You don’t need a PhD to write a hit song, or star in a blockbuster film, or throw a dominant curveball, but it couldn’t hurt. Just ask the twenty-nine celebrities on our list, or at least the twenty-six that are still living. They’ll tell you that enormous success is made all the richer by a rewarding and ongoing education.
That’s how Queen guitarist Brian May became a respected figure in the field of astrophysics, how NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page established himself as one of the most popular elected officials in Minnesota history, and why you should refer to NBA great Shaquille O’Neal as Dr. Shaq. In a list that includes Academy Award Winners, punk rockers, and even one adult film magnate, the only common thread is a true commitment to knowledge, education, and self-betterment.
Read on to learn all about Celebrities With Advanced Degrees!
1. Mayim Bialik (b. December 12, 1975)
Actress / PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA
Mayim Bialik doesn’t just play a nerdy scientist on television. She’s one in real life too. The actress who achieved fame as the titular, funny-hat-wearing, teen star of ‘90s sitcom Blossom (1991–1995), and who returned to prominence with her scene-stealing role as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory (2010–present), is also an actual neuroscientist. Pursuing her studies intermittently between her two most prominent television roles, Bialik earned her PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007. The title of her dissertation was “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.” Stay tuned for a very special episode of Blossom in which Mayim teaches Joey Lawrence how to pronounce “hypothalamic regulation.”
2. Shaquille O’Neal (b. March 6, 1972)
NBA Hall of Famer / Doctorate in Leadership and Education from Barry University
Shaquille O’Neal is a big man with a big degree. Of course, Shaq is famous for being one of the most dominant players ever to preside over a basketball court, and for appearing in basically every other commercial ever made. But in addition to his 4 NBA championship titles, his league MVP award in 2000, his fifteen NBA All-Star Game Appearances, an Olympic Gold in 1996, and his first-round induction into the NBA Hall of Fame, this gigantic man has also earned the right to be referred to as Dr. Shaq. The Newark, New Jersey native and occasional rapper (Shaq Fu, anybody?) left LSU early to pursue an NBA career, which turned out pretty well for him. Still, he continued his studies even as he launched a career with the Orlando Magic. Stints with the LA Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics followed. Shaq retired in 2011, but even before doing so, undertook a second phase in his education, studying toward his Ed.D in Human Resource Development at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. He earned his degree one year after departing the NBA, producing a doctoral capstone on “The Duality of Humor and Aggression in Leadership Styles,” a subject on which he proved quite the authority across his nineteen-year NBA career.
3. Ken Jeong (b. July 13, 1969)
Actor / M.D. from the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
You’ll recognize Ken Jeong as the sassy, diminutive and frequently profane scene-stealer from The Hangover Trilogy (2009–2013) and the critically-acclaimed television series Community (2009–2015). Born in Detroit to South Korean immigrants, Jeong excelled in his studies. Making people laugh was merely incidental to his early successes, which included an undergraduate degree from Duke University in 1990 and, in 1995, an M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Jeong spent his residency in New Orleans, where he also began to hone a stand-up comedy routine. After winning a comedy competition judged by NBC president Brandon Tartikoff and The Improv founder Budd Friedman, Jeong relocated to Los Angeles and simultaneously advanced his careers as a physician and an entertainer. A licensed physician in the state of California, Jeong practiced medicine at the Kaiser Parmanente hospital in Woodland Hills, which gave him a ton of credibility in his very first role. Director Judd Apatow cast Jeong as Dr. Kuni in the Seth Rogan comedy, Knocked Up. Jeong’s oddball performance won critical attention and earned him a steady stream of notable supporting roles, most particularly his three turns as unhinged gangster Leslie Chow in The Hangover film franchise. Though he still holds a medical license, Jeong points out that his life as a Hollywood star offers far better hours so he spends most of his time on set.
4. Gerard Butler (b. November 13, 1969)
Actor / Law Degree from University of Glasgow School of Law
If you plan to make a movie with deeply over-dramatized historical sequences, intense actorly emoting, and furtive, steely, beardy-faced glances, you really can’t find a better leading man than Gerard Butler. The Scottish-born actor—best known for his 2006 turn as King Leonidas in the Zack Snyder/Frank Miller special effects epic, 300—is the go-to casting decision for action thrillers that can’t afford Daniel Craig. But in another dimension, Butler might well have been an attorney. Indeed, he holds all the proper academic decoration, having not only attended the University of Glasgow School of Law but having served as the president of his university law society. He was on his path to becoming an attorney when his father was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. His father passed away during Butler’s final year of law school, an event which deeply impacted his next several years. Butler struggled with his grief, turning to alcohol and a general propensity toward disorderly behavior. After graduating, he became a trainee lawyer at an Edinburgh law firm, but his wild lifestyle saw Butler dismissed one week before qualifying to practice law. Turning his attention toward acting, he struggled first in London, then in L.A., before landing a role in a stage production of Coriolanus. At twenty-seven, Butler’s aspiration to practice law was forever put to rest as he launched his acting career.
