We all have hidden talents that we like to break out every now and then to show off. Famous people are no different. Most of them get primarily remembered for one or two things, but that does not mean they don’t have a few other skills in their bag of tricks.
10. Christopher Walken the Lion Tamer
Christopher Walken is, without a doubt, one of the most distinctive characters that Hollywood has ever produced, and that is before you find out that he spent one summer working as a lion tamer.
Even before he became a big-shot actor, Walken was meant for show business. He started out as a child actor in the ’50s, appearing in variety and sketch shows alongside the likes of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Then, as a teenager, he began looking for more adventurous experiences and that’s how he ended up joining the circus when he was 16.
At the circus, Walken became a trainee lion tamer, working with a lioness named Sheba. The gig didn’t last long, but the actor still remembers it fondly: “I would come into the cage and wave my whip, and she’d lazily get up and sit like a dog and maybe give a little roar. I like cats a lot. I’ve always liked cats. They’re great company.”
9. Willie Nelson the Black Belt
Most people might regard Willie Nelson as the poster boy for the chilled-out, long-haired hippie artist/activist who simply enjoys getting stoned and making music with his friends, but there is one characteristic they might be leaving out – his expertise in martial arts.
This is not something that Nelson has gotten into recently. The outlaw country music star has been practicing martial arts for decades, as he considers it one of the best exercises you can do to stay fit: “It’s just good for you physically. For your lungs. The more you’re breathing, exercising, the better you’re going to feel.”
And Nelson is pretty good at it, too. Back in 2014, the Red-Headed Stranger celebrated his 81st birthday by becoming a fifth-degree black belt in GongKwon Yusul, a Korean martial art that Willie Nelson has mastered over a period of 20 years.
8. George Washington the Ballroom Dancer
George Washington might be remembered for his proficiency on the battlefield and in the Oval Office, but not so much for his talents on the dance floor. And that is a shame because, according to numerous people who witnessed it firsthand, the Father of the Country not only liked to boogie, but he was pretty good at it, too.
Washington described dancing as “so agreeable and innocent an amusement.” His fondness for this activity began as a young officer when he became the master of the minuet. However, he got to enjoy it the most in his later years, after retiring from public office, and if there was a ball in Virginia, somewhere around Alexandria, chances were pretty good that the former president might attend to strut his stuff.
7. Nostradamus the Jam Maker
Sixteenth-century French astrologer Nostradamus might be a favorite among crackpots all over the world for his book on prophecies, but that’s not his only available work. In 1555, he also published Traité des fardemens et confitures, or “Treatise on Make-up and Jam,” two things that obviously go perfectly together.
You have to remember that Nostramaus’s day job was that of apothecary, so he put together a book with all kinds of recipes. His cure for the plague was a popular choice, but you could find all sorts of instructions in there, from food recipes like marmalade, marzipan, and quince jelly, to make-up tips such as how to whiten your teeth or turn your hair golden blond.
Nostradamus mostly collected these recipes and placed them in his book. They weren’t his own original creations. However, he did include one personal recipe for a “love jam.” He described it as being so potent that “if a man were to have a little of it in his mouth, and while having it in his mouth kissed a woman, or a woman him, and expelled it with his saliva, putting some of it in the other’s mouth, it would suddenly cause … a burning of her heart to perform the love-act“.
6. Pierce Brosnan the Fire Eater
In 1996, right after he starred as James Bond in GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan began doing media appearances to promote the movie. This included a guest spot on The Muppets, which would have involved a big segment for the finale where Brosnan could showcase his special talents. Well, he couldn’t really sing or dance, but Brosnan did have an ace up his sleeve – he could breathe fire.
This was a little trick that he picked up in 1969 while working at the Oval House Theater in London. It’s been on his CV ever since, although the Muppets show in 1996 was the last time that Brosnan did his fire-breathing act since it didn’t really work out too well for him that night. Here’s what happened according to him:
“The last segment of the show was me fire-eating. I made my own brand – I had the kerosene, I was in the tuxedo. The prop guy was there and he said, ‘This (other) stuff is great. It doesn’t taste of anything, you don’t smell it.’ I went, ‘This is good. I’ll try this.’
