Top 10 Famous Fathers and Their Sons


For over a hundred years since the first decade of the twentieth century, Father’s Day has honored fathers and celebrated fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.  The holiday is currently celebrated all over the world from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and over seventy countries in between!  This list selects 10 of the most famous fathers and their sons from around the world and across time.  The list selects a variety of fathers and sons from diverse professions so as to present a more diverse list than necessarily the all-time top ten fathers and sons of all professions.  As such, numerous notable fathers and sons could not be included.

Honorable mentions therefore include actors Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney, Jr.; baseball players Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr.; generals Light Horse Harry Lee and Robert E. Lee in addition to Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and Douglas MacArthur; musicians Bob Marley and Ziggy Marley as well as Hank Williams and Hank Williams, Jr.; Nobel Prize winners J. J. Thomson (1906) and George Paget Thomson (1937), William Henry Bragg (1915) and William Lawrence Bragg (1915, as the youngest man to get a Nobel Prize), Niels Bohr (1922) and Aage Niels Bohr (1975), and Manne Siegbahn (1924) and Kai Manne Sieghbahn (1981); and pitcher Tug McGraw and singer Tim McGraw among many, many others!  Finally, this list is dedicated to my father, retired Marine Major Daniel C. Zarzeczny.

10.  Singers: Julio Iglesias (born 23 September 1943) and Enrique Iglesias (born 8 May 1975)


Julio Iglesias is a Spanish singer and songwriter who has sold over 300 million records worldwide in fourteen languages.  He released 80 albums and has more than 2,600 gold and platinum records certified.  According to Sony Music Entertainment, he is the best-selling Latin music artist in history.  His son, Enrique, is a Spanish singer-songwriter, model, actor, and record producer.  He is one of the biggest stars in Latin America and the Hispanic Market in the United States as the biggest seller of Spanish-language albums of the 1990s!  Enrique said about his father: “My father was great, he loves his career.  He probably loves his career more than anything but I understand.  Whenever I have to explain the relationship that my father and I have, for a lot of people it would be very difficult to understand.  I don’t feel like I have to sit in front of my father and tell him sorry or he has to tell me sorry.  There’s nothing to be sorry about it.  I love him, I respect him and I understand him.”

9.  Civil Rights Leaders: Jesse Jackson (born 8 October 1941) and Jesse Jackson, Jr. (born 11 March 1965)

jesse jackson and sons

Jesse Jackson poses with his sons Jesse Jr., left, and Jonathan, right, at the Greensboro Coliseum, after he gave the commencement address and his sons graduated from North Carolina A&T.

For my example of famous civil rights father and son figures, my first instinct was to go with the rather impressive lineage of Martin Luther King, Sr., his son Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK), and his son Martin Luther King III.  The middle man in that lineage is nearly canonized in the popular mindset, despite an academic inquiry concluding that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and a judge having ordered that all known copies of recorded audiotapes and written transcripts from the FBI’s electronic surveillance of King between 1963 and 1968 to be sealed from public access until 2027!  Nevertheless, his influence is of course absolutely incalculable for the Civil Rights Movement and as such he is almost assuredly more iconic than Jackson.  Yet, because this list is about fathers and sons, due to the tragic shooting of MLK, he had years of a potential relationship with his son stolen by his assassin.  Therefore, we chose the senior and junior Jackson primarily because they have had a lengthier relationship and also because they too have had an enduring presence in the Civil Rights Movement.

The prominent place of the elder Jackson in black American culture has resulted in his titular presence in the hilarious South Park episode “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” as well as the more serious designation of his family as “the First Family of Black America” in newspaper articles from Chicago magazine to various others.  The accomplished Jackson is a Baptist minister, was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997, is the founder of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH, inherited the title of the High Prince of the Agni people of Côte d’Ivoire from singer Michael Jackson, and was even crowned Prince Côte Nana by Amon N’Douffou V, King of Krindjabo, who rules more than a million Agni tribespeople!  His son also represented Illinois’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for roughly seventeen years from 1995 until his resignation in 2012.  Sadly, both father and son have as with the King family been the subject of scandals.

In 2001, it was revealed Jackson had had an affair with a staffer that resulted in the birth of a daughter in May 1999.  A decade later, the younger Jackson admitted to violating federal campaign law by using campaign funds to make personal purchases. He pleaded guilty on 20 February 2013 to one count of wire and mail fraud and could face four years in prison for these crimes.  Despite this embarrassment, the elder Jackson has continued to support both his son and daughter-in-law.  The elder Jackson told the media that he is proud of the way his son is facing up to his misdeeds.  As such, in the most perilous of moments in their lives, father and son have remained supportive when it matters most.

8.  Comedians: Jerry Stiller (born 8 June 1927) and Ben Stiller (born 30 November 1965)

ben stiller and jerry stiller

Author, comedian, and actor Jerry Stiller, although best known for his recurring role as Frank Costanza on the megahit television series Seinfeld and his supporting role as Arthur Spooner on the not-quite-as-popular television series The King of Queens, spent many years in the comedy team Stiller and Meara with his wife Anne Meara.  Stiller and Meara are the proud parents of award-winning comic actor Ben Stiller.  Both father and son co-starred in the theatrically released movies Zoolander, Heavyweights, Hot Pursuit and The Heartbreak Kid.

