Diversions

9 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Engineers

These are familiar faces. You recognize them. You know their names. Or their works.

But… did you know these 9 celebrities were also engineers?

Bill Nye Mechanical Engineer

Bill Nye, The Science Guy

The “Science” in Bill Nye’s background is actually mechanical engineering. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1977. After graduation, he headed to Seattle to work for Boeing (jobs) where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor still used in the 747 (and starred in training films).

He told the St. Petersburg Times in 1999 that he was always fascinated with aviation and space, and applied to be a NASA (jobs) astronaut every few years, but was always rejected.

During his time in Seattle Nye entered a Steve Martin look-a-like contest that eventually led to his dual careers: An engineer by day, stand-up comic by night… though he would ultimately give up his day job to write comedy. In a few short years he began appearing on Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was born.

 

Dolph Lundgren Chemical Engineer

Dolph Lundgrun, Actor (Rocky IV, The Expendables 2)

Before you knew him as Rocky’s 6′ 5″ opponent, Ivan Drago (Rocky IV), Dolph studied chemistry and chemical engineering. Not just once, mind you – Dolph actually holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in Chemical Engineering and was studying at MIT on a Fullbright Scholarship before he decided to quit and pursue acting.

 

Tom Scholz Mechanical Engineer

Tom Scholz, Guitarist for Boston

Before Tom Scholz founded the rock band Boston, he received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. While he was a student at MIT he made his own pedals for his electric guitar and experimented with sounds. His first job out of college was as a senior product designer for the Polaroid Corporation, where he received his first of many patent credits. From his bio:

This meticulous songwriter, producer, sound technician and inventor has nearly three dozen patents to his name. Some were from his inventions working, and some were awarded for creating the Rockman line of guitar amplifiers and effects boxes. His innovations came from the need he had to capture the sound in his head, on tape, or on stage. To develop and market the Rockman line, Tom formed Scholz Research and Development (SR and D) in the 1980′s, a business that at one time employed 70 people. He still swears by the analog method of recording, in this digital-everything day and age, saying, “Wherever there’s a microprocessor, there’s trouble.”

 

Tom Landry Engineer

Tom Landry, NFL Coach (Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants)

Tom Landry received his degree in industrial engineering from the University of Texas (where he played football) and the University of Houston, graduating in 1952. From The University of Houston’s Parameters (2003):

How successful was this UH engineer turned pro football coach? Between 1966 and 1983, the Cowboys advanced to the NFL playoffs 17 times in 18 seasons, appeared in five Super Bowls and won two world championships. Landry, now deceased, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is widely recognized as one of football’s greatest innovators of all time.

Did Landry make use of his engineering education as Cowboys head coach?
“I think there’s no doubt about it,” says Landry’s son, Tom Landry Jr., from his office in Dallas. “That was his answer. That was how he analyzed the game—as an engineer. And he said so many times.”

After his days at UT, Landry came to UH and graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. At that point in Landry’s life, he was playing professional football in New York and preparing for a career in engineering.

“He was working for Cameron Ironworks when we were living in Houston, and he was getting his degree in industrial engineering in connection with that job,” says Landry Jr.

Between 1950 and 1957, the Landrys lived in Houston in the off-season and in the Bronx during the football season because Landry was an assistant coach with the New York Giants. In 1957 Landry moved from Houston to Dallas, where he sold insurance in the off-season before accepting the head-coaching job with the expansion Dallas Cowboys Football Club in 1960.

“In those days, football wasn’t a year-round job,” says Landry Jr. “It didn’t pay very much and there wasn’t much future in it.”

 

Rowan Atkinson Electrical Engineer

Rowan Atkinson, Actor (Mr. Bean)

The British comedian, actor and writer obtained his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Newcastle University in 1975. Afterward he continued his studies, ultimately obtaining the degree of MSc in Electrical Engineering from The Queen’s College, Oxford.

While working towards his degree at Oxford Atkinson pursued acting on the side with a variety of clubs, including the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Oxford Revue as well as the Experimental Theater Group. It’s here that he was bitten by the acting bug and decided to forgo his career as an engineer.

 

Jimmy Carter Nuclear Engineering

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Jimmy Carter graduated in 1947 from the Naval Academy with a general Bachelor’s of Science (as was customary at the time for all Naval Academy graduates). He applied for the US Navy’s nascent nuclear submarine program run by CAPT Rickover, feeling it was his best route for promotion (he intended to be a career Naval Officer). But, because of his nuclear clearance and being stationed in not-so-distant Schenectady, NY, few know that Carter ended up being a part of early Nuclear History. From The Ottawa Citizen, January 28, 2009:

On Dec. 12, 1952, the NRX reactor at Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories suffered a partial meltdown. There was an explosion and millions of litres of radioactive water ended up in the reactor building’s basement. The crucial reactor’s core was no longer usable.

