4 Former Athletes Who Went on to Become Successful Actors

Jason Hanold
4 min readFeb 1, 2024

Throughout their lifetime, athletes go through many transitions, from starting out in their chosen sport to transitioning from amateur to elite or professional sports. For most athletes, retirement is the most challenging transition of all, leaving many struggling to find their self-identity outside of their sport, and in need of a new focus in this brand new chapter in their lives.

Transitioning between careers is daunting for anyone, particularly when those two fields are leagues apart. For athletes, however, making the leap to acting and Hollywood is an all too common trend. Known for their physical prowess and daring stunts, athletes are primed for success in the entertainment industry, wowing audiences on the big screen. In this article, we look at four former athletes who went on to forge hugely successful acting careers.

Ed O’Neill

Ed O’Neill is best known for his comedic roles in the hit television series Married With Children and Modern Family. In his youth, O’Neill played on the defensive line at college in Youngstown State, and was signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969.

Ed O’Neill returned to school and took up acting after he was cut in training camp. To make ends meet, he worked as a waiter at O’Neal’s Balloon restaurant, as well as spending a stint as a substitute high school teacher. O’Neill rose to fame through his role as Al Bundy in Married With Children, which aired from 1987 to 1997 before starring in the mockumentary family sitcom, Modern Family.

In an acting career spanning four decades, Ed O’Neill has starred in several movies, including Wayne’s World, The Bone Collector and Sun Dogs, as well as doing voice work for Finding Dory and the Wreck-It Ralph franchise.

Andre Roussimoff

Otherwise known as “Andre the Giant,” Andre Roussimoff started his working life as a French professional wrestler. Standing 7-foot-4 and weighing in at 500 pounds, he was a formidable character, not just physically, but also in terms of his talent, ambition, and drive.

Born in Grenoble, France, in 1946, Roussimoff’s parents and four siblings were of average size. He was diagnosed with acromegaly, a condition caused by excess growth hormones that is otherwise known as gigantism. By the age of 17, he was 6-foot-7.

Andre Roussimoff earned notoriety in the ring as “Monster Roussimoff” and “Monster Eiffel Tower.” He caught the attention of Edouard Carpentier, a French-Canadian wrestler, who recognized the wrestler’s raw talent and was determined to bring him to America.

Having earned a place in the 1974 Guiness Book of Records as the world’s highest-paid wrestler of all-time, Roussimoff starred in several hit movies, including The Six Million Dollar Man, Conan The Destroyer, The Fall Guy, and The Princess Bride. Sadly, Andre Roussimoff’s acting career was cut short when he died of congestive heart failure at the age of 46.

John Amos

Despite having the perfect physique for football, the sport never quite worked out for John Amos. After being signed with the Denver Broncos of the American Football League, Amos was unable to run the 40-yard dash due to a pulled hamstring, and was released on his second day of training camp.

After stints playing for various teams in the United Football League, Continental Football League, and Atlantic Coast Football League, Amos made it back to the American Football League once more, signing a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Amos’s hopes of a football career were dashed when his coach Hank Stram told him he was not a football player but “a man who is trying to play football.”

John Amos’ first major TV role was playing weatherman Gordy Howard in The Mary Taylor Moore Show. He went on to star in several other TV shows, including Maude and Good Times. He also starred in numerous films, including Vanishing Point, Coming to America, and Die Hard 2. John Amos has earned several awards including an Emmy nomination and three TV Land Awards. In 2020, Amos was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Sonja Henie

Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie was a three-time Olympic gold medalist with 10 world championships under her belt when she was offered a film contract by Darryl F. Zanuck, studio head of Twentieth Century Fox in 1936. Henie quickly rose through the ranks, establishing herself as one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, drawing on her figure skating skills in movies like One in a Million, Thin Ice, Happy Landing, Second Fiddle, and more.

Sonja Henie also starred in The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the musical comedies Sun Valley Serenade and Wintertime, having developed a comedy flair. In addition to being inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, she has a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and was the youngest person to receive a Royal Norwegian first class knighthood of the Order of St Olav.



Jason Hanold

Executive Recruiter, clients NFL, Google, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gucci, Nike, Northwestern, eBay, UFC, Vail, REI, Electronic Arts, Live Nation, #HR #Recruiter