Born March 17, 1951, in Springfield, MA; son of Bing Russell (an actor and baseball player); married Season Hubley (divorced); companion of Goldie Hawn (an actress), 1983–; children: Boston Oliver Grant (from first marriage), Wyatt (with Hawn).
Actor in films, including: It Happened at the World's Fair, 1963; Follow Me Boys!, 1965; The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, 1968; The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1968; Guns in the Heather, 1969; The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1969; The Barefoot Executive, 1971; Fools' Parade, 1971; Now You See Him, Now You Don't, 1972; Charley and the Angel, 1973; Superdad, 1973; The Strongest Man in the World, 1975; Used Cars, 1980; Escape from New York, 1981; The Fox and Hound (voice), 1981; The Thing, 1982; Silkwood, 1983; Swing Shift, 1984; The Mean Season, 1985; The Best of Times, 1986; Big Trouble in Little China, 1986; Overboard, 1987; Tequila Sunrise, 1988; Winter People, 1989; Tango & Cash, 1989; Backdraft, 1991; Unlawful Entry, 1992; Captain Ron, 1992; (also co-screenwriter) Tombstone, 1993; Forrest Gump, (voice), 1994; Stargate, 1994; Executive Decision, 1996; (also screenwriter) Escape from LA, 1996; Breakdown, 1997; Soldier, 1998; 3,000 Miles to Graceland, 2001; Vanilla Sky, 2001; Interstate 60, 2002; Dark Blue, 2002; Miracle, 2004; Sky High, 2005; Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, 2005; Poseidon, 2006; Grindhouse, 2007. Television appearances include: Sugarfoot, 1957; The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, 1963–64; Elvis! (movie), 1979. Also played minor league baseball.
Awards: Blockbuster Entertainment Award for favorite actor-adventure/drama, Blockbuster, for Executive Decision, 1997; Life Career Award, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, 2003.
Actor Kurt Russell began his career as a juvenile performer appearing in television roles as well as a series of Disney live-action films. As an adult, he built a solid film career in the 1980s and '90s, with parts in films like Silkwood and Tombstone, before becoming a recognized, well-paid box office draw by the late 1990s. Becoming more selective in the roles he took in the early 2000s, he only made a handful of films but still had much appeal to film-goers for his work in such films as Miracle and Sky High.
Born on March 17, 1951, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Russell is the son of Bing Russell, a character actor who pursued acting after his promising base-ball career was ended by injury. Bing Russell appeared on the long-running western drama Bonanza for many years. Raised with his three sisters primarily in California, where the family moved when he was four years old, Kurt's own acting career began when was quite young, with an appearance in 1957 on the series Sugarfoot.
At age ten, Russell had the title role in the television series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, and was in a film with Elvis, It Happened at the World's Fair, in 1963. He then appeared in the Walt Disney film Follow Me Boys! as Whitey in 1965. Disney himself brought Russell aboard and mentored the young actor. Russell told Bob Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "He taught me about structure of a screenplay, points of view, audiences, how to look at a character, how to access the believability and credibility. They were all things I had never thought about. I really liked him."
Over the next ten years, Russell was a Disney contract player. He appeared in nine more Disney films, always playing characters close to his own age. Some of his more memorable Disney films were 1969's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1972's Now You See Him, Now You Don't, and 1975's The Strongest Man in the World, all as Dexter Reilly.
Russell was also a gifted athlete and a star baseball player. Signed with the California (later Los Angeles) Angels, he played in the team's minor league system and acted during the off-season as a young adult. Russell made it to the Angels' AA farm team in El Paso, Texas, in 1973. That June, he suffered a career-ending injury while executing a double play. An opposing player slid high, resulting in a severely torn muscle in his arm.
After the injury, Russell resumed his acting fulltime. Of this time in his life, Russell told the New York Times' Jamie Diamond, "I really loved baseball. I thought acting was something I could do to make money. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I began to take it seriously."
Though he was allowed to age on screen in his Disney roles, his transition to adult roles in both television and film was somewhat difficult until the late 1970s. In 1979, Russell had his breakthrough role playing singer/actor Elvis Presley in the television movie Elvis!. Russell's father played Presley's father in the production, while Russell's then-wife, Season Hubley, played Elvis' wife, Priscilla. The movie received high ratings when it aired, and Russell was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work in the role, which he took very seriously.
He told Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "When I played Elvis, I decided to go down in flames but I'd be doing it my way—to capture the essence of Elvis. As best as I could, I'd be him. And look like him. Sound like him. And I felt that after I did it, it was the right thing to have done. I was trying to capture history."
Russell's film career took off in earnest in the 1980s. He played con artist/used car salesman Rudy Russo in the 1980 black comedy Used Cars. His character takes advantage of the estrangement between his recently deceased boss and his brother, both of whom own used car lots strategically positioned across from each other. Russell's Russo wants to use his position to eventually earn political offices, including the presidency. The timely comedy was worth the labor to Russell. He told Alex Ward of the New York Times, "There's a lot of hard physical work to that kind of movie but it was also a lot of fun. What made it satisfying for me is that this isn't just your standard throwaway comedy. I think it has something to say."
In 1981, Russell became a popular cult hero by appearing in Escape from New York in a dark, complex role. He played anti-hero Snake Plissken in the John Carpenter-directed futuristic action movie. Russell continued to appear in memorable, challenging film roles in the early 1980s. In 1983, he appeared in the drama Silkwood opposite Meryl Streep as well as the 1984 comedy Swing Shift. Russell then played burned-out reporter Malcolm Anderson who becomes entangled with a serial murderer longing for publicity in 1985's The Mean Season.