5. James Franco (b. April 19, 1978)
James Franco is kind of a weird dude, but he’s also remarkably versatile, engaging in a multi-front career as a dramatic actor, a humorist, a filmmaker, a visual artist and, yes, a Master of Fine Arts. Actually, Franco has nearly as many academic credits as acting ones. The Palo Alto native first came to note as Daniel Desario on the short-lived but beloved NBC series Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000). Serving as the launchpad for director Judd Apatow and future stars Seth Rogen, Jason Segal, and Linda Cardellini, the teen dramedy also landed James Franco career-making roles in a James Dean biopic, the Spider-Man Trilogy (2002–2007) starring Tobey Maguire, and an Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours. But throughout his career, Franco remained uncommonly committed to advancing his education. A prominent UCLA graduate, he actually completed his MFA in writing from Columbia University while working on the set for Spider-Man 3. This pattern has persisted throughout his career. Fellow actors and directors have marveled at his committment to his studies while working on set. Simultaneous to his coursework at Columbia, Franco also attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking, the Brooklyn College for fiction writing, a low-residency MFA Program for Writers at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry and, at some point, also attended the Rhode Island School of Design. He is also currently a PhD student in English at Yale University. Not bad for a guy whose most likable performance was probably as a weed-peddling stoner in Pineapple Express.
6. Brian May (b. July 19, 1947)
Rock Guitarist (Queen) / PhD in Astrophysics from Imperial College of London
When you think about the band Queen, you probably think of Freddie Mercury. That makes sense. But in the world of academics, the band’s lead guitarist is actually the more prominent figure. Widely acknowledged as one of the all-time great rock and roll axemen, the founding member of Queen contributed staples like “Fat Bottom Girls,” “Flash,” and perhaps the most important song ever conceived for the football arena PA, “We Will Rock You.” But he is also regarded as a true academic force in the field of astrophysics, having earned a PhD on the subject from the Imperial College of London in 2007. May continues to play in the various incarnations of Queen that have assembled since Mercury’s death in 1991, but he remains deeply involved in the study of the cosmos, having been a science team collaborator with NASA’s New Horizons Pluto Mission, having cofounded the all-important awareness event, annual Asteroid Day, and having been the namesake for Asteroid 52665 Brianmay. Brian also served as the Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013 and is a known (and published) enthusiast in the highly specialized field of stereo photography. On top of these accomplishments, his guitar shredding on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is truly otherworldly.
7. Greg Graffin (b. November 6, 1964)
Punk Singer (Bad Religion) / PhD in Zoology from Cornell University
Punk music has always been among rock music’s more literate exponents. But there may be no more literate a practitioner than Bad Religion mainstay Greg Graffin. Founding the legendary SoCal punk group as a fifteen-year-old at El Camino Real high school in California in 1979, Graffin led his bandmates to critical acclaim with a distinctive blend of raw vocals, melodic riffs and politically-charged lyrics. Over the course of his career, he demonstrated a dedication both to his craft and to the pursuit of greater scholarly purpose. As a double major at UCLA, he studied anthropology and geology and continued on at UCLA to earn his master’s degree in the latter. By the time he arrived at Cornell University to study for his PhD, Graffin was already a godfather of the SoCal punk genre and a well-regarded though-leader in the life sciences field. Graffin’s Zoology dissertation was entitled “Evolution, Monism, Atheism, and the Naturalist World-View: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology.” If you dig, you probably won’t be too hard-pressed to find a few Bad Religion lyrics that peddle in the same themes. So too can you learn more about these subjects if you’re fortunate enough to be enrolled in one of Graffin’s courses. Indeed, the punk legend has instructed students in the life sciences at both UCLA and Cornell.
8. Christy Turlington (b. January 2, 1969)
Supermodel / Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University
Christy Turlington knows how to do a lot more than just strut the runway. The supermodel, cosmetics spokesperson, and fashion icon is also the owner of a Master’s Degree in public health. The Walnut Creek, California-native was discovered by a local fashion photographer while riding a horse in Miami and began the pursuit of her modeling career while still in high school. Her big break came pretty fast. In 1986, at seventeen, she appeared in Duran Duran’s “Notorious” video. Soon after, Turlington relocated to New York, delaying her graduation from high school in search of opportunity. Opportunity readily found Turlington, who rose to the top of the modeling industry as the face of Calvin Klein’s Eternity as well as products by Maybelline, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada and pretty much any other fashion and cosmetics notable you can name. A superstar by the late 80’s, Turlington returned some of her focus to education, graduating from high school and, thereafter, graduating cum laude from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study of NYU in 1999. There, she earned a B.A. in Comparative Religion and Eastern Philosophy, but it was her experience as an expectant mother that drove the next stage of her education. In 2003, after enduring complications in pregnancy, and subsequently learning that 90% of the 500,000 women who die in childbirth every year could be saved, Turlington resolved to earn her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. And this degree isn’t just a piece of paper hanging on Turlington’s wall. Since that time, Turlington has been vocal and active on the world stage, working directly with women’s health advocacy groups like Project Red, CARE, and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. She also serves as an advisor to the Harvard School of Public Health Board of Dean’s Advisors.
