Becoming a successful entertainer is no easy task. There are a lot of pitfalls and wrong turns along the journey, and there’s no guarantee that, even with bucket-loads of artistic talent, you’ll actually make a decent living. The chances of ever climbing the fame ladder in the competitive entertainment industry are pretty slim.
That’s why being an artist isn’t most people’s first choice. In fact, it might be their last choice, or an option they never imagined while they were earning a respectable education. And the following actors, musicians, fashion designers, and models all did exactly that.
Almost all of the following A-listers made the decision, at some point in their careers, that their education was seriously important. They pursued academia in spite of – or on the road to – fame and success. They attended university, studied hard, and graduated with Master’s and Doctorate degrees in fields that have little to do with the vocations that made them famous.
It’s often a stereotype that entertainers and performers may not be as intelligent as traditional academics, but the following people break that characterization. Not only can they keep you on the edge of your seat with movies, music, and slam dunks – they can also write papers with titles so long it takes a few breaths just to pronounce them out loud.
12. Brian May
Brian May is the lead guitarist of the legendary rock band, Queen. He is the writer behind the infamous “We Will Rock You” song and takes a hands-on approach when recording studio albums.
May attended London Imperial College before forming the early incarnation of what would become Queen. In 1971, he hit the road with the band and put off earning his doctorate degree. While his band became more and more famous, May’s education went on the back burner.
After hitting the top music charts with several hits from Queen’s successful albums, May decided to go back to school in 2008 and finish his doctorate studies in Astrophysics. He published his thesis soon after and said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my years playing guitar and recording music with Queen, but it’s extremely gratifying to see the publication of my thesis.” Now, the guitarist is officially known as Dr. Brian May.
11. Kermit the Frog
Kermit the Frog may not be a real celebrity in the technical sense, but as a beloved children’s show character, Kermit has been in the public consciousness for decades. So much so, in fact, that the top brass at Southampton College decided to give him an unusual honor.
Kermit is the recipient of a 1996 honorary doctorate in “Amphibious Letters”, a fictional field of study awarded to the fictional amphibian. In recognition of his honor, Kermit gave a commencement speech at Southampton. He also addressed students at the Oxford Union with messages of protecting the environment mixed in with a few spicy frog jokes.
10. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal is a force to be reckoned with in professional basketball. He is a four-time NBA champion with teams like Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics. He also has a decent resume of movies like Blue Chips, Kazaam, and Grown Ups 2.
Shaq left Louisiana State University to join the NBA, but returned to earn both a bachelor’s degree and Master’s in Education. But he didn’t stop there. Shaq went for the educational-equivalent of a slam dunk and earned his doctorate in Education from Barry University in Miami, Florida.
Shaq told ABC News that he continued his schooling as a personal challenge, and because he promised his parents he would follow his path in education.
9. Miuccia Prada
Wealthy celebrities and wannabes alike make it their life’s mission to buy Prada dresses, bags, shoes, and anything else the giant fashion brand can put for sale. The woman behind it all got her start in Milan, Italy (the fashion capital of the world), when she took over her parent’s failing company.
She updated the merchandise with her own fashion designs and, in 1985, Prada fashion began to take off. However, long before entering the family business, Prada was a member of the Italian Communist Party and studied mime. She also studied Political Science and, with her deep passion for political issues, went on to earn her Ph.D in the subject.
Prada told The Guardian that her parent’s shop was once the least of her concerns. Now, Prada is a multi-billion dollar international company.
8. Peter Weller
It might have been hard to know it with the helmet over his face, but at one time Peter Weller was the cyborg cop in RoboCop, destroying crime everywhere he could find it. But that was in the 1980s.
Now, Weller can be seen as a cop in the television show Sons of Anarchy. He also played a cop on the television series Dexter. Weller might have a knack for playing law enforcement, but he also has a penchant for philosophy. He earned his doctorate in Philosophy in 2014. In an interview for Vulture, Weller quips: “Yeah, I’m a doctor. I’ve gotta shut up about my Ph.D.” Weller earned his Master’s degree in Florence, and it took him seven years to earn his Ph.D. at UCLA.
