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    We’ve all heard about the biggies, our eyes may even roll at the constant mention of Muhammad Ali, George Clooney, Diane Sawyer, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, The Judds, and Jennifer Lawrence – and how they all hailed from our beloved Bluegrass.  But there are countless more well-known celebrities who can follow their roots back to Kentucky soil, as well.  So here are just a few more high-profile folks who come from this great state whose Kentucky roots you might not hear as much about.

    John Carpenter
    Yes…that John Carpenter.  The horror movie icon, and the brain behind the supernatural serial killer Michael Myers, and the subsequent Halloween franchise, is from Kentucky.  He was actually born in upstate New York, but moved to Bowling Green as a small child.  It was there that he saw Godzilla, and fell in love with monster movies.  Carpenter was raised there and attended high school there, before eventually even enrolling at Western Kentucky University.  He didn’t graduate from W.K.U. because he transferred to University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he would later drop out, and the rest is history.  As a producer and Director his credits also include Escape from New York, The Fog, and Village of the Damned.

    Michael Shannon

    He may not have one of the most recognizable names on this list, but you certainly know Michael Shannon’s face…he is the quintessential “Oh, that guy!” when it comes to drunken movie conversations.  He’s had roles in critically acclaimed films like Revolutionary Road, Mud, and Vanilla Sky – as well as procuring the lauded lead role of serial killer Richard Kuklinski in 2013’s The Iceman, and General Zod in the 2013 blockbuster Man of Steel, which re-launched the Superman film franchise.  He is also known for his role as Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire.  Shannon was born down the road in Lexington, KY.  His mother was an attorney, and his father was an accounting professor at DePaul University.  His parents divorced and his mother took a job in Chicago.  However, Shannon still split his time (as equally as the progeny of divorced parents can split their time) between Lexington and The Windy City.  Shannon returned to the Bluegrass last year, hosting the 2013 Louisville Music Awards at Headliners Music Hall.

    Gus Van Sant

    Undoubtedly Van Sant is one of the most respected film makers in all of Hollywood, with one of the most flawless resumes in the industry (we’ll try and forget his remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho).  And yep…you guessed it – he was born right here in Louisville.  He spent a good part of his childhood here, but his father was a traveling salesman whose job forced the family to move around quite a bit.  He was nominated but didn’t win an Academy Award for “Best Director” with Good Will Hunting (however, the movie went on to win two other Oscars that year, “Best Screenplay” and “Best Supporting Actor”).  He has been nominated for countless other awards for his numerous other pictures including:  Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Finding Forrester, Milk, and Promised Land.

    Robert Kirkman

    And then there is The Walking Dead, did you know the whole t.v. show phenomenon and comic book series can trace its origin back to Kentucky soil?  Robert Kirkman is the mind from which all of your favorite characters and zombies hatched, a whole post-apocalyptic world sprang to life in the mind of this Kentuckian, who gave the world a fresh take on an old story.  This central Kentucky native was not only born but raised among the Bluegrass, he was living here through the creative process of writing the early issues of the comic book (which was the original source material for the highly addictive show).  As can be expected, he did eventually have to move to Los Angeles once the show became a smash hit, but much of his family remains here, and he travels back fairly often.

    Honorable mention (and additional Walking Dead connections to Kentucky):  Walking Dead’s Melissa McBride who plays the grey haired badass Carol, as well as Nerdist comedian and host of AMC’s fanboy talk show Talking Dead Chris Hardwick, were both born right here in Kentucky; Lexington and Louisville, respectively.  However, it doesn’t seem as though either of them spent a whole lot of time among the bluegrass when they were growing up.

    Jennifer Carpenter

    She is best known for her role as Debra Morgan from the Showtime series Dexter, and is also no relation to fellow Kentuckian John Carpenter.  Praise from critics and a litany of award nominations would follow, as she played the tortured sister of the conflicted serial killer Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C. Hall).  Carpenter was born and raised in Louisville – where she attended Sacred Heart Academy and began studying acting at our very own Walden Theater Conservatory.  She soon moved to New York City’s Julliard where her career blossomed on Broadway, before expanding to both the big and small screen.

    Jim Cornette

    He’s undoubtedly one of the most recognizable faces in professional Wrestling.  He’s been in the ring and on the microphone for over 30 years, and yes he hails from Louisville.  He got his start in regional wrestling before getting the attention of promoter Jerry Jarrett – Cornette made his debut on (then) W.W.F. in 1982 and “retired” from (now) W.W.E. in 2012.

    Sean Young

    As an actress, Sean Young is as synonymous with the 1980’s as Brooke Shields and Molly Ringwald.  She was born and raised here in Louisville with her mother Lee Guthrie and father Donald Young.  She graduated high school from Interlochen Arts Academy in Minnesota (a performance school with alumni like Meredith Baxter, Ed Helms, Norah Jones, and Jewel Kilcher).  She got her big break when she appeared in the 1981 movie Stripes with Bill Murray, which required her to travel back home, to good old Louisville, seeing as the film was coincidentally being shot here and at Fort Knox.  Young later went on to star in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Blade Runner, Dune, and Wall Street.

    Dwight Yoakam

    One of the biggest names in all of Country Music, with monster hits like “Little Sister” and “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” was born to David and Ruth Ann Yoakam who owned a gas station in Pikeville.  Yoakam’s career has flourished outside of music, as well – he’s rapidly becoming one of the most recognizable character actor’s in Hollywood with roles in:  Panic Room, Sling Blade, and Wedding Crashers.

    Rebecca Gayheart
    She has been known to Generation X for the better part of 20 years as “The Noxzema Girl” and she went on to have a pretty stout career as the sexy girl next door in both movies and television playing roles in Scream 2, Beverly Hills 90210, and Vanishing.  She was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky, near Hazard.  Her father was a miner and coal truck driver while her mother hocked cosmetics as an independent sales representative.  Gayheart eventually grew up and moved to New York in her teens where she studied at Professional Children’s School and the Lee Strasberg Institute.  She still acts and is currently married to Eric Dane, “McSteamy” from Grey’s Anatomy.

    More famous Kentuckians:  Actress Jess Weixler (Louisville), Comedian Jim “Ernest P. Worrell” Varney (Lexington), Singer/Songwriter Tom T. Hall (Olive Hill), Comedian Ned Beatty (Louisville), Musicians Don and Phil Everly (Brownie, Muhlenberg County), Musician Crystal Gayle (Paintsville), Film Director D. W. Griffith (LaGrange), Musician Brian Littrell (Lexington), Musician Kevin Richardson (Lexington),  Musician Patty Loveless (Pikeville), Actor Lee Majors, Musician Bill Monroe (Rosine), Actress Annie Potts (Franklin), Author Sue Grafton (Louisville).

    Honorary Kentuckians who moved here from elsewhere:  actor Steve Zahn, comedian Alex Reymundo, actor William Shatner, and philosopher Thomas Merton. 

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    About Brent Owen

    Born and raised in Louisville, I have lived here most of my life (except during a short furlough, when I, lovelorn and naive, followed a girl to Baton Rouge). My roots are here, my family, my friends, and my life are all here. I work primarily as a free-lance writer for a few local and regional publications. I have also written two books (one a memoir, the other a novel) that barring some divine intervention, will probably never see the light of day. I find myself deeply ingrained in the local bar scene, or perhaps better said, I often indulge in the local drinking culture. I love music, movies, comedy, and really just about any other live performance art.

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