9. Ashley Judd (b. April 19, 1968)
Actress / Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard University
Though Ashley Judd was born to country music royalty, she made her own name as an actress. Mother Naomi and older sister Wynona are towering figures in country, but Ashley makes her mark both on the screen and as a humanitarian activist. Born in California, Ashley spent her teenage years in Kentucky, where she pursued a diverse array of interests, so diverse that she attended no fewer than thirteen different schools before embarking on a college education at the University of Kentucky. Though she majored in French, Judd would decline to graduate with her class, instead departing early for the Peace Corps. From there, she made the leap into acting, first breaking through in 1991 as a Starfleet officer during a two-episode story act on Star Trek: The Next Generation. A series of smaller roles followed before Judd landed the lead in a few late 90’s action thrillers, including Kiss the Girls (1997) and Double Jeopardy (1999). Though never a critic’s darling, Judd used her success to advance human rights causes. In order to do so, she determined to continue her education. She was eventually issued a B.A. in French from the University of Kentucky, though not in the usual way. Judd was awarded her degree on a 2007 episode of The Ellen Degeneres Show. She would go on to earn an Honorary Doctor of Human Letters from Union College in Barboruville, Kentucky (2009) and a Mid-Career Master of Public Administration Degree from the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. In spite of the lofty latter affiliation, today, Judd’s loyalty is clearly still with Kentucky—where she remains an enthusiastic fixture at Wildcat basketball games.
10. David Duchovny (b. August 7, 1960)
Actor / Master’s in English Literature from Yale University
David Duchovny tends to play brainy if somewhat tragically flawed characters like television’s first great conspiracy theorist, ever-probing FBI Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files, or the self-destructive, hedonistic writer on Californication. Both have earned him Golden Globe awards, which makes sense. Duchovny has all the real-life qualifications to play a convincing smart guy. Indeed, academics dominated Duchovny’s early years. An excellent student in his native Manhattan, he completed his undergraduate studies in English Literature at Princeton University. He was also involved in a ton of activities during his time there, joining the school’s gourmet dining group, the Charter Club, playing on the school’s junior varsity basketball team and even receiving honorable mention from the Academy of American Poets for his writing. Graduating in 1982 and still apparently unbitten by the acting bug, Duchovny continued on to receive his Master of Arts in English Literature from Yale. It was as he worked on his doctoral thesis, “Magic and Technology in Contemporary Fiction and Poetry,” that he had his first brush with visibility as a pitchman for a Lowenbrau beer ad. From there, a bit part in the hit movie Working Girl (1988) and a recurrent spot as a transgender DEA agent on Twin Peaks (1990–1992) helped Duchovny land his career-defining role on The X-Files in 1993. Though Duchovny’s PhD thesis remains unfinished, one could argue that magic and technology have been critical themes in the actor’s body of work.
11. Peter Weller (b. June 24, 1947)
Actor / PhD in Italian Renaissance Art History from UCLA
Actor Peter Weller proves that it’s never too late to enrich one’s self, even if one is best known for playing a half-human, half-cyborg law enforcement agent on the big screen. Indeed, the Wisconsin native most closely identified with the title character in the bloody, absurd and dystopian blockbuster action films RoboCop and RoboCop 2 actually owns an incredibly robust and prolific resume as both a film and television actor, as well as an Academy Award-nominated director for 1993’s short-film, Partners. Weller’s childhood was marked by frequent location on account of his father’s career as an army helicopter pilot. It was thus that his path to stardom wound its way from Wisconsin to Germany and subsequently to Texas, where he eventually attended University of North Texas (then North Texas Sate University). After earning a B.A. in theatre, Weller attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and subsequently embarked on a career that now includes more than fifty film credits, most notable among them the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch, recent blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), and of course, the uber-violent RoboCop film franchise. It wasn’t until Weller was in his 50s that he resolved to continue his education, first earning his Master of Arts degree in Roman and Renaissance Art at Syracuse University and subsequently pursuing a PhD in Italian Renaissance Art History from UCLA. He authored a dissertation entitled “Alberti Before Florence: Early Sources Informing Leon Battista Alberti’s De pictura” and was awarded his doctorate in 2014. Not bad for a half-robot crimefighting machine.
12. Alan Page (b. August 7, 1945)
NFL Hall of Famer / Juris Doctor’s Degree from the University of Minnesota Law School
Alan Page was born in Canton, Ohio, which means his family didn’t have too far to travel when he was inevitably inducted into the city’s Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. It was also a remarkable full-circle achievement for a guy who worked on the building’s construction team as a high-school student. But then, pretty much everything about Page’s life is remarkable, from his fourteen-year NFL career, to his constant pursuit of academic enrichment, to his years of noble public service to the state of Minnesota. As a dominant defensive lineman, Alan Page earned a spot on Notre Dame’s vaunted football program and led the Fighting Irish to a national championship on the way to his own All-American honors in 1966. His play at Notre Dame earned Page enshrinement in the College Football Hall Of Fame and a first round draft pick to join the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL. The tackle quickly became a fixture on the front line for one of the NFL’s most formidable defenses. As part of the famed Purple People Eaters, Page earned 9 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl and played in four Vikings Super Bowl appearances. All the while, he advanced what would soon become a brilliant legal career. Even as he instilled fear in opposing quarterbacks, Page maintained a courseload at the University of Minnesota Law School. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1978, the same year he joined the Chicago Bears. He subsequently spent his off-seasons working at a Minneapolis law firm before ultimately retiring from the gridiron in 1981 and moving into law full time. Page was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General in 1985 and Assistant Attorney General soon thereafter. Then, in 1992, Page became the first African-American ever elected to serve as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. His reelection in 1998 earned him more votes than any single candidate in Minnesota history. The football legend was easily reelected in 2004 and 2010, only retiring by mandate upon turning seventy. You would be hard-pressed to find a more popular guy in the state of Minnesota.