7. Christy Turlington
Christy Turlington might be the most successful model in the world, gaining fame for her work with Maybelline cosmetics. Her success began with a chance encounter with a photographer who spotted her while horseback riding. She went on to model for brands like Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani.
After appearing in over 300 magazines like Vogue, Turlington decided to take a different path in her career and make a difference. She earned a Master’s degree in Public Health from Columbia and uses it to help those who really need it. In The Huffington Post, she says, “Now I’m 40 and getting this degree, I might be on the cusp of the career that I always wanted.”
6. Rowan Atkinson
The English actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson gained his fame by playing the bumbling, stumbling, but kind-hearted Mr. Bean. Atkinson has a knack for portraying a character who is often far too dim to see the consequences of his actions, causing a trail of mayhem wherever he goes.
Before he perfected the Mr. Bean character, however, Atkinson was enrolled at Newcastle University perusing an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering. He then pursued a Master’s degree at The Queen’s College Oxford in 1975. Of course, he never followed a career in the field. Instead, he developed the Mr. Bean character to become of one of the most popular personas on British TV and spawned two successful feature films.
5. David Duchovny
David Duchovny hit the limelight when he played FBI Agent Mulder in the popular television series The X-Files – his character was constantly on the lookout for extraterrestrial activity after he witnessed the abduction of his sister.
Fans all over the world agree that Duchovny’s strongest talent is as an actor. However, after high school, Duchovny earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Princeton, one of the best universities in the world. Shortly after, he attended Yale to earn a Master’s degree in English Literature and started acting while completing his dissertation, “Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose”.
4. Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman is beautiful, talented, successful, and, as if those weren’t enough, incredibly intelligent. Portman has starred in movies such as Garden State, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Black Swan, and V for Vendetta. But she is also quite talented off screen.
She can speak five languages fluently, including Hebrew, and graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA. Making high-grossing films while earning an education proved too difficult, so Portman took time off and went to Harvard University to earn a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
She wrote a paper titled “Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy” that was published in a scientific journal. She continued her studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
3. Ken Jeong
Many of us know Ken Jeong from NBC’s Community and several of The Hungover movies. Jeong is undoubtedly hilarious, jumping out of car trunks in the nude and trying to pass himself off as a Spanish teacher despite being Korean.
But Jeong never intended to be an actor, or a comedic actor at that. Before landing big roles in movies and television, he attended medical school and went on to become a licensed physician in the United States.
He attended Duke University and earned his medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also completed his full medical residency. While there, he honed his craft in his spare time doing stand-up comedy and, after getting bit by the funny bug, decided to pursue comedy full-time to great success.
2. James Franco
Many of the celebrities on this list aren’t as vocal about their esteemed educational backgrounds as Franco notoriously is.
Before landing a breakout role in Pacific Blue and later Freaks and Geeks, Franco studied English Literature and Drama at UCLA. He dropped out in his freshman year to pursue acting. After early breakout roles and plenty of consequent success, Franco went back to earn an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing.
He then enrolled in Columbia University to earn a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He also has a master’s degree in Filmmaking from NYU. Franco also enrolled in programs like fiction writing at Brooklyn College, all while still starring in hit movies.
1. Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik was the title-character in the television hit Blossom that aired from 1990 to 1995. But after the series ended, Bialik took a break to pursue a career in science. She is now a lead character on The Big Bang Theory, the CBS sitcom about a group of genius scientists. Bialik’s character Amy Farrah Fowler is fitting; Fowler is a doctor of neurobiology, and the real-life Bialik is a doctor of neuroscience.
She studied neuroscience at the University of California and wrote a book based on her research published by Simon and Schuster. “I basically walked off the television and onto the UCLA campus,” she said in an interview for CNN.
She received a Ph.D from UCLA and conducted research on hormones. Not only does her degree give her a unique perspective for her super-smart character, she can also give scientific advice for accurate dialogue on The Big Bang Theory.
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