It was like rocket fuel. I blew it, it all came back into my mouth and my mouth blew up. I had blisters for the rest of the show.”
5. Will Wright the Street Racer
Those of you who have only heard of the Cannonball Run from the 1980s comedy movie starring Burt Reynolds might be surprised to find out that it used to be a real race across the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles. Like its movie counterpart, it was always unsanctioned since it was clear to everyone that the racers constantly broke the speed limit all over the country.
During the early 1980s, the race briefly became known as the U.S. Express and, in 1980, it was won by a guy named Will Wright, who finished the race in first place alongside his co-driver Rick Doherty in a souped-up Mazda RX-7 with a time of 33 hours and 39 minutes.
If you’re not a gamer, then the name Will Wright probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but if you are, you might recognize him as the designer behind one of the biggest franchises in gaming history – The Sims.
4. Paul Revere the Forensic Dentist
Everybody has heard of Paul Revere’s famous ride, as he raced throughout the night to alert the colonies of the impending attack on Lexington and Concord. Before all of this, though, Revere was a silversmith by trade and, during a particularly low point in his career when business was down, he even took up dentistry. One of his clients was one of the Founding Fathers, Major General Joseph Warren, who got fitted with a pair of ivory false teeth by Revere.
Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill and later buried in a mass grave without his uniform or identification. Nine months later, when the British evacuated Boston, Revere and Warren’s brothers went to the battlefield to search for his remains and give him a proper burial. This was a desperate move since the body would have been unrecognizable by now, but Revere managed to identify it thanks to a walrus tooth that he had fitted into Joseph Warren’s mouth. In the process, Paul Revere became the country’s first forensic dentist.
3. Johnny Cash the Morse Code Master
In 1950, an 18-year-old Johnny Cash was looking for a sense of purpose, so he did what many young men do – he joined the military. He enlisted in the Air Force and got sent to Lackland Air Force Base for training before being shipped across the Atlantic to Landsberg, West Germany, where he spent the next three years of his life. That’s where Cash discovered that he had an unexpected skill – that of using and deciphering Morse Code. Unsurprisingly, he was made a Morse Code operator and made to listen in on the Soviets.
This gave rise to a famous story that Johnny Cash was the first American to hear that Joseph Stalin had died after intercepting the message by chance. This is almost certainly a myth, but one that Cash himself encouraged with a wry smile, writing in his autobiography:
“I was the ace. I was who they called when the hardest jobs came up. I copied the first news of Stalin’s death. I located the signal when the first Soviet jet bomber made its first flight from Moscow to Smolensk; we all knew what to listen for, but I was the one who heard it…”
2. Hirohito the Marine Biologist
Hirohito might have attained infamy as the Emperor of Japan during World War II, but there was another side to him – that of a dedicated marine biologist. He was described as wearing “ two faces. There was the placid, impassionate, and, even, obedient leader in public regard, and there was the eager intent of the original investigator whether in the field or the laboratory, bent on discovery and understanding.”
During his school days, the crown prince found a passion for biology which carried on for the rest of his life. He soon started collecting shells and, from there, he moved to studying marine biology, taking advantage of the rich biodiversity of Sagami Bay near one of the imperial villages. During his lifetime, Hirohito’s collection grew to over 57,000 specimens and he published 15 monographs on the marine fauna in the bay, where he described over 300 new species. He eventually specialized in hydrozoans, really tiny predators related to jellyfish and sea anemones.
It seems that the interest in marine biology runs in the family, as his son and heir also took up the practice, but focused his studies on the Gobiidae fish family.
1. Thomas Jefferson the Archaeologist
Thomas Jefferson bore many titles during his lifetime, but one that often gets overlooked is the “Father of American Archaeology.” That’s because Jefferson led the first scientific archaeological dig in the country’s history when he directed the excavation of a mound in central Virginia.
Jefferson employed the kind of thoroughness and dedication that you would expect from someone like him. His systematic trenching and use of stratigraphy pretty much anticipated what would become the standard approach to archaeology by almost a century.
The mound was located in Monacan Indian territory, so it likely belonged to them or their ancestors. As many as a thousand different human remains were found at the site. However, the area flooded several times in the centuries that followed, and by 1911 it was reported that the mound had been entirely washed away.