13. Rowan Atkinson (b. January 6, 1955)
Comedian / Master’s in Electrical Engineering from the Queen’s College, Oxford
Rowan Atkinson earned worldwide fame for playing one of history great doofuses. As it happens though, he’s quite bright in real life. The British actor and comedian who is perhaps best known for playing silent bumbler Mr. Bean was also a well-heeled student. The youngest of four brothers from a family in Consett, England, Atkinson’s academic interests tended more toward the sciences than the arts. He earned his college degree in Electrical Engineering from Newcastle University and continued on to The Queen’s College, Oxford in pursuit of his Master’s. It was here that he truly found his love for acting, writing and performing in an array on campus productions before gaining national attention for a performance as part of the Oxford Revue in the 1976 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. By the late ‘70s, Atkinson’s attention turned entirely away from electrical engineering as his daffy, physical comedy stylings gained increased prominence, first on BBC sketch comedy show, Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979–1982), next as the title character(s) in British-history satire The Black Adder (1983), and finally, as the beloved schlub, Mr. Bean, in various series, films, and appearances. Today, Atkinson is regarded as one of the all-time comedy greats, both in England and worldwide. And his considerable education has qualified him as an outspoken public figure in British politics and social matters. In 2006, Oxford made Atkinson an Honorary Fellow.
14. Graham Chapman (January 8, 1941–October 4, 1989)
Comedian / M.D. from St. Bartholomew’s Medical College
As long as we’re on the subject of British comedians, Graham Chapman didn’t just earn a pretty lofty degree. He actually earned the right to practice medicine. He eschewed this opportunity in pursuit of comic genius and was richly rewarded for the gamble. Born in Leicester, England, Chapman’s earliest pursuits included acting and comedy, but the young man also had a strong penchant for science. It was the latter of these interests that seemed most to drive his education at first, taking him to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he majored in medicine. But it was also here that he joined the touring performance troupe, the Cambridge Footlights, and consequently made the acquaintance of one John Cleese. Upon graduating, Chapman took a year off from school to tour New Zealand with the Footlights, but ultimately returned to earn a Medical Degree from St. Bartholomew’s Medical College. He subsequently became professionally registered to practice medicine but remained incurably drawn to acting. His medical acumen and deadpan sense of humor proved valuable when he and Cleese scored a writing gift for a show called Doctor in House (1969–1970), and its follow-up series, Doctor in Charge (1972–1973). With success on the visible horizon, Chapman and Cleese joined with Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam to form Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It would go on to become one of the most influential television comedy series ever made, spinning off several movies, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979). Chapman—commonly acknowledged as the best actor among them by his fellow Pythons—played the starring role in both of the now-classic comedies. Chapman passed away in October of 1989, on the eve of Monty Python’s 20th Anniversary.
15. Art Garfunkel (b. November 5, 1941)
Folk-Rock Singer / Master’s in Mathematics from Columbia University
Paul Simon may have enjoyed a far greater solo career than his former partner, but Garfunkel takes the prize for academic achievement. School was aways consequential for Art, who met his future singing partner at New York’s PS 164 in the sixth grade. Between 1956 and 1962, as the two advanced from junior high to high school, they played Everly Brothers-inspired fare under the name Tom & Jerry. After the duo graduated from Forest Hills High School, Simon attended Queens College and, thereafter, briefly attended Brooklyn Law School before dropping out. Garfunkel pursued his graduate studies more fully, beginning with a B.A. in art history from Columbia University, and subsequently, an M.A. in mathematics education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1967. By that time, he and Paul had become the world-famous folk duo Simon & Garfunkel. Even as they crafted the star-making soundtrack for Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking 1967 film The Graduate, Garfunkel continued to study toward the completion of his doctorate in mathematics education. Of course, six Grammys, a Golden Globe nomination for acting, and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction later, Garfunkel has never been forced to fall back on his degree for work.
16. Dolph Lundgren (b. November 3, 1957)
Actor / Master’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sydney
Bet you didn’t know that the guy who killed Apollo Creed is sort of a genius. It’s true. Dolph Lundgren is best known as the antagonist in any number of action films and he kind of looks like a bit of meathead. But don’t be prejudiced by stereotypes. This guy is brilliant. Indeed, the Swedish-born actor, director and martial artist had few designs on acting when he earned his degree in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in the early ‘80s, nor when he subsequently earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney in 1982. It was also during this time that he advanced his skills as a black belt in Kyokushin karate, earning a European championship title even as he studied for his Master’s. It was also during his time in Sydney that he landed a gig as a bodyguard for singer and actress Grace Jones. Though young Dolph earned a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to attend MIT, Lundgren and Jones became romantically involved and at her urging, he left school to take a shot at acting. Jones was set to play villainess May Day in the upcoming James Bond film A View To A Kill and helped Dolph land his first gig as a henchman. This would set the stage for Lundgren’s turn as Soviet boxer Ivan Drago opposite Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV. The part made him a star, and made his return to academics highly unlikely. If you want to see Dolph in action today, catch him in the decidedly un-cerebral The Expendables film franchise, the fourth explosive installment of which is due out in 2018. It’s not exactly the stuff of genius, but then again, Dolph’s net worth is estimated at $14 million. Sounds pretty brilliant to me.
