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The Forgotten Music Careers of 15 Famous Actors

Of the many dual titles that exist in Hollywood, actor-musicians may be some of the most frequently encountered hyphenates. But for every individual who has shown genuine talent in both disciplines (see: Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Tom Waits, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Liza Minnelli, and Jamie Foxx), there is, well, a Steven Seagal. Here are 15 well-known actors with all-but-forgotten musical careers.

1. EDDIE MURPHY

The 1980s were a very good decade for Eddie Murphy. In addition to being one of Saturday Night Live’s biggest stars, he was drawing huge crowds as a stand-up comedian, turning those comedy shows into iconic pieces of pop culture history with Delirious and Raw, and headlining some of Hollywood biggest blockbusters. In the midst of all this, he somehow found the time to try and launch a singing career and actually managed to produce two hits, 1985’s "Party All the Time" and 1989’s "Put Your Mouth on Me." Rick James, who produced the former tune, was clearly a fan. Though it’s actually kind of catchy, it’s regularly been cited as one of the worst songs of all time.

2. ALYSSA MILANO

Having conquered the small screen as the star of Who’s the Boss?, Alyssa Milano set her sights on the music world and, at least internationally, actually had some success. Her 1989 album, Look In My Heart, turned out to be pretty big in Japan. Stateside, she was best known for singing the theme song to her workout video, Teen Steam. Though she told Paste Magazine that she’s never pulled out the old cassette tapes, she said that she has "watched a couple of the music videos, because my brother is in them with me. It was definitely '80s pop, so it was just singing and dancing, all that stuff I love to do, but there’s nothing too outrageous. We were able to control all of that. It was like that bubble gum pop era… that Tiffany, Debbie Gibson era. Clean, good fun. I was 14 or 15, so I don’t really remember a lot of it."

3. LEONARD NIMOY

In the late 1960s, one science fiction icon paid tribute to other sci-fi greats with a pair of albums that celebrated the genre with a lineup of songs with titles like "Alien," "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Earth," "Lost in the Stars," and what is perhaps his most famous recording: "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (see above), which appeared on his second album, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy.

4. WILLIAM SHATNER

Though more of a spoken word artist than a full-on musician, Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek co-star also made a bit of a splash on the music scene, beginning with his 1968 spoken word album The Transformed Man, where he gave well-known songs like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" a Shatner-esque twist. He has recorded a handful of albums since, including 2013’s Ponder the Mystery.

5. STEVEN SEAGAL

In addition to his run as one of Hollywood’s best known action stars during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Steven Seagal has attempted a number of other careers: aromatherapy specialist, energy drink maker, law enforcer, and, yes, musician. Years after giving his music a part in a few of his own films, including Fire Down Below, Seagal released his first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, which Sputnik Music described as "the Plan 9 From Outer Space of records."

6. BRUCE WILLIS

Steven Seagal is far from the only action star to try his hand at music-making. In 1987, at the height of Moonlighting’s success, Bruce Willis released The Return of Bruno, an album that mixed pop music with blues and managed to produce a hit single, "Respect Yourself," featuring The Pointer Sisters. The accompanying video (above) was appropriately cinematic. In 1989, he released a follow-up album—If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger.

7. JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT

Thanks to her early acting career on the variety show Kids Incorporated, Jennifer Love Hewitt has been singing for as long as she has been acting—and even sang backup on fellow Kids Incorporated co-star Martika’s hit 1989 song, "Toy Soldiers." Though she released her first album, Love Songs, in 1992—when she was just 12 years old—it wasn’t until after she gained fame as an actress that her music career found some steam. "How Do I Deal," a single she recorded for the soundtrack to I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1999, became her first song to chart. In 2009, it was reported that Hewitt was working on material for a country album; sadly, that has yet to surface.

8. JOEY LAWRENCE

Jennifer Love Hewitt wasn’t the only '90s teen heartthrob to take a stab at a recording career. In 1993, at the height of Blossom mania, Joey Lawrence released his self-titled debut album, which included "Nothin' My Love Can’t Fix," which became a bona fide hit around the world. In 2014, he told Queen Latifah that he was thinking about making a return to the music scene. Whoa!

9. JOE PESCI

Before he was an actor, Joe Pesci was a barber. In between, he attempted to mount a musical career—and didn’t do too badly at it. In his earliest days, he played guitar with several bands, including Joey Dee and the Starlighters (the band went through a few rotations, but Jimi Hendrix ended up playing the same gig as Pesci at a later point). In 1968, Pesci released a solo album as "Little Joe" called Little Joe Sure Can Sing!, on which he covered a handful of major hits—including several Beatles songs. In 1998, six years after My Cousin Vinny, he released an album in character called Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You.

10. DON JOHNSON

While his Miami Vice co-star Philip Michael Thomas was busy trying to become an EGOT, Don Johnson was making a foray into the music business as well. During the 1980s, he released two solo albums, and scored a major hit with "Heartbeat," which made it all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. His cover of Aaron Neville’s "Tell It Like It Is" (above) also managed to log some radio play.

11. MR. T

Mr. T made no secret about pitying the fools who didn’t take advantage of getting an education, and he released a series of videos on this very topic­—plus a 1984 rap album titled Mr. T’s Commandments, which basically implored kids to stay in school and to just say no to drugs.

12. MILLA JOVOVICH

Today, Milla Jovovich is best known as the ass-kicking hero of the Resident Evil movie franchise. But her first step into the spotlight came as a model, a career she began at the age of 9. She broke into acting as the star of a made-for-TV movie called The Night Train to Kathmandu, which premiered in 1988—the same year she began recording her first album. In a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone Australia, she described her style as "a mix between Kate Bush, Sinéad O'Connor, This Mortal Coil, and the Cocteau Twins." Her first studio album, 1994’s The Divine Comedy, was well received by critics (Rolling Stone called it a "remarkable recording debut"). While she has continued to record since (her last single was released in 2012), acting has remained her busiest career.

13. BURT REYNOLDS

One year after infamously posing nude for Cosmopolitan, Burt Reynolds took another chance and released an album, Ask Me What I Am, and also put his pipes to use alongside Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Music fans didn’t seem all that interested.

14. COREY FELDMAN

If you’ve noticed '80s star Corey Feldman’s name trending lately, it’s likely due to a couple of odd live musical performances he’s put on for the Today Show. And while the fallen star definitely began his career in front of the camera—he began landing some television roles back in the late 1970s—he did try to make a go of a musical career dating all the way back to 1992’s Love Left. And he’s still trying. Some people have called his latest album, Angelic 2 The Core, the year’s worst album. His prior attempts—both professionally, and one incredibly embarrassing performance he concocted for his ex-wife on an episode of his reality show The Two Coreys (above)—haven’t fared much better.

15. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL

Yes, Shaquille O’Neal is best known as a superstar athlete. But don’t try telling fans of Kazaam—or users of Icy Hot, Gold Bond, or the dozens of other products Shaq has endorsed over the years—that the man is not a consummate actor as well. In the early 1990s, Shaq added "rapper" to his repertoire and gave music fans the platinum album known as Shaq Diesel.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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