The term “military brat” typically describes any child with a parent in the armed forces. It’s typically characterized by a nomadic lifestyle, war related stress, and immersion in foreign cultures. The title is also considered an endearing, even respectful label that denotes a childhood marked by adaptability. With this in mind, here are 15 celebrities whose experiences as military brats influenced their careers.
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Fantastic Four star Jessica Alba was the child of the Air Force. Her father’s job forced her family to move three times, going from Biloxi, Mississippi to Del Rio, Texas and finally Claremont, California. The latter locale would allow her to easily begin acting auditions as a child. By 1994 she had earned her first lead in the family comedy Camp Nowhere.
Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell had a father who served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The traumatic experience would create tension between Jerry Cantrell Sr. and his son later in life. As an adult, Cantrell and Alice In Chains would record “Rooster” as a tribute to Cantrell Sr., who went by the same nickname. The song attempted to give a view of Vietnam through Cantrell Sr.’s eyes. It was so effective that, while shooting the video, the veteran opened up about his experiences and recorded a 45-minute interview detailing his experiences. The song would also go on to become one of Alice In Chain’s biggest hits.
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In American Beauty, actor Chris Cooper played a hardened military man who was disconnected from his family. Perhaps Cooper could relate to the character. Chris was born to Charles Cooper, who served as both a doctor for the United States Army and operated a cattle ranch. While there are certainly similarities there, it’s safe to say that Charles wasn’t the crazily strict type of military dad his son would play American Beauty. While working on the ranch as a child, Cooper would allow Chris join a local community theater. This sparked an interest in acting that would lead him to win an Academy Award as an adult.
Jackie Brown star Pam Grier was born to Clarence Grier, a mechanic and Technical Sargent in the United States Air Force. Pam’s family would move around frequently during her childhood thanks to her father’s job. Eventually his career led them to settle in Detroit, where Pam would begin performing in local stage productions. These experiences set the groundwork for her later career successes.
Comedian and Bad Boys star Martin Lawrence had a father who served in the U.S. Military. His parents would divorce when he was eight. By that time, his father had parlayed his career into a job as a police officer. He would rarely see his father after that, creating an estranged relationship. Lawrence would fill the void left as a teen by pursuing a career in boxing and performing arts.
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Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins grew up the daughter of a U.S. Airforce Officer who fought in Vietnam. Like many on this list, her father’s job forced the Collins family to be uprooted several times. Despite this hardship, Collins would later credit her father’s career and experiences in Vietnam as a major influence on the military themed Hunger Games book series.
James Woods father, Gail Peyton Woods, was an Army Intelligence Officer. He tragically died in 1960 during routine surgery. Woods was only 13 at the time. Later he attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and was accepted into the United States Airforce, but a hand injury kept him from attending. He would instead refocus his military interest to pursue a major in Political Science at MIT, where he also began participating in drama clubs. A award winning acting career followed.
Boogie Nights actress Julianne Moore was born to a father with an extensive military career. Peter Moore Smith began as an Army Paratrooper who later graduated to colonel and military judge. Moore would cite her experiences moving around the country as beneficial to her future acting career: “What you learn from moving through different cultures is that behavior changes, but people are essentially the same, so you learn—how do I behave here, what do I do, what are the rules, how do people dress, how do people talk?” She would begin acting while attending high school in Germany.
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Golfing legend Tiger Woods father, Earl Woods, was a retired infantryman, lieutenant colonel and Vietnam war vet by the time his son was born. He was also a single-figure handicap amateur golfer. Tiger was a child prodigy who, like his father, showed an aptitude for the game early on. As an adult, Tiger would consider leaving behind his golfing career for a military career instead, but his father would talk him out of it.
Resident Evil actress Michelle Rodriguez seems to specialize in playing tough action heroines onscreen. This was certainly influenced by her father, Rafael Rodriguez, who served in the U.S. Army. Rodriguez is a self-described “Army Brat” whose Jehovah’s Witness upbringing often clashed with her uprooted family lifestyle. Her tough girl image was also seemingly set from an early age, as she would be kicked out of five high schools before dropping out to pursue an acting career.
Though it may seem like an unlikely fit, comedian Patton Oswalt was named for famed military figure General George S. Patton. Claiming his U.S. Marine father had lofty hopes for his son to pursue a similar career path, Oswalt suggested his teenage interest in Dungeons and Dragons likely deflated these goals. In an interview with NPR, the comedian reported this did not put any strain on their relationship: “Because he had been through so much war and so much stress, he was just, like, I don’t want my kids being in the military. But there were times he was like you don’t really think you’re an elf, do you?”
Legendary comedian Bill Cosby’s father served as a sailor in the U.S. military during World War II. William Henry Cosby Sr. spent Bill’s early childhood away defending his country. As a teenager the comedian would follow in his footsteps, dropping out of high school to fight with the Navy in the Korean War. After sustaining an injury that left him in physical therapy for over a year, Bill Cosby opted to go back to school, get into college, and eventually become a comedian.
Pop sensation Christina Aguilera’s father served in the United States Army, causing her family to move around frequently during her childhood. Eventually, her mother would divorce her father due to abuse and alcoholism, allowing the future star to be raised in Pittsburgh thereafter. From there, Aguilera and her mother would trade an existence as an “Army Brat” for a career as a “Disney Brat” after the actress scored a role on the Mickey Mouse Club. From there, pop stardom soon followed.
Michael J. Fox
Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox was born the son of William Fox, a Canadian Armed Forces member and police officer. The job forced the Fox family to be moved across various parts of Canada until William Fox retired from forces in 1971. From there, the family planted roots in Burnaby, Vancouver, where Michael began acting two years later.
Academy Award winning actress Reese Witherspoon’s father was John Draper Witherspoon, an ear, nose, and throat doctor who was serving in the United States Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel when she was born. As a result, Reese spent four of years of her childhood in Wiesbaden, Germany. They would later return to the U.S. where she would spend the rest of her formative years in Nashville, Tennessee. As a Nashville teen, she would answer an open casting call on a whim at the age of 14 that earned her the lead role in The Man In The Moon.