17. Angela Bassett (b. August 16, 1958)
Actress / Master of Fine Arts from Yale School of Drama
If you’re curious how Stella got her groove back, the answer is through diligent study, hard work and great time management skills. We’re assuming that anyway, because you need all of those things and then some to succeed at Yale. Best known for her Oscar-nominated performance as Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It and her role as the title character in the hilariously-named How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) —Bassett dedicated herself to excellence in spite of an often difficult upbringing. Attending Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida, Bassett became the school’s first African-American student to be admitted to the National Honor Society. As part of the Upward Bound program aimed at underprivileged students, Bassett earned admission to Yale University, where she completed a B.A. in African-America studies in 1980. Though her family warned her not to “waste” a Yale education by pursuing post-graduate studies in acting, she nonetheless earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama. She also met fellow actors Charles Dutton and future husband Courtney B.Vance during her time there. Upon graduation, Bassett pursue roles in New York’s theatre scene before relocating to Los Angeles in the late ‘80s. It was there that her film career began in earnest with appearances in Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Malcolm X (1992). She played Betty Shabazz in the latter, beginning an important theme in her body of work. This was the first of several deeply compelling portraits of prominent Civil Rights figures, which would later include turns as Rosa Parks in The Rosa Parks Story (2002) and Coretta Scott King in Betty & Coretta (2013). As to whether her pursuit of a Yale education was spent in vain, one Golden Globe and six Image Awards say otherwise.
18. Ron Jeremy (March 12, 1953)
Adult Film Star / Master’s in Special Education from Queens College in New York
Ron Jeremy is perhaps the most illustrious film star in any genre. That genre happens to be adult film but even in a niche famous for its low production value, appearing in more than 2000 movies is a pretty impressive feat. For this achievement, as well as the distinction of directing an additional nearly 300 films, Jeremy was ranked the #1 film star of all time by Adult Video News (AVN) and has earned himself a coveted star on the Adult Star Path of Fame in glamorous downtown Edison, New Jersey. Chances are pretty good that Jeremy won’t have to fall back on his second profession at this point in his career, but if he had to, he has the credentials to work in special education. Jeremy earned his Master’s Degree in Special Education from Queens College in New York back in the early ‘70s, but was instead drawn to “acting.” He probably made the right call, as Jeremy is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for most film appearances by anybody anywhere. His presence in the adult film biz was so pervasive that he eventually became a readily identifiable mainstream pop culture figure, even appearing fully-clothed in a number of major Hollywood releases like Ghostbusters (1984), The Godfather III (1990), and The Boondock Saints (1999).
19. Tom Scholz (b. March 10, 1947)
Rock Guitarist (Boston) / Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from MIT
Tom Scholz was the brains behind the single biggest debut record in rock and roll history at the time of its release in 1976. And quite a brain it is. If you asked Scholz, he’d rather be working in a laboratory than touring the world. And yet, as the lead guitarist and chief songwriter for arena-rock monsters Boston, he kind of left himself with no choice but to abandon the former in favor of the latter. Still, his academic credentials are pretty remarkable. An excellent student and a varsity basketball player from the Toledo, Ohio suburb of Ottawa Hills, Scholz studied classical piano and showed an independent interest in tinkering, from model airplane building to go-cart design. It was the latter interest that saw him pursue both Bachelor’s (1969) and Master’s (1970) Degrees in mechanical engineering from no less an institution than MIT. He parlayed his academic success into a coveted position as a senior product design engineer for the Polaroid Corporation. He also channeled his talents into designing his own home studio, which he, along with vocalist Brad Delp used to record a demo of glimmering rock-riffers. Though pressured to re-record much of his homespun material upon signing with Epic Records, Scholz insisted on using the recordings rendered in his own basement. These were ultimately the versions that formed the bulk of Boston’s world-conquering, self-titled 1976 debut. All told, Boston would go on to sell more than seventy-five million records worldwide. They also enjoy almost constant Classic Rock radio airplay to this day. On the academic side of things, Tom’s son Jeremy Scholz would actually follow in his footsteps, earning a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2005. Whether Jeremy will also go on to record one of the biggest albums in rock and roll history remains to be seen.
