Part of the reason we’re so interested in the life stories of the rich and successful is because we want to know how they got to where they are today. We’re looking for steps that we can follow so that we can reach the dizzying heights our heroes have achieved.
Life, however, doesn’t always follow a clear-cut path. Sometimes, the road to success is completely insane—and it often involves absolutely the last thing you’d expect.
10. Samuel L. Jackson Held Martin Luther King Sr. Hostage
Photo via Watch The Yard
When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died, it affected the young Samuel L. Jackson. He had been inspired by the reverend’s words. He wanted to make Dr. King’s dream of a better world a reality. So he did what he thought Martin Luther King would have wanted: He held his father hostage.
At the time, Jackson was a student at Morehouse College, a school that had Martin Luther King Sr. on its board of trustees. Morehouse nearly exclusively enrolled black students, but it was almost entirely run by white people. Jackson thought that needed to change, so he and some friends got some guns and held the college board, including King, hostage until they agreed to hire more black staff. This, oddly enough, was not the first time Jackson had met King’s father. Jackson had served as an usher at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.
Jackson was expelled and charged with unlawful confinement, but it could have been worse. Afterward, he became a person of interest for the FBI. His mother sent him to Los Angeles, terrified that her son would soon meet his end—and there, Jackson’s acting career began.
The most prolific modern actor alive never would have landed a single role if he hadn’t detained the father of a Civil Rights activist against his will.
9. Bob Ross Was A Master Sergeant
Photo credit: Bob Ross Incorporated
Bob Ross, the soothing, curly-haired man who painted happy little trees, used to have the absolute last job you’d ever expect: He was a master sergeant in the US Air Force. “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work,” Ross has said. “The job requires you to be a mean, tough person.”
It’s hard to imagine, during his 20 years in the Air Force, Ross screamed at people for a living. He was a strict, angry man—and not just because it was his job. When it came to yelling at people, Ross went above and beyond. His nickname was “Bust ‘Em Up Bobby.”
When he got out of the Air Force, Ross never wanted to scream again, so he became the exact opposite of who he was. He got a job teaching painting on a public-access TV show and became the mild-mannered man we know and love today.
8. James Cromwell Was In The Black Panthers
Photo credit: Glenn Francis
James Cromwell, the actor best-known for playing the farmer in Babe, is probably that absolute last person you’d expect to see in the Black Panthers. Believe it or not, though, he actually played a major role in the black rights movement.
While Samuel L. Jackson was going around kidnapping members of the King family, Cromwell was on the Committee to Defend the Panthers. He and a group of other sympathetic activists were working to free 13 Black Panthers who had been jailed in New York for conspiracy, and they succeeded. Cromwell was also traveling around the South, working with an integrated acting group. One of his first major acting jobs was performing with black actors and making speeches about civil rights.
Even today, Cromwell is a major activist and supporter of the Black Panther Party. As recently as 2004, Cromwell went on record saying, “I don’t think we would have the kind of prison population now and what happens in this country with the gangs if the Panthers had been allowed to continue what they decided to do, which was basically empower black communities to take back their self-control.”