Ventura, Jesse

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Jesse Ventura


American wrestler

Known as Jesse "The Body" Ventura as a wrestler with the American Wresting Federation, and later with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Jesse Ventura appealed in 1998 to Minnesota voters who wanted a change in the governor's mansion. Change they got when Ventura became governor Ventura. A master of self-reinvention, Ventura has reached the top of four professions: in the Navy as a member of the elite cadre of commandos known as SEALs, as one of the most popular pro wrestlers in the United States, as a Hollywood movie actor, and finally as a politician.

Minnesota Native

Ventura was born James George Janos in 1951 and grew up in Minneapolis. His father, George Janos, was a World War II veteran who grew up in the Swede Town section of Minneapolis. Ventura's father was a maintenance worker for the city of Minneapolis while Ventura was growing up. His mother, Bernice, started as a nurse in the U.S. Army, and later worked as a civilian nurse.

Ventura and his older brother, Jan, spent a lot of time around the Mississippi River as youths, fishing for carp under a bridge that spanned the river between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They often cooked their catches over bonfires along the river banks. The brothers both became captains of their Roosevelt High School swim teamsJan in 1966, and Ventura his senior year, 1969. Ventura knew by then he wanted a professional wrestling career.

Dinner conversations at the Janos family table may have sparked Ventura's interest in politics; his father would complain bitterly about establishment politics, calling then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon a tailless rat, according to Jan, who spoke with reporters about Ventura's political origins.

In the Navy

Again following his brother, Ventura entered the U.S. Navy soon after graduating from high school. In the Navy, he joined the SEALs, an elite corps of servicemen. While with the SEALs, he spent time in the brig at least once for brawling in bars. Starting in 1971 until the end of 1973, he served in an Underwater Demotion Team-SEALs unit that was posted at various points in Southeast Asia.

While Ventura has told reporters that he served in combat areas a SEAL in the Vietnam War, he has always kept the details to himself, saying only, according to Pat Doyle and Mike Kaszuba of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "What I did there is between me and the man upstairs." However, a former SEAL comrade of Ventura's, Mike Gotchey has said that his and Ventura's unit saw very little action, since the war was winding down by then.

Ventura spent part of his Navy time at a base in Subic Bay in the Philippines. There, he later recounted, he had the time of his life, partying at several of the 350 bars near the base every night, and meeting lots of women. He also began to develop the reputation that he would cultivate in later years as something of a rough neck, "a little bit scuzzy looking," according to one of his superiors, who later spoke to the Star Tribune.

Motorcycle Gang Member

After his discharge from the Navy, in the early 1970s, Ventura joined a motorcycle gang based in San Diego, known as the Mongols. In the mid-1970s, Ventura left the gang and headed back to the Minneapolis area, where motorcycles were still very much a part of his lifestyle. During this time, he favored a German Armystyle helmet when he rode his bike.

In 1974, Ventura enrolled at the North Hennepin Community College, where a different side of him emerged. Tom Bloom, Ventura's English teacher at the college, told the Star Tribune, "This action-adventure characterI don't think that's him at all. This lug of a guythat's a put-on. My sense is, he's emotionally sensitive."

Ventura consistently earned As on his papers in the class, slipping only once to a B. He wrote about James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and other authors. By night, he worked as a bouncer at a biker bar called the Rusty Nail in a Minneapolis suburb; there he met his future wife, recent high school graduate Teresa Masters.

After playing the part of Hercules in the ancient Greek comedy The Birds by Aristophanes, Ventura dropped out of college in 1975. He had found a new career.

Jesse "The Body" Ventura

From the beginning, Ventura took on the role of the bad guy in the theatrical world of pro wrestling. Also at the start of his wrestling career, Ventura took the name of Jesse Ventura, dying his long hair blond, and bulking up to look the part. He worked out at the 7th Street Gym in downtown Minneapolis, where he met the man who became his mentorfamous wrestling villain Super Star Billy Graham. Ventura studied Graham carefully, learning his banter and watching all of his matches.

Ventura made his pro debut in the minor leagues in Kansas City, where he substituted for a wrestler who didn't show up. As the bad guy in the scripted match, Ventura got himself disqualified by throwing his opponent out of the ring.

At the beginning of his wrestling career, Ventura worked on a match-to-match basis, typically earning $35 to $65 a performance, traveling around the Midwest. Commentators would bill him as coming from Hollywood, and began introducing him as Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Ventura married Teresa Masters when she was 19 years old, he 24. By then, Ventura's hard work at the gym, and, he later admitted, steroids, which were legal at the time, had made him an imposing figure. A diet that included 12 raw eggs a day and 30 different vitamins also helped him to add muscle mass.

End and a Beginning

The newlyweds went to Portland, Oregon, where Ventura found more and better wrestling opportunities. His popularity among fans grew, and he made his best earnings to date there$100 for a single match. More traveling followed, as he drove from match to match, once performing 63 consecutive nights.

By the early 1980s, Ventura had graduated to the major leagues, working in the American Wrestling Federation, which he left for the World Wresting Federation following a disagreement over payment and working conditions. In a prelude to his political career, Ventura tried unsuccessfully to organize his fellow WWF performers into a union.