20. Mike Marshall (b. January 15, 1943)
Baseball Player / PhD in Kinesiology from Michigan State University
Believe it or not, rare is the baseball player that even graduates from college, so you can imagine how unusual it is for a Major League pitcher to earn the title of Doctor. But that’s precisely what Iron Mike Marshall did. As a matter of fact, he managed to do it while setting marks that still remain in place for pitching prolificacy while playing for no fewer than nine MLB teams. Marshall entered the Majors in 1967 with the Detroit Tigers and, two years later, was an inaugural member of the short-lived Seattle Pilots. But it was his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers where Marshall truly made his mark, earning a Cy Young Award in 1974 and holding several records as a reliever that still hold top billing in their respective categories. Marshall set the record for most games pitched in a season at 106, and the most consecutive relief appearances, with a ridiculous thirteen straight games of relief work. In 1979, he would also set the still-standing American League mark of ninety appearances in a season. As Marshall compiled these remarkable numbers, he also registered the remarkable achievement of earning his B.A., then his Master’s and ultimately, in 1978, his PhD from Michigan State University, all in Kinesiology. It was this degree of education that made him something of an authority when offering Dodgers teammate Tommy John advice on pursuing the radical new surgery that would ultimately bear his name. And Marshall would almost certainly credit his knowledge of human anatomy with a unique approach to pitching mechanics, one that allowed him to compile an insane number of pitching appearances without sustaining injury. Today, he uses his education to teach and advocate pitching methods that he believes can spare young pitchers of arm injuries.
21. Dexter Holland (b. December 29, 1965)
Punk Singer (The Offspring) / PhD in Molecular Biology from Keck School of Medicine
The Offspring exploded out of southern California in the mid-90s, riding Green Day’s coattails into a surging pop-punk boom. When you listen to their hit-laden breakout record, 1994’s Smash, you can’t help but hear the influence of SoCal punk forefathers and Epitaph label-mates Bad Religion. What is less immediately obvious is that Offspring frontman Dexter Gordon, much like Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, is a serious academic dude. Both a music and math enthusiast, Holland once offered the decidedly un-punk observation that mathematics is “just as exciting as punk rock.” He proved his passion for both from a young age, fronting punk band Manic Subsidal with cross-country track teammate Greg K. while still graduating as the Class of ’84 valedictorian for Pacifica High School. The following year, he pursued his interests in both music and math full throttle. After some lineup changes, Manic Subsidal became the Offspring. The band released their self-titled debut on small-time Nemesis Records in 1989, even as Holland advanced toward a BS in biology. Then, in 1994, the Offspring released Smash on Epitaph, the label that not only housed fellow smart guys, Bad Religion, but which was founded and owned by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. Smash would prove not only Epitaph’s biggest hit, but the biggest selling album ever released on an independent label. And still, Holland continued his education, now in pursuit of his Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology at USC. As The Offspring became one of the biggest bands in the world, Dexter was forced to suspend his PhD candidacy, but ultimately resumed his studies nearly twenty years later. In 2013, Holland was a doctoral student at the Laboratory of Viral Oncology and Proteomics Research, Keck School of Medicine. On the way to earning his PhD in molecular biology, Dexter co-authored a decidedly brainy-sounding paper called “Identification of Human MicroRNA-Like Sequences Embedded within the Protein-Encoding Genes of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.” Sidenote: That same guy also once scored a huge hit with a song called “Pretty Fly For a White Guy.”
22. Frank Ryan (b. July 12, 1936)
Former NFL Player / PhD in mathematics from Rice University
How smart was this guy? Well, he led the Cleveland Browns to an NFL championship in 1964 so obviously the guy is a genius. Indeed, that’s the last time any quarterback figured out the secret to bringing the Browns a title. Equally as impressive, Ryan achieved this feat while advancing what would ultimately become a brilliant academic career. In fact, it was originally his academic interests which almost won out. The Fort Worth, Texas native was actually a backup QB during much of his time at Rice University so when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1958, he considered declining the opportunity in favor of pursuing his PhD Upon learning that he could enroll at UCLA while playing in the NFL, he resolved to do both. Once again, he was relegated to backup duties in his first four seasons with the Rams, but all the while, pursued his degree, transferring to Rice in his first off-season and never looking back. In fact, his time at Rice would far outlast his time with the Rams. Traded to the Browns in 1962, Ryan found his way on to the field when the team’s starter was injured in late October. He held on to the job for six years. Not only did he helm a championship-winning team in 1964, but he was awarded his PhD just one year later, producing a dissertation entitled “Characterization of the Set of Asymptotic Values of a Function Holomorphic in the Unit Disc.” We presume he did not have a great deal of success explaining this paper to his teammates, but he did simultaneously carry a full teaching load as an assistant professor at Case Institute of Technology. Ryan would play his final two NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins (1969–1970) but his career as a decorated academic was just beginning. His list of achievements is too great to list here, but among them, Ryan served as the Director of Information Services for the U.S. House of Representatives where he helped to establish the lawmaking body’s first electronic voting system; served as math lecturer, athletic director, and eventually Associate VP for Institutional Planning for Yale University; served on the Rice Board of Governors; and was president or CEO of numerous major corporations, including Contex Electronics, American West Airlines, and Sequoia Voting Systems. But again, most improbably of all, he led the Cleveland Browns to a championship.