It was a very exciting time for me when the Chalk River plant melted down,” Jimmy Carter, now 83, said in a recent interview in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. “I was one of the few people in the world who had clearance to go into a nuclear power plant.”

With the Cold War then in full swing, and considering this was one of the first nuclear accidents in the West, the Americans took a great interest in the cleanup.

Mr. Carter was a young U.S. Navy officer based in Schenectady, New York, who was working closely with Admiral Hyman Rickover on the nuclear propulsion system for the Sea Wolf submarine. He was quickly ordered to Chalk River, joining other Canadian and American service personnel.

“I was in charge of building the second atomic submarine … and that is why I went up there,” said Mr. Carter. “There were 23 of us and I was in charge. I took my crew up there on the train.”

Once his turn came, Mr. Carter, wearing white protective clothes that probably, by today’s standards, provided little if any protection from the surging radiation levels, was lowered into the reactor core for less than 90 seconds.

”It was one of the few times I was actually inside a nuclear reactor when it was radioactive, so I learned the dangers,” he said.

During and following his presidency, Carter referenced his experience at Chalk River as having shaped his views on nuclear power and nuclear weapons, including his decision not to pursue completion of the neutron bomb during the Cold War.

 

Ally Walker Biochemist

Ally Walker, Actress (Sons of AnarchyProfiler)

Walker went to college with the intention of becoming a scientist or a doctor. She attended the University of California at Santa Cruz and obtained a bachelor’s in biochemistry. But, while there, she worked in the labs as a researcher on a genetic engineering project.

During a semester abroad in London she, too, was bitten by the acting bug. Shortly thereafter she was cast in her first film (Aloha Summer) and her career in science was put on hold.

 

Herbie Hancock Engineering

Herbie Hancock, Jazz Musician

Herbie Hancock attended Grinnell College and double-majored in electrical engineering and music. Though he was an accomplished musician before he even got to college, music was not his first draw. As NPR explains:

By the time Hancock entered Grinnell College in the late 1950s, he was not only an accomplished classical pianist, but also a formidable talent on the boards in jazz and R&B. Still, electrical engineering was the major that first drew his interest in higher education — it would later inform his experimentations in electronic jazz fusion.

 

Scott Adams Engineer

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Scott Adams is careful, in the bio on his about page, to clarify that he was never technically trained as an “engineer,” though “engineer” was on his business card. (He worked as a software / telecommunications engineer).

I moved from the bank to Pacific Bell, San Ramon, California, and worked there from 1986 through June 1995. I worked in a number of jobs that defy description but all involved technology and finances. The most recent job was in a network technology laboratory. My business card said “engineer” but I have never been an engineer by training.

From 1989 until 1995 I worked my day job while doing the Dilbert comic strip mornings, evenings and weekends.

Who Have We Missed?

Do you know of any other celebrities who were also famous engineers? Please drop a comment below and let us know.

About the Author

Amanda is the Director of Communications for EngineerJobs.com. Though not an engineer - she coded her first site at 13 and thinks statistical analysis and pivot tables are a fun way to spend an afternoon. Offline she enjoys fishing, espresso and kettlebells (not at the same time).

83 Comments
Jetze says:

Natalie Portman

Amanda Orson says:

Natalie Portman has an AB in Psychology from Harvard (2003), but while there she was a coauthor on two scientific papers.

Matthew says:

Pat Kenny, while not that significant outside of Ireland, has a degree in Chemical Engineering.He is quite prolific here and I was surprised when I found out he had this.

Kevin Breslin says:

So Pat Kenny has a STEM degree … well he joins a big list of Irish STEM graduate presenters –

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin
Dara Ó Briain
Neil Delamere
Ardal O’Hanlon
Mark Hamilton
Marian Finucane
Will Hanafin

Ben says:

Michael Gambon

Amanda Orson says:

Yes, you’re right.

“He later attended a school in Kent, before leaving with no qualifications at fifteen. He then gained an apprenticeship with Vickers Armstrong as a toolmaker. By the time he was 21, he was a fully qualified engineer. He kept the job for a further year, acquiring a fascination and passion for collecting antique guns, clocks, watches, and classic cars.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Gambon

Jeremy says:

While not exactly engineering, Dexter Holland (lead singer of The Offspring) was the class valedictorian at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, California, and was a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at the University of Southern California; however, he abandoned his Ph.D. in favor of focusing on The Offspring. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology, both from the University of Southern California.

Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayim_Bialik

Amanda Orson says:

Smart, yes – but her Ph.D. is in Neuroscience, not Engineering.

Paul says:

Ryan Newman (NASCAR) BSME – Purdue

Bill Lester (NASCAR & Rolex Sports Car series) BS EE & CompSci, UC Berkeley

Amanda Orson says:

Yes, you’re absolutely right Paul.

Ryan Newman: Purdue University – Class of 2001 (A.B. – Vehicle Structure Engineering)
Source: http://www.ryannewman.com/biography

Bill Lester: “In 1984, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in EECS from the University of California, Berkeley.” Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Lester

Carter Kerk says:

Joe Girardi, Industrial Engineering, Northwestern
Manager, NY yankees (I’m a Red Sox fan)

Amanda Orson says:

Great find, Carter.

“He went on to play baseball at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Girardi

Blue says:

While I’m not sure what field it applied to, Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues worked as an engineer and band mate John Lodge was an engineering student before becoming a full time musician. Former Moody Blue Mike Pinder worked in engineering after a fashion for Streetly Electronics whose via Mellotronics made the Mellotron. Hedy Lamarr co-invent a frequency hopping spread spectrum device. Her break thru in Frequency hopping is employed in WiFi, Blue tooth and both cellular and wireless phones among other things.

Spank says:

Alan Dennis Kulwicki
1992 Winston Cup driver’s and owner’s champion

Alan Dennis Kulwicki (December 14, 1954 – April 1, 1993), nicknamed “Special K” and the “Polish Prince”, was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Sprint Cup Series) racecar driver.

Kulwicki was known for being a perfectionist and doing things his own way.[5] An engineer by trade, his scientific approach to NASCAR racing inspires the way teams are now run.[6] Despite lucrative offers from top car owners, he insisted on driving for his own race team, AK Racing, during most of his NASCAR career.

a p garcia says:

Robert Vaughn has a PhD as well as Bill Cosby.

Amanda Orson says:

Robert Vaughn has a PhD in Communications, not Engineering (or even STEM related).

“Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California, in 1970.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Vaughn

And Bill Cosby “earned a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1976. His dissertation discussed the use of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids as a teaching tool in elementary schools.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Cosby

GePop says:

Although she did not hold a degree, Hedy Lamarr was a self-taught engineer who held the patent for frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology which, among other things, has given us Blue Tooth today. She attempted to join the National Inventors Council was was rejected on the grounds that, of course, it was preposterous that a female actor could ever be smart enough to join their august ranks.

Also, Charles Lindbergh attended the College of Engineering at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, but dropped out short of receiving his degree so that he could pursue flying. In later years, he had a hand in developing a number of inventions, including a prototype artificial heart that was unveiled for display at the 1939/40 World’s Fair.

Kim Hammons says:

Brian May, guitarist of the band Queen, has a PhD in astrophysics

Peter Coffin says:

May’s also one of the world authorities on 3-d photography and has written several books on the subject.

Amanda Orson says:

Yes, Ph.D. level Astrophysicist, but not an engineer.

Temple Grad says:

Bill Cosby does not have a PhD and his doctorates are Honorary

Amanda Orson says:

He actually does have a PhD (not in engineering) but you’re right – he has been the recipient of many honorary degrees.

Mat N says:

Donald Sutherland is a double major in engineering and drama.

Amanda Orson says:

Great share, Mat.

“He then studied at Victoria College, University of Toronto… and graduated with a double major in engineering and drama. He had at one point been a member of the “UC Follies” comedy troupe in Toronto. He changed his mind about becoming an engineer, and subsequently left Canada for England in 1957, studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Sutherland

Mat N says:

Ashton Kutcher, I believe was a biological engineer. Actor Kevin McKidd also studied engineering in Scotland – not sure if he qualified though.

Amanda Orson says:

Ashton Kutcher began college with the intention of studying biomedical engineering, but left before the end of his sophomore year. (Though he has recently been hired as a “product engineer” / spokesman for Lenovo).

Kevin McKidd “planned to study engineering” but “dropped out of the University of Edinburgh and instead enrolled at Queen Margaret College to study drama.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_McKidd

Janko says:

Guys from Pink Floyd met at a college, where they studied architecture?

