, a sitcom in which Jeong plays a funny doctor.
4. Dolph Lundgren
Dolph Lundgren is a force to be reckoned with. The Swedish giant struck fear into the eyes of Americans everywhere in Rocky IV, as he portrayed Soviet boxer Ivan Drago six years before the Soviet Union collapsed. Lundgren proceeded to establish himself as one of the preeminent action stars of Hollywood, including a role in Masters of the Universe and The Expendables movie series. The actor has the chops to match his on-film bravado as he’s a black belt in karate, becoming a European champion in 1981.
Before making it in the biz, Lundgren proved he had the brains to back his brawn by earning a chemistry bachelor’s, a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in chemical engineering. Top it all off, the stalwart actor earned a Fulbright Scholarship to attend MIT in 1983. Perhaps one of Lundgren’s most impressive feats involved a situation in which he didn’t lift a finger as robbers broke into his house, saw a picture of the muscle-builder and immediately exited the home, cowering in fear. The Swedish hunk embodies everything that’s right about the American dream.
3. Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler is one of the top foreign talents that Hollywood has seen over the last two decades. The Scot has had starring roles in 300, P.S. I Love You and RocknRolla, establishing himself as a versatile artist capable of doing action, drama and romance. In addition to his on-film work, the actor has an academic background that almost saw him practicing as a lawyer to pay the bills.
Following a law degree, Butler started to train to become a lawyer with a firm in Scotland. At age 25, he was still too green for the industry due to his partying, prompting the firm to fire him. Although many would have been dismayed by what happened to Butler, he saw his shortcomings as a lawyer as a blessing in disguise. He pushed himself to become an actor with the hopes of being famous. He adopted numerous jobs on his path to stardom, including waiting at a restaurant. His talent proved to be too large to resist as he eventually made it in the business.
2. Art Garfunkel
Art Garfunkel is known for his feuding with fellow musician Paul Simon as much as he’s known for all the great songs the pair wrote during the years together as Simon & Garfunkel. The pair was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 thanks to composing music that pulls at the heart strings, including “The Sound of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair,” “America” and the iconic song from The Graduate in “Mrs. Robinson.” When taking a closer look at Garfunkel’s life, it becomes clear that he is also a talented athlete and intellectual.
In his time at Columbia, Garfunkel was part of the tennis, skiing, fencing and bowling team, while earning a bachelor’s in art history in the 1960s. The decade was good to him as he received a master’s in mathematics from the same school a couple of years later, while also becoming a chart-topper with Simon around the same time. He even worked towards a PhD in mathematics education at the same school.
1. Shaquille O’Neal
Perhaps the most surprising entry in this list is Shaquille O’Neal, considered by some to be the greatest center in NBA history. The Lakers and Magic star was an imposing figure of the sport, standing tall at 7’1″ and weighing over 300 pounds at times. What he lacked in his free-throwing ability he made up for in court presence and defensive prowess. Shaq’s other careers are well-known to his fans, including a platinum rap album and a brief acting career.
What a lot of people don’t know about the four-time NBA champions is that he’s a savvy businessman, earning an MBA from online institution University of Phoenix. Over the years, Shaq has amassed quite the CV, showing up in commercials, working with law enforcement, trying different sports including wrestling and becoming a spokesperson for Pepsi, Apple, General Electric and other companies. There are plenty of athletes who feel lost in their path once their playing career ends, but Shaq is proof that you can become a multi-talented entrepreneur who constantly revamps his brand if you put the work in.
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