Despite their fame and fortune, most famous people, unless they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, are just like you and me. Some “hit the big time” earlier, some later. But at one point they were trying to figure out what they were going to do with their lives, either in the short term, or as a career.
As it turns out, some of those “eventually famous” people worked in aviation! Take a look:
Bill Nye the Science Guy
An entire generation (or two) of kids grew up with Bill Nye the Science Guy. However besides his TV and movie career, William Sanford Nye is an American mechanical engineer and science communicator.
Nye actually began his career as a mechanical engineer at Boeing. In fact, he created a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor that was used on 747s until Boeing ended their production.
Bonny Warner (now Bonny Simi) is an American luger who competed from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. She later competed in women’s bobsled from 1999 to 2002.
Warner was also pilot for United Airlines from 1990 to 2004, when she quit United and began her career with JetBlue Airways.
Paul Bruce Dickinson is an English singer and songwriter. He’s best known as the longtime lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Dickinson has performed in the band during two stints, first from 1981 to 1993 and again from 1999 to today. He’s generally known for his wide-ranging operatic vocal style and energetic stage presence.
Dickinson undertook a career as a commercial pilot for Astraeus Airlines, which led to a number of media-reported ventures such as captaining Iron Maiden’s converted charter plane, Ed Force One, during their world tours. Following Astraeus’ closure in 2011, he created his own aircraft maintenance and pilot training company, Cardiff Aviation, in 2012. Cardiff Aviation changed its name to Caerdav in 2019. Dickinson remains owner of the company.
Carole Elizabeth Middleton
The mother of Catherine, Princess of Wales GCVO (previously known as Kate Middleton), and mother-in-law to William, Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the British throne, used to be a flight attendant, way back when.
Then known as Carole Goldsmith, she was working for British Airways when she met the man who would eventually become her husband, Michael Francis Middleton.
Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky, Charles Bronson was an actor known for his granite features and brawny build. His TV and film career spanned from the 1940s through the late 1990s.
Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces in 1943, where he served as an aerial gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron. In 1945, as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group, Bronson flew 25 missions and received a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle.
Born in Ohio in 1901, William Clark Gable was an actor often referred to as The King of Hollywood, He had roles in more than 60 motion pictures in multiple genres during a career that lasted 37 years, three decades of which was as a leading man.
Best known as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, he enlisted as a private in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Gable flew at least 5 missions as Captain filming 50,000 ft of gunnery combat during 1943. He received the Air Medal for his service.
Canadian actress and author Nicole Evangeline Lilly has won a Screen Actors Guild Award and an MTV Movie Award. She has also received nominations for a Golden Globe Award, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, 9 Saturn Awards, an Empire Award and 10 Teen Choice Awards.
However before all of that, she worked as a flight attendant for Royal Airlines. She apparently doesn’t have good memories of that time in her life. 😉
James Maitland “Jimmy” Stewart was an American actor. Known for his distinctive drawl and everyman screen persona, Stewart’s film career spanned 80 films from 1935 to 1991. He was best known for his work in It’s A Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Vertigo, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, along others. With the strong morality he portrayed both on and off the screen, he epitomized the “American ideal” in the mid-twentieth century.
The U.S. involvement in World War II occurred during the midst of his career and Stewart became an Army Air Corps pilot. He was appointed Operations Officer of the 453rd Bomb Group in March, 1944. Subsequent billets included that of Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat wing, 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force. Stewart ended the war with 20 combat missions. He remained in the USAF Reserve and was eventually promoted to Brigadier General.
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic politician who served as prime minister of Iceland from 2009 to 2013. She was also the world’s first openly gay head of government.
However before all that, Sigurðardóttir worked as a flight attendant for Loftleidir, Iceland’s main airline before the advent of Iceland Air.
Joseph Heller was an American author of novels, short stories, plays, and screenplays. His best-known work is the 1961 novel Catch-22, a satire on war and bureaucracy, whose title has become a synonym for an absurd or contradictory choice. He was nominated in 1972 for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1942, at age 19, Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. Two years later he was sent to the Italian Front, where he flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier.
June “Mama June” Shannon
For better or for worse, Toddlers & Tiaras was a popular TV shows from 2009 to 2016. Profiling different families who participated in child beauty pageants, one of them, that of Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, got their own spinoff show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, from 2012 to 2014.
Boo Boo was taken off the air after the second season, when the matriarch of the family, June “Mama June” Shannon, was found to be in a relationship with a convicted sex offender.
Things appeared to go from bad to worse; June lost custody of Alana not long after she (June) was charged with felony possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia in 2019. Her trial was delayed due to Covid, so while she was waiting, she got a job in mid-2020, delivering luggage from airports.
Her train wreck of a life and reality TV career has waxed and waned, and the luggage delivery position didn’t appear to last for very long. But for a time, “Mama June” was indeed was working in an “aviation adjacent” profession.