Amanda Orson says:

Not engineers, but yes, “Roger Waters and Nick Mason met while they were both studying architecture at the London Polytechnic at Regent Street.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Floyd

Saad says:

Arsene Wenger – Arsenal FC Coach.

Amanda Orson says:

Not engineering, economics.

“He joined Mulhouse in 1973, where he spent time balancing studies at the Faculté des sciences économiques et de gestion (Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences) at the University of Strasbourg; he completed an economics degree in 1974.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ars%C3%A8ne_Wenger

Peter Coffin says:

Hedy Lamarr doesn’t seem to have the academic cred that some of these do but she did co-invent a method for frequency-hopping implemented as jam-proofing radio-guided torpedos, and the work served as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, used in Bluetooth, CDMA cell phones, wifi communications, etc.

MCB says:

the Manchester City’s coach: Manuel Pellegrini in 1979 obtained his bachelor in Civil Engineering in the Catholic University of Chile.

Amanda Orson says:

Good find!

“…Manuel Pellegrini’s status as a civil engineering graduate has earned him the moniker of ‘The Engineer’.

The Engineer he is – off the field and on it, as his structured approach and love for technical players reflects his university background.”

Source: http://www.sportskeeda.com/2013/06/27/manuel-pellegrini-can-the-engineer-fix-manchester-city/

Carlos Lerma says:

Kevin Brown (Pitcher, Major League Baseball) – Chemical Engineering, Georgia Tech

Amanda Orson says:

Carlos, I can find sources on the web that substantiate he’s a graduate of Georgia Tech – but none that back up his being an engineer. Do you have a link?

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitarist of The Doobie Brothers has designed rocket propulsion systems for and used by NASA.

Amanda Orson says:

Great find, Ryan! What makes Jeff Baxter’s case particularly interesting is that he’s an autodidact in this particular field (his undergraduate studies were in journalism at Boston University).

“In the mid-1980s, Baxter’s interest in music recording technology led him to wonder about hardware and software that was originally developed for military use, i.e. data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices. As it happened, his next-door neighbor was a retired engineer who had worked on the Sidewinder missile program. This neighbor bought Baxter a subscription to Aviation Week magazine, provoking his interest in additional military-oriented publications and missile defense systems in particular. He became self-taught in this area, and at one point he wrote a five-page paper that proposed converting the ship-based anti-aircraft Aegis missile into a rudimentary missile defense system.

Baxter’s work with that panel led to consulting contracts with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He now consults to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as for defense-oriented manufacturers including Science Applications International Corporation (“SAIC”), Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. He has been quoted as saying his unconventional approach to thinking about terrorism, tied to his interest in technology, is a major reason he became sought after by the government.

In April 2005, he joined the NASA Exploration Systems Advisory Committee (ESAC).

Baxter is listed as “Senior Thinker and Raconteur” at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

…More recently, he has been working as a defense consultant and chairs a Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Baxter

Erick says:

Manuel Pellegrini, boss in Manchester City, is a civil engineer

Amanda Orson says:

Yes, you’re absolutely right. He’s a Civil Engineer.

Irfan says:

You missed me in the list.

Amanda Orson says:

Irfan Khan is that you?

rijowan says:

Brian May

Amanda Orson says:

Sir Brian May “studied Mathematics & Physics at Imperial College London, graduating with a BSc. degree.

He began his PhD in Astrophysics at Imperial College, studying reflected light from interplanetary dust and the velocity of dust in the plane of the Solar System. When Queen started to become successful, he abandoned his physics doctorate… In October 2007, more than 30 years after he started his research, he completed his PhD thesis in astrophysics.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_May

So, not an engineer per se, but an ubergeek celebrity for sure.

Tariq says:

ashton kutcher

Amanda Orson says:

Ashton Kutcher enrolled at the University of Iowa in August 1996 with a planned major in biochemical engineering, but he left in 1998 to become a model.

But November 1st Lenovo did announce it had hired Kutcher as “Product Engineer.”

“Fresh off his turn as Apple CEO Steve Jobs in the movie Jobs, Ashton Kutcher is diving deeper into the tech scene with a new job at Lenovo as a product engineer.

The Two and a Half Men star will advise on design and software for Yoga tablets. He’ll also meet with Lenovo engineers and executives all over the world and will act as a celebrity pitchman for the company.

The company knows it’s a risk to hire Kutcher, but Lenovo Chief Marketing Officer David Roman said he’s willing to take that on: “Ashton will help us break new ground by challenging assumptions, bringing new perspective and contributing his technical expertise to Yoga Tablet and other devices.”