23. Robert Leonard (?)
Singer (Sha Na Na) / PhD from Columbia University
Contrary to most of the other notables on this list, Robert Leonard is actually far better known for his academic achievements. It just so happens that he was also in a band that performed at Woodstock and sparked a unique moment of collective cultural nostalgia. If you check Leonard’s Wiki page, the first thing you’ll learn is that he is best known for his work in forensic linguistics. Indeed, it is said that he is among “the foremost language detectives in the country.” That’s a remarkable achievement for one of the founding members of schlocky throwback group, Sha Na Na. While working toward his undergraduate degree at Columbia University, Leonard, along with brother George, commandeered the school’s a cappella group, transforming it into a doo wop ensemble. As the hippie counterculture movement peaked in the late-60s, Sha Na Na tapped into an unlikely vein of nostalgia for ‘50s greaser culture. Of all the great unlikelihoods in rock history, it was this singing novelty act that performed right before Jimi Hendrix’s earth-shattering Woodstock set. Even more unlikely was the fact that this college a cappella group single-handedly sparked a surge in 50s nostalgia, paving the way for George Lucas’s breakout film, American Graffiti (1973), TV show Happy Days (1974–1984), and Broadway musical Grease (1971). Sha Na Na even appeared in the 1978 film adaptation of the latter. Sha Na Na was born as an oldies act, so it makes sense that it continues to survive in some incarnation or another on the oldies touring circuit. But Leonard chose another path. At twenty-one, Leonard left rock and roll behind to advance his studies, first toward a Master’s degree, and eventually toward a PhD in linguistics from Columbia University. After going on to teach linguistics at Columbia, Leonard founded and directs the graduate forensic linguistics program at Hofstra University. He has also consulted extensively for high profile law enforcement clients, making Leonard one of the only people alive to have both advised the NYPD, FBI, and the Prime Minister of Canada and to have opened for Frank Zappa, the Kinks and the Grateful Dead.
24. Sterling Morrison (August 29, 1942 – August 30, 1995)
Rock Guitarist (Velvet Underground) / PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of Texas at Austin
Guitarist Sterling Morrison was a founding member of one of the most influential groups in rock and roll history, but he left it behind for the glamour of an advanced degree in Medieval Studies. Morrison’s path toward legendary status began in Levittown, New York, where he attended high school with brother and sister, Jim and Maureen Tucker. As Morrison pursued an English degree at the City College of New York, he paid his friend Jim a consequential visit at Syracuse University. It was there that he was introduced to a fellow English student named Lou Reed. Soon after, Reed met avant garde multi instrumentalist John Cale. The three came together and, adding Maureen on drums, formed the Velvet Underground in 1965. Merging avant aesthetics and rock music into stark songs about drugs, sex and other lurid subjects, the Velvet Underground became an art-world sensation. They owed this in no small part to Andy Warhol’s patronage, particularly as they became the house band for his famous New York “Factory.” They did, however, sell very few records. Still, the band’s rising profile and the high marks they received from critics effectively pulled Morrison away from his studies. It wasn’t until 1970, when the band committed to a summer-long residency in the famous New York venue, Max’s Kansas City, that Morrison had the chance to complete his undergraduate degree. That very same year though, Lou Reed left for a solo career, all but dooming the Velvet Underground. The unit attempted to soldier on but was dealt its fatal blow in 1971. Sterling Morrison began his studies at the University of Texas at Austin that year. He also played his final show with the band in Houston’s Liberty Hall, subsequently accompanying his bandmates to the airport with an empty suitcase and informing them at the gate that he wouldn’t be joining them for the flight. He quit the Velvets and dove into his PhD studies. Over the ensuing years, Morrison would occasionally reunite with his former bandmates, but mostly remained a beloved fixture in the thriving Austin music scene. Sadly, Morrison passed on from lymphoma at the age of fifty-three.
25. Sigourney Weaver (b. October 8, 1949)
Actress / Master of Fine Arts from Yale University
Sigourney Weaver might well be the greatest leading lady of the sci-fi genre. Her 1979 portrayal of Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien helped to establish a stronger and grittier film heroine than perhaps the world had ever seen. She would reprise the role in three more films across her career. It also didn’t hurt that she played Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989) or that she appeared in Galaxy Quest(1999), Wall-E (2008), and Avatar (2009) among other sci-fi vehicles. Before establishing these serious geek-culture credentials, Weaver built up a pretty robust set of academic credentials, first attending Sarah Lawrence College, subsequently graduating from Stanford University with a B.A. in English in 1972, and finally landing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Yale University School of Drama in 1974. Just three years later, Weaver broke out with a small part in Woody Allen’s celebrated comedy, Annie Hall (1977). Ridley Scott cast her in his groundbreaking space-thriller two year later, and the rest is history. Part of that history is Weaver’s unparalleled feat of having won two Golden Globes in one year, landing the 1988 Best Actress prize for her portrayal of Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, and a Supporting Actress Trophy for her role in Working Girl. Weaver remains a sought-after and prolific leading lady in both film and television.
26. Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015)
Actor / Master’s in Education from Antioch College
Speaking of sci-fi credentials, it doesn’t get too much more legit than this. Leonard Nimoy is an actor, a director, a star of stage, an author, a singer and a songwriter, but who are we kidding? You know him as Spock, the role he occupied first for the Star Trek pilot in 1964, and last, fifty years later, in the 2013 film Star Trek Into the Darkness. But even as Leonard Nimoy evolved from a bit role player into a cultural icon and one of television’s greatest fictional characters, he continued to pursue his education. The Boston native found interest in acting early but his breakthrough was many years in the making, with a long resume of supporting parts and odd jobs (like shining shoes or selling greeting cards) shaping his first decade in the business. Nimoy recognized that he didn’t fit the mold of a typical leading man, and instead contented himself as a supporting player throughout his career. This career would take him through a period of service in the United States Military as well as an array of TV appearances on popular shows like Bonanza, Rawhide, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, The Virginian, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Such roles not only built toward Nimoy’s breakthrough but, in the latter two cases, brought him first into contact with future co-stars and lifelong friends DeForest Kelley and William Shatner. The three were joined in perpetuity as the commanding officers of the USS Enterprise when Star Trek made its television debut in 1966. Though its original run was only three years, it was a cultural sensation, as was Spock himself. After that, Nimoy had his choice of roles, earning a starring role in Mission: Impossible (1969–1970) and becoming a prolific stage performer. And just on the cusp of reprising his role of Spock for the first of many Star Trek movies, he completed two years of part-time study to earn his Master’s in Education from Antioch College. He also holds an Honorary Doctorate from Antioch University for activism in Holocaust remembrance, the arts, and the environment; and an Honorary Doctorate of humane letters from Boston University. Though Nimoy passed away in 2015, the character he defined for fifty years is immortal.
27. Benedict Cumberbatch (b. July 19, 1976) (b. June 9, 1981)
Actor / Master of Arts in Classical Acting from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
Benedict Cumberbatch just sounds like the name of a smart guy. It doesn’t necessarily sound like the name of an enormously successful movie star. It happens to be both. Born in West London’s Hammersmith borough, Benedict inherited the performance gene from thespian parents and made his Shakespearian debut as Titania, Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in boarding school at the age of 12. His drama teacher at the time identified young Benedict as the finest pre-adolescent actor he’d ever mentored. Cumberbatch’s only acting hiatus came between boarding school and drama studies at the University of Manchester. During his gap year, Cumberbatch volunteered to teach English in a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. Thereafter, Benedict continued his training at the London Academic of Music and Dramatic Art, where he earned an MA in Classical Acting. He immediately put his degree to work, quickly building a sterling reputation in British theatre. His stage career crescendoed in 2011, when he won the Triple Crown of London Theatre, earning the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award, all for his title performance in Frankenstein. Cumberbatch grew beyond the confines of British fame with his in the BBC/PBS television series, Sherlock. Portraying the legendary literary detective, Cumberbatch quickly became an award circuit regular. Blockbuster movie roles followed soon after, most notably as villain Khan in Star Trek: Into the Darkness (2013), the voices of Smaug and Necromancer in the The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-2014), the Academy Award-nominated turn as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014), and the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cadre of superheroes, Dr. Strange (2016). We can’t help but think his monastery experience was of some use in preparing for the role as a powerful mystic…oh yeah, and his incredibly impressive drama education background probably helped too.
28. Lupita Nyong’o (b. March 1, 1983)
Actress / Master’s in Acting from Yale School of Drama
Actress Lupita Nyong’o earned both an Academy Award and a Tony before her thirty-third birthday. Born to Kenyan parents in Mexico, Lupita’s path from anonymity to superstardom was a remarkably fast one. Ultimately raised in Kenya, Lupita would move to the U.S. to attend Hampshire College. There, she earned a B.A. in film and theatre studies before embarking on a career as a Hollywood production assistant. After three years behind the scenes, she scored a role acting in a short film called East River. The experience inspired her to pursue a Master’s Degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. It didn’t take her long to apply her degree. Upon graduation, she was immediately cast in 12 Years a Slave. The film gave Lupita her feature length debut in 2013. Her performance was widely celebrated and won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her both the first Mexican actress and the first Kenyan to win the award. And in keeping with this pattern of celebrated debuts, she made her first appearance on Broadway as a teenage orphan in Eclipsed. The 2015 play won her a Best Actress Tony. Though Lupita earned her way onto Hollywood’s A-list, today she spends much of her time fighting for wildlife rights and alongside anti-poaching groups in Kenya.
29. John Urschel (June 24, 1991)
Recently Retired NFL Player / Master’s in Mathematics from Penn State (currently advancing PhD studies in Mathematics at MIT)
John Urschel may be the only guy who played in the NFL last year who understands the phrase “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.” Indeed, it was the title of a paper he co-authored in the Journal of Computational Mathematics in 2015. That same year, he appeared in all sixteen regular season games for the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens. At 6-ft 3-in and a few stones over 300 pounds, John Urschel casts a dominant presence on the football field. The Canadian-born offensive lineman first gained the attention of scouts while playing at Penn State. Though a serious physical presence at both the Guard and Center positions, Urschel gained equal notice for his academic dominance. Even as NFL scouts looked over Urschel’s tapes, he remained at Penn State to earn both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in mathematics. Also while at Penn, he was awarded the William V. Campbell Trophy, informally known as the academic Heisman. Urschel was subsequently named as the 175th pick in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. Urschel joined the Baltimore Ravens but remained undeterred in his academic pursuits. In 2016, the offensive lineman enrolled in MIT, where he is pursuing a PhD in mathematics with a focus on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning. In 2017, Forbes named Urschel to its “30 under 30” list of outstanding young scientists. As it happens, Urschel is so smart that he has opted to retire from the NFL at just twenty-six years of age in pursuit of greater things.