Kate Linder is an American actress, best known for her role as Esther Valentine on The Young and the Restless, which she’s played since 1982 (after 40+ years, she’s one of the longest serving actors on an American soap opera).
Before Y&R came along, Linder was already a flight attendant for United Airlines. Although she no longer works full time, she continues to work for the company because she says it “keeps her grounded.”
Born in 1959, Kelly Lynch first became famous as an model, before she tried her hand at show business. Her notable film roles include Cocktail, Road House, Drugstore Cowboy, Curly Sue and TV show roles in The L Word, and Magic City.
However before those careers, Lynch worked as a flight attendant after leaving college.
Kristen Mary Jenner is an American media personality, socialite, and businesswoman. She rose to fame starring in the reality television series Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Kris was a flight attendant for American Airlines for about a year, back in 1976. She married Robert Kardashian in 1978.
Morgan Freeman’s first role was in 1964 – he had an uncredited role as Man on the Street in a movie called The Pawn Broker. He didn’t have a significant or recurring role in TV or movies until 1971, when he was part of the original cast of The Electric Company, an educational children’s TV show on PBS (he was in 780 episodes from 1971 to 1977. So were Rita Moreno and Mel Brooks. Bill Cosby was in 260 episodes, from 1971 to 1973).
However before his acting career ever hit the ground, Freeman was in the Air Force. He enlisted in 1955 and served as an automatic tracking radar repairman. He rose to the rank of Airman 1st Class.
Freeman eventually got his pilot license, when he was 65 years old. However like other celebrities who became pilots (John Travolta, Harrison Ford, etc.), he’s never flown professionally.
Currently 100 years old and still kicking, Norman Milton Lear has produced, written, created, or developed over 100 shows. He’s best known for many popular 1970s sitcoms, including the multi-award winning All in the Family as well as Maude, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, and Good Times.
During World War II, Lear was a B-17 radio operator/gunner with the 772nd Bombardment Squadron, 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 15th Air Force. He flew 52 combat missions and was awarded the Air Medal.
Actor, film director, race car driver, philanthropist, and entrepreneur Paul Leonard Newman was a heartthrob for decades.
Newman was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He wanted to become a pilot, but was dropped when it was discovered he was color blind. He eventually became a turret gunner in the Avenger torpedo bomber.
Sara Netanyahu is the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By profession, she’s an educational and career psychologist. However in her early adult life, she worked as a flight attendant for El Al Israel Airlines.
Steve J. Morse is an American guitarist best known as the founder of the Dixie Dregs and as the guitarist for Deep Purple from 1994 to 2022. Morse has also enjoyed a successful solo career and was briefly a member of the group Kansas in the mid-1980s.
Morse has been a licensed pilot since 1975, and worked as a commercial pilot for Delta Air Lines. However that career only lasted six months in 1987.
Roald Dahl was a British popular author of irreverent children’s literature and short stories, a poet, and wartime fighter ace. His books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. With titles such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and more, Dahl has been called “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century”.
Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in 1939, as an aircraftman. He was promoted to leading aircraftman in 1940 and was eventually made an active pilot officer.
Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper finished fifth during season three of Survivor, back in 2001.
When she was on Survivor, Cooper had already been a 20-year veteran flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, for whom she flew as a German qualified speaker as well as an international flight coordinator.
Tim Colceri is most known for his role in the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, where he played the door gunner who uttered the much-quoted lines “Get some!” and “Ain’t war hell?
Colceri became a professional golf player after graduating from Arizona State University. However he cut a tendon in his little finger a few years later and had to find a new profession. He worked at the Victoria Station Restaurant near the Miami airport for a couple of years, then got a job with Braniff Airlines as a flight attendant.
He later got into acting through a friend who was taking an acting class and insisted he try acting.
Todd Herzog became famous when he won Survivor: China in 2007. He was also the second openly gay male contestant to win Survivor, following Richard Hatch.
Before his work on Survivor he worked for Skywest Airlines as a flight attendant.
Theodore Samuel Williams was an American professional baseball player and manager. He played his entire 19-year Major League Baseball career, primarily as a left fielder, for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960.
Williams was a fighter pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps during both World War II and the Korean War.
Born Thomas Michael Moore in Chicago in 1949, Tom Berenger’s acting career began in college. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the ruthless Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes in Platoon. He is also known for playing Jake Taylor in the Major League films and Thomas Beckett in the Sniper films.
However, before hitting it big as an actor, Tom Berenger was a flight attendant on Eastern Airlines, based on San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Thomas Wade Landry was the first head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. It was a position he held for 29 seasons. Considered to be one of the greatest head coaches of all time, Landry was known for always wearing his Sunday best on the sidelines; suit, tie and fedora.
During World War II, Landry was in the U.S. Army Air Forces, where he flew the B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew 30 combat missions between November 1944 to April 1945.
Feature Image: Picryl
Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.
Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.
Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!
This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
A big one missing from this list is King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands who is a pilot for KLM City Hopper