Emmanuel Fu says:

You forgot Montel Williams. He got his degree in General Engineering.

Amanda Orson says:

You’re absolutely right Emmanuel.

Montel Williams graduated from the Naval Academy in 1980 with a degree in general engineering and a minor in International Security Affairs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montel_Williams

Alam says:

Einstein

Amanda Orson says:

Einstein is a theoretical physicist whose formal education (at University of Zurich (1905), ETH Zurich (1901), Aargau Cantonal School (1895–1896)) was in Math and Physics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

Larry says:

But Einstein’s first job was in the Zurich patent office and he expected to use his education in engineering.

pedro henrique says:

JAMES BLUNT – aeroespacial

Amanda Orson says:

James Blunt is not an engineer.

“From Harrow School he gained an army-sponsored place at the University of Bristol, where he first studied aerospace manufacturing engineering and then subsequently moved on to the study of sociology.[9] He graduated with a BSc in sociology in 1996.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Blunt

xx says:

James T. Woods

Amanda Orson says:

Not an engineer.

“…undergraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he majored in political science (though he originally planned on a career as an eye surgeon).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Woods

Blaine says:

Alfred Hitchcock studied mechanical engineering. I don’t recall the institution or if he finished the degree.

Fritz Lang did complete his engineering degree before becoming a film director.

Virginie says:

Boris Vian

skeletus says:

Albert Galache from the band Heather Grey, holds a bachelors and a Master of Science degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso.

AAT says:

Herbert Hoover

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Hu Jintao

Florentino Pérez

Sukarno

Boris Yeltsin

Yasser Arafat

All of them – civil engineers :)

Larry says:

Hoover had a Civil Engineering degree from Stanford.

mhk says:

Cindy Crawford started (but didn’t finish) in Chemical Engineering

Amanda Orson says:

Sounds like you’re right…

“Crawford graduated from DeKalb High School in 1984, as valedictorian. She won an academic scholarship to study chemical engineering at Northwestern University, which she attended for only one quarter. She dropped out in order to pursue a full-time modeling career.”

kwabena says:

Amical Cabral – Revolutionary Leader – Guinea-Bissau / Cape Verde
Rory Sparrow – Bulls and Knicks Guard from the 80′s – 90′s!

Larry says:

Thomas Jefferson

Michael Hill says:

Movie Director, Frank Capra, graduated at the top of his class from CalTech.

Michael Hill says:

Francis Capra majored in chemical engineering.

Michael Hill says:

J.Y. Young of the band Styx has a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Gt jacket says:

Jeff foxworthy

Tyler says:

Yes, he did major in engineering at Georgia Tech (electrical, I think?), but he left school before graduating and took a computer maintenance job at IBM

Luis says:

Terrence Howard, “Rowdy” from Iron Man (2008) IS a B.S.C.E and P.h.D C.E.

Michael Hill says:

While Terence Howard did study chemical engineering at Pratt Institute, he dropped out after his sophomore year and never worked in the field.
http://www.biography.com/people/terrence-howard-21110545

Tyler says:

Bobby Jones (World Golf Hall of Famer, 13 time major winner, founder & designer of Augusta National Golf Club, & co-founder of The Masters Tournament) received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech. Jones never officially turned professional as a golfer and retired from competition at the young age of 30. Jones also received his A.B. in English Literature from Harvard and his law degree at Emory and made his primary living as a lawyer.

Bob Kennedy says:

John Young, BSc in Aeronautical Engineering, Ga Tech, 1952
US Astronaut, Apollo 10 and Apollo 16 moon flights

Charles says:

Larry Linville (Major Frank Burns on M*A*S*H) studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Sagar says:

Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho).

Olakunle Roleola says:

What about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

Oscar M says:

John Deacon, bassist of Queen.
He is an electronic engineer.

Cooper, A. says:

You have left off a crucial stepping stone in Jimmy Carter’s academic career: Georgia Institute of Technology. Give the ramblin’ wreck its due.

mel bp says:

loni love

Linda says:

Just read an interview where Herbie Hancock clearly states that he began his studies at Grinnell majoring in EE but changed his major to Music Compisition his sophmore year and that is what he graduated in not EE.

Amanda Orson says:

Linda, can you share the link please?

Larry Hoy says:

James J.Y. Young, guitarist o Styx, is a Mechanical Engineer.

Leka says:

Nick Mason went to a Polytechnic in Britain. I believe he works for BP as an engineer.

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