Russell's films continued to be box-office successes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Among his films was an acclaimed turn in Tequila Sunrise, as well as roles as a police officer in Tango & Cash, and a firefighter in Backdraft. After 1990 especially, Russell played many action heroes and on occasion performed his own stunts.
While Russell had a starring role as Wyatt Earp in 1993's Tombstone, he also wrote a significant amount of the script. The film's original writer/director, Kevin Jarre, was fired about three weeks after shooting began and replaced by George P. Cosmatos. Russell had had writing ambitions for years, having penned unproduced scripts as early as 1980. Despite the difficulties in the production, Tombstone turned out to be an unexpected box-office success in the United States.
Russell, however, never wanted to be in this position again. He told Sarah Gristwood of the Guardian, "I've always been an actor for hire, I will re-main an actor for hire. That's who I want to be. I've never got involved like this before and I never plan to again. But any other leading actor in the same circumstances would have to do the same thing. It was either this or watch Tombstone disappear."
After Tombstone, Russell's film salary grew exponentially. He followed the western with the science fiction epic Stargate in 1994, which was the number-one movie the weekend it opened. It went on to make $71 million. He then played David Grant, a security analyst in 1996's Executive Decision. His character had to save the East Coast from destruction by preventing the crash of a hijacked plane carrying a nerve toxin which could poison millions. This film was also a smash hit.
Russell was considered to be at the height of his box-office powers, attracting huge audiences in the late 1990s. When Executive Decision was released, Josh Young of the New York Times wrote "Why Kurt Russell? The consensus among movie executives is that the 45-year-old actor is sexy enough to attract women, vulnerable enough to be unthreatening to men, and bankable enough to appeal to studios."
Because of his golden box-office touch, Russell was able to earn $10 million for 1996's Escape from L.A., the follow-up to Escape from New York. The salary put him among the highest-paid actors in Hollywood at the time. The actor also penned the script and served as a producer on the film. Russell then only made two more movies in the 1990s, Breakdown and the sci-fi military film Soldier, which was a box-office failure. He became even more selective in the roles he took after this point, taking on only those parts that interested him.
While still making a film or two per year on average in the early 2000s, Russell spent more time focusing on his family. As the companion of actress Goldie Hawn since 1983—the couple first became close when they co-starred in Swing Shift—Russell helped raised her two children from a previous marriage, Kate and Oliver; his son, Boston; and the son they had together, Wyatt. Because of Wyatt's talent in ice hockey, the family bought a home in Vancouver, British Columbia, so their son could play juniors and the family could be together when not on location for a film.
Russell's film choices in the early 2000s continued to be eclectic yet meaningful. After appearing in the 2001 Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky, he starred in 2002's Dark Blue, a police thriller directed by Ron Shelton. Russell played Eldon Perry, a racist cop. Russell followed this role with a return to box-office success. He played legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks in Miracle, a Disney-produced film about the victorious 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team who defeated the heavily favored Russians and went on to win the gold medal over Finland. It was filmed in Vancouver, allowing him to remain at home, and marked the first time he played a real person since Elvis!.
Russell was praised for his work in Miracle, especially in the way he captured the Midwestern Brooks and his unique mannerisms. The film unfolds from Brooks' point of view, making Russell's acting all the more impressive as the coach often internalized his emotions. Russell himself enjoyed the challenge, telling Lisa Rose in the Seattle Times, "Someone like Herb Brooks, it's easy to flat-out dislike him, but at least he's honest. People see that honesty more than anything else. You say, 'I don't agree with this person, but I know how they feel right now.' What I get a kick out of the most is walking the fine line between comedy and drama, that instant before you're run over by a truck that makes you laugh. That's what acting is to me. If you can capture that, then audiences get their money's worth."
Russell appeared in two films in 2005, the Disney flick Sky High—an action fantasy film about a secret school educating teens with superpowers—and Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. He and Hawn then sold their Vancouver home in 2006 and moved back to the United States as their son prepared to play college hockey there. Russell continued to act, with roles in 2006's Poseidon, a ship disaster flick. He played an aging former firefighter who is very controlling in the way he deals with his daughter. Russell then appeared in a completely different role as bad guy Stuntman Mike in the Quentin Tarantino-directed "Death Proof" segment of the film Grindhouse.
As an actor for who has worked in nearly every genre, Russell has kept a simple goal in mind for his work. He told Choire Sicha of the Los Angeles Times, "I've had a career of making all kinds of movies. For us, the process is always the same: You create something that you think an audience is going to have a great time with."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 6, 2004, p. 1D.
Guardian (London, England), January 18, 1994, p. 4.
Houston Chronicle, February 8, 2004, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2007, p. E3.
New York Times, September 12, 1980, p. C11; February 10, 1985, sec. 2, p. 1; March 24, 1996, sec. 2, p. 21; February 20, 2003, p. F1.
Ottawa Citizen, July 28, 2005, p. E1.
Seattle Times, February 11, 2004, p. F4.
Toronto Star, April 6, 2007, p. C3.
Toronto Sun, May 16, 2006, p. 66.
USA Today, February 6, 2004, p. 8E.
Washington Post, October 8, 2006, p. W15.
"Kurt Russell," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000621/ (May 15, 2007).