These and the younger Stiller’s other films have led to one of the most successful careers in cinematic comedy history.  His films have grossed more than $2.1 billion in Canada and the United States alone, with an average of $73 million per film!  The influence of father on son has been tremendous and Ben Stiller has reminisced about how, “Of course, when you grow up with parents who are talented and have made their mark, I have huge respect for their work….My father is always telling me to take care of myself and get a lot of rest.  My dad has always told me, ‘Sleep will fix anything.  Go take a nap.’  And I think he’s right.  I find when I get frazzled, if I get a good night’s sleep I feel much better about things.”

7.  Athletes: Hélio Gracie (1 October 1913 – 29 January 2009) and Royce Gracie (born 12 December 1966)

Helio Choking Royce

Helio Choking Royce

While it is debatable that some of the baseball players, for example, mentioned even in this list’s introduction paragraph may be more well-known to our American readers than these mixed-martial artists, they are nevertheless two of the most dominant and influential in their particular sport’s history.  Hélio Gracie was a Brazilian martial artist who, together with his brother Carlos Gracie, founded the martial art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, known internationally as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).  According to Rorion Gracie, his father Helio Gracie is one of the first sports heroes in Brazilian history.  Royce Gracie is a Brazilian professional mixed martial artist,one of only a handful of members in the UFC Hall of Fame, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.  He is one of if not the most influential figures in the history of modern MMA.

Other notable sons of Hélio Gracie include undefeated mixed-martial artist Rickson Gracie (born 21 November 1958) and his older brother Rorion Gracie (born 1952), a founder of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world).  Many other members of this family also compete internationally and some have even appeared in video games.  Without any doubt, no other family has had as much influence on any one particular sport in the way the Gracie family has influenced both jiu-jitsu and mixed-martial arts for the past several decades.

Few families in sports are worthy of lists such as dedicated entirely to them!  As sports writer Britt Hoffman wrote, “Just as Michael Corleone took over for his father, Don Corleone, Royce Gracie took the reigns from his father, Helio Gracie, after his legendary performances in UFC 1-4 beginning in 1993.”  Indeed, Royce continued the family legacy throughout the 1990s winning numerous fights against top level competition.  Later, in one final touching moment between son and deceased father, during the elder Gracie’s funeral in 2009, Royce first asked for a round of applause for his father and then placed a black belt over his coffin.

6.  Actors: Kirk Douglas (born 9 December 1916) and Michael Douglas (born 25 September 1944)


Although Donald Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland were considered for the actor category, Kirk and Michael Douglas are older and as such have had a longer term influence on television and cinema than the still impressive career of the Sutherland family.  Kirk Douglas’s acting career spans over fifty years from 1946 to 2008 and includes appearances in over a dozen films, such as the iconic performance in Spartacus (1960).  He has accepted an AFI Life Achievement Award and has received three Academy Award nominations for best actor in addition to other major award nominations.  He even received a rare Honorary Academy Award for fifty years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.

His most famous son’s career spans from 1966 to the present and has also included well over a dozen nominations and even wins for major awards acting on the large and small screen.  He too has accepted an AFI Life Achievement Award making him and his father the only father and son to ever receive such an honor to that point in history.  Michael Douglas’s major roles include performances as Gordon Gekko in two Wall Street films and most recently a performance as Liberace on a made-for-HBO film about the extravagant pianist’s life.  The relationship between father and son remains strong despite even the occasionally trying times, such as when Michael Douglas underwent radiation and chemo therapy to remove a tumor from his throat.  The procedures proved successful, and so an overjoyed 94-year-old Kirk Douglas said, “I believe God answers all prayers…I immediately felt years younger. Not a day over 85.”

For his part, Michael Douglas has said of his father, “It gives you much more of a sense of counting the years.  I’m coming into, I would definitely say, my third act.  I have my father, who I admire so much in how he’s conducted his life and his third act.  It makes you much more conscious of the days and years.”

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  1. Hi my name is David John Adams my stepfather
    Andrew Brian Johnson mathmatically calculated gpsr digital algorithm …1989 and left it to me his stepson and my 2 brothers at 25 my son was the second coming 21/5/2012
    And the world robbed my fathers grave for 15 years ? There’s much more to the story

  2. I’m sure how old this article is, but they don’t mention Jesse Jackson Jr. is going to prison! Misappropriation of campaign funds got him 4 years in the joint! He’s supposedly bi-polar. Ha!

  3. Arthur Spooner and Frank Costanza are pretty much the same character.
    I didn’t know that King David and Solomon were real people, I thought they were just made up people in the bible.

    • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS on

      The nature of their lives is of course disputed among Christians, Jews, atheists, etc.; however, archaeologists are reasonably confident that at a minimum these men did exist. How much of their Biblical story is also true is somewhat a matter of faith, but for more of the archaeological discussion of these men, both National Geographic and the New York Times have discussed the scholarly research into the subject in relatively succinct and interesting articles found at and among numerous other similar resources. The thing is, even if anyone in particular does not believe these men existed, their influence on Judaism and Christianity is undeniable. They are among the most well-known kings in human history, whether real or exaggerated. They have accordingly been made into action figures (see Ebay!), paintings, sculptures, movies, collectible cards, etc. I would say that there is a historical basis for them, although again, beyond that it does come down to personal belief, but regardless of their historicity, they have an astonishingly prominent place in world culture.

  4. Dennis Wayne on

    Why would you include the Jacksons in a list of father and sons who have actually accomplished things?