In 1984, now the most popular villain in pro wrestling, Ventura was preparing to perform in a match with Hulk Hogan, the wrestling world's most popular good guy, when he was stricken with a pulmonary embolism, a dangerous condition caused by blood clots in the lungs. The condition ended his wrestling career while he was at the top of his game. "I mean," he later told the Star Tribune, "one minute I'm preparing to meet [Hogan] in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the next minute I'm lying flat on my back fighting for my very existence."

After recovering, Ventura parlayed his fame into a successful career as a wrestling announcer. Fast talking, rather than athleticism, was more his attribute as a wrestler. Announcing seemed a better fit, and he quickly won favor with fans.

In 1990, Ventura and WWF owner Vince McMahon differed over the use of Ventura as a video-game character. Ventura had been offered $40,000 for this use of his image, but the WWF felt this would create competition for its own products. Ventura not only left the WWF over the dispute, but also sued it, seeking royalties for the use of his wrestling commentaries on videotapes. To the astonishment of the WWF and outside observers, Ventura won the suit, winning more than $750,000 in a judgment, despite Ventura having signed a contract waiving the right to collect royalties. A federal court ruled his signature had been obtained fraudulently.

Moving on the from the WWF, Ventura landed a 2-year contract to announce events for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). His contract, worth close to a million dollars, made him the highest paid figure in wrestling. But WCW bought out his contract before it was completed, charging that Ventura cared more about promoting himself than the events he was supposed to be covering.

Of his fallings out with wrestling executives, Ventura remained bitter even years later, telling reporters, according to Doyle and Kaszuba, "The question was whether I would fall under their thumbwhether they could control my talent. They're not even talented enough to hold my jock."


1951Born in Minneapolis, MN
1969Graduates from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis
1969Joins U.S. Navy as a SEAL
1973Leaves the Navy after tours in Southeast Asia
1975Becomes a pro wrestler
1975Marries Terry Masters
1984Retires as a wrestler, becomes wrestling commentator
1987Appears with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator
1987Appears in the major motion picture Running Man
1991Becomes mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
1995Finishes term as mayor of Brooklyn Park
1997Appears in the major motion picture Batman and Robin
1999Becomes governor of Minnesota
1999Publishes autobiography I Ain't Got Time to Bleed
2003Finishes term of office as Minnesota governor
2003Becomes a talk show host on the MSNBC television network


Jesse Ventura's role alongside action star Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 science-fiction blockbuster, Predator, cemented Ventura's career as a Hollywood film actor. The film features Ventura as Blain, a member of Schwarzenegger's commando unit sent to a Central American jungle to take out a gun-running gang. When the commandos are picked off one by one by the extraterrestrial predator of the film's title, Blain and his remaining comrades are drawn into the fight of their lives, their original mission forgotten. Roger Ebert, writing on the Chicago Sun-Times Web site, called the film "a slick, high-energy action picture."

Nevertheless, Ventura left the wrestling business a wealthy man. In 1994, Ventura and his wife, with son, Tyrel, and daughter, Jade, moved into a luxurious custom home in the Maple Grove suburb of Minneapolis, and bought luxury automobiles. Ventura was modest about his new wealth, telling reporters he was happy just being able to walk into a restaurant and order anything he wanted.

An Actor in Hollywood

Meanwhile, Ventura had been developing a career as an actor, landing his first role in 1985 on the NBC television series Hunter, a police drama starring former pro football defensive lineman Fred Dryer. The role earned him $850, and gave him a leg up into feature films. He shot his first feature in 1986, appearing alongside superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 film Predator. This role netted him $5,000 a week, and within the year, he was earning $20,000 a week acting in films.

In 1989 and 1990, Ventura worked as a commentator on Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games. But this job ended after he attended only half the games during his second season, because of his acting commitments. He lasted only one year working Minnesota Vikings games.

Career in Politics

Ventura reinvented himself yet again in 1990, when he ran for mayor of the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park. He had waged a fight against that city over the placement of a storm sewer and a housing complex he believed would harm the wetlands near his home. He took his fight straight to the top by running against 18-year incumbent James Krautkremer, and winning easily. Voter turnout was high, at 71 percent.

Ventura used his charisma to push through several initiatives in which he believed strongly, including a new highway. When necessary, he went on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C.

Ventura's career in Hollywood continued to occupy his time, and he missed a fifth of Brooklyn Park's City Council meetings. He had also landed his own talk show on the St. Paul radio station KSTP, further distracting from his mayoral duties. In 1994, Ventura said he would not seek re-election.

Governor Ventura

In January, 1998, Ventura became the Reform Party candidate for Minnesota governor. Ventura presented himself as a sane alternative to the mainstream Republicans and Democrats, whom he said were mired in establishment politics at the expense of running the state. "Let's put Minnesotans first," he said. "There's more of us than there are Democrats and Republicans."

Commentators refused to take Ventura seriously at first, noting that no third-party candidate had won a statewide election in more than 50 years. They favored his opponents, Republican Norm Coleman, then mayor of St. Paul and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey III, the state's attorney general and son of the former U.S. vice president and 1968 presidential candidate. Undaunted, Ventura charmed voters with his colorful style and his refusal to mince words. Asked at press conferences about issues he knew little about, he had no problem saying that he didn't know enough to provide a good answersomething many voters found extremely refreshing.

Ventura became the governor of Minnesota in 1999 by appealing to Minnesota voters disaffected with ordinary politicspeople much like Ventura himself, who, according to USA Today, rarely bothered to vote in previous elections.

Among Ventura's first goals as governor were to cut taxes, reduce class size in public schools, and to enjoy himself. "What's the first thing I'm going to do after I'm inaugurated?" he said to USA Today 's Debbie Howlett. "I'm going to put my feet up on the desk and light me a stogie in a nonsmoking building. And who can stop me? I'll be governor."

During his term as governor, Ventura furthered his reputation for outspokenness, for being blunt, and for refusing to compromise. On leaving the governor's office, he regretted only that the state legislature refused to pass some of his recommendations, among them reducing the legislature from the current two-house system to one. That measure, he said, would have alleviated the budget deficit.

Ventura's gubernatorial term ended at the start of 2003. He made plans to host a talk show on the cable network MSNBC. He did say that he had no plans to run for public office, and that he would remain in the public eye as a critic of the media "because no one does that, and I think someone should."

Awards and Accomplishments

1987Appears with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator
1987Appears in the major motion picture Running Man
1990Elected mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
1997Appears in the major motion picture Batman and Robin
1998Elected governor of Minnesota
1999Publishes autobiography I Ain't Got Time to Bleed

Where Is He Now?

At the end of January, 2003, the cable network MSNBC announced that Ventura would host would host his own talk show. At the time, MSNBC was struggling, and network officials hoped Ventura would lift the network's ratings. "I'm going to educate 'em, entertain 'em and tell people the truth," Ventura said on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on February 5. "I don't know if they're ready for me," he growled to Leno. "If there's one person that can get MSNBC off the air, you're looking at it."

As Ventura left office, a seven-month old story about his hospitalization for a blood clot in his lung mistakenly

appeared on the news wires, "causing some frantic moments for Ventura's staff and embarrassment to a few news organizations," Kavita Kumar wrote in the Star Tribune.

The Associated Press (AP) transmitted the story February 10 through its New York headquarters, referring to Ventura's condition in July. A Twin Cities television reporter saw the story and contacted the AP's Minneapolis office. Although the AP sent advisories to subscribing media outlets to disregard the story, CNN and the online Drudge Report reported the illness, though they recanted after the advisories.

"The unfortunate thing is that this will only contribute to the [former] governor's mistrust of the media and be fodder to further his cause against the media, which I guess is amusing," said John Wodele, Ventura's former spokesman and adviser on the MSNBC talk show.


The Wit and Wisdom of Jesse "the Bodythe Mind" Ventura. New York: Quill, 1999.

I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up. New York: Signet, 2000.

(With Julie Mooney) Do I Stand Alone?: Going to the Mat against Political Pawns and Media Jackals. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

(With Myron Rupp) Quotations of Chairman Jesse. St. Paul, MN: Ruminator, 2000.

(With Heron Marquez) Jesse Ventura Tells It Like It Is: America's Most Outspoken Governor Speaks Out About Government. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 2002.



Davis, Leslie. Always Cheat: The Philosophy of Jesse Ventura. Minneapolis, MN: Tell The Truth Books, 2002.

Hauser, Tom. Inside the Ropes with Jesse Ventura. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Lentz, Jacob. Electing Jesse Ventura: A Third-party Success Story. Boulder, CO: Rienner, 2002.

Tapper, Jake. Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1999.


de Fiebre, Conrad. "Ventura Wraps Things Up His Way." Star Tribune (January 4, 2003): 1A.

Doyle, Pat and Kaszuba, Mike. "Rebellious Road; Jesse Ventura's Life Is Riddled by Confrontation and Theatrics." Star Tribune (January 10, 1999): 1A.

Howlett, Debbie. "Some in Minnesota Irked By Tamer Ventura: Governor Elect Sounds More and More Like a Politician." USA Today (December 23, 1998): 1A.

Jeter, Jon and Jim Mone. "In Minnesota, the 'Body' Goes Publicand Wins." Chicago Sun-Times (November 5, 1998): 2.

Smith, Dane. "Ventura Joins the Fray in Race to Follow Carlson; the Reform Party Gets a Colorful Candidate to Take on the DFL and GOP." Star Tribune (January 27, 1998): 1A.


Ebert, Roger. "Predator." Chicago Sun-Times. (January 24, 2003).

"Jesse Ventura." Internet Movie Database. (January 24, 2003).

Kumar, Kavita. "Old News about Ventura Travels Fast." Star Tribune. (February 11, 2003).

"Predator (1987)Movie Info." Yahoo! Movies. (January 24, 2003).

Sketch by Michael Belfiore