Successful Migrants: Famous Lithuanian Americans

Updated on March 7, 2018
Folk singer Bob Dylan is of Lithuanian descent.
Folk singer Bob Dylan is of Lithuanian descent. | Source

Like my home country of Australia, the United States could have never succeeded as a nation without a healthy immigration program. People suffering persecution, plague, famine, war or insurrection have always dreamed of going to a better place, and that place is often America. Some of those lucky enough to have made it to America were of Lithuanian origin. I have been researching and writing about what took place in Lithuania throughout the last century, including the displacement of its peoples during World War II and the Lithuanian holocaust. Examples of successful migration defray the horror and unspeakable devastation that fell upon Lithuania and its population during last century.

The lives of these successful people show that the dream of a better life is possible, if not for migrants, then for their children or grandchildren. These success stories show that greatness can spring out of the crippling misfortunes some nations endure. If the conditions in Lithuania had not been so devastating, migration would not have have occurred, and the people listed below would not be known as the accomplished and influential figures they are today.

Famous Lithuanian Americans

  1. Sean Penn, Actor
  2. Charles Bronson, Actor
  3. Bob Dylan, Musician
  4. John C. Reilly, Actor
  5. Robert Zemeckis, Filmmaker

Continue reading for more on each of these famous Lithuanian Americans.

1. Sean Penn, Actor

Sean Penn, a successful if controversial performer specializing in intense roles, is a famous Lithuanian-American actor. Never one to shy away from difficult or emotive roles, he has played a murdering racist and rapist (Dead Man Walking), a gay activist (Milk), a presidential assassin (The Assassination of Richard Nixon) and an intellectually handicapped father (I Am Sam), among other roles. Penn has been nominated for an Oscar for best actor five times and has won the award twice.

Penn was born in Los Angeles on August 27th, 1960. His paternal grandparents were Jewish-Lithuanians. His mother is of Catholic Irish-Italian descent. Penn was once married to Madonna, but the two divorced after he pleaded guilty to domestic violence against her. He also served jail time for assaulting an extra. He partially owned a restaurant and bar, and is an extremely successful director and renowned social activist and philanthropist.

Sean Penn at the premier for Milk at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. (October, 2008)
Sean Penn at the premier for Milk at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. (October, 2008) | Source

Sean Penn TV Interview

2. Charles Bronson, Actor

Charles Bronson was born to a very poor Lithuanian migrant family in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, in 1921. He went on to become one of the most iconic movie stars of the 20th century. His mother was born in America to Lithuanian parents. His father, born in the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai, was a Lithuanian Lipka Tatar, meaning he was a descendent of Mongolians. Working as a coal miner during childhood, Bronson served with distinction in WWII and obtained a college degree in art after the war. Starring in at least 96 major motion pictures as an action hero, his estate when he died was valued at $48 million dollars.

Charles Bronson.
Charles Bronson. | Source

3. Bob Dylan, Musician

An incredibly successful musician and artist for more than five decades, Bob Dylan is the creator of civil rights anthems such as, "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Blowin' in the Wind." He was a force of civil agitation in the 1960s with his anti-war music and counter-culture appeal. It is difficult to accurately describe how successful Dylan has been, due to his monumental influence on a multiplicity of fronts including activism, politics, music and the arts. He transgressed the conventions of his time, and went on to become a successful poet and author. An extremely talented musician, he plays guitar, piano and harmonica. Dylan has been touring consistently since 1980, and plays guitar, piano and harmonica. He has won innumerable awards, including the Nobel prize in literature, and has gained world-wide recognition for his genius.

Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Dylan's father was Abram Zimmerman, whose parents were Russian Jews that emigrated as a result of anti-semitic pogroms in 1905. His maternal grandparents were Jewish-Lithuanians who emigrated in 1902.

A young Bob Dylan.
A young Bob Dylan. | Source

Bob Dylan Performing "The Times They Are A-Changin'"

4. John C. Reilly, Actor

An Irish father and a Lithuanian mother produced this lovable, homely, lumbering actor who, despite his strange looks, has been a success on the silver screen. Growing up in Chicago, home to a large number of Lithuanian-Americans, Reilly was the fifth of six children.

He has played many characters, often portraying an "adorable schmuck." However, this type-casting did not stop him from crossing over into other roles. A thoroughly professional actor, he displayed his versatility in the role of a rapist soldier in Casualties of War. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best supporting actor.

John C. Reilly at Mann Village Westwood during the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival for the premiere of Ponyo. (June, 2009)
John C. Reilly at Mann Village Westwood during the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival for the premiere of Ponyo. (June, 2009) | Source

Robert Zemeckis, Filmmaker

Robert Zemeckis's first success was the movie Back to the Future, starring Michael Fox, in 1980. His talent as a director extended to animation, creating Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. He won an Oscar for the film Forrest Gump in 1994, and his hallmark as a director is his exemplary use of special effects, for which he is considered an technological pioneer.

Like many other Lithuanian-Americans, he was born in Chicago. His father was Lithuanian and his mother was Italian-American. Born May 14, 1952, he developed his lifelong fascination with film at the age of eight, when he used his parents' 8mm camera.

Robert Zemeckis at Tribeca Film Festival. (2010)
Robert Zemeckis at Tribeca Film Festival. (2010) | Source

Robert Zemeckis on Roger Rabbit 2

Other Famous Americans of Lithuanian Descent

  • Pink, Performer and Musician
  • Johnny Unitas, Football Star
  • James Laurinaitis, Football Star
  • Anthony Kiedis, Singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Brandon Flowers, Singer of The Killers
  • Dick Durbin, United States Senator
  • Jonas Mekas, Actor
  • Ann Jillian, Actor and Breast Cancer Activist
  • Leonard Cohen, Musician
  • John Candy, Actor

Map of Lithuania

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Mel Jay

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Kestutis Truskunas 

        3 months ago

        Lawrence Harwey....

      • profile image

        Irene Montuori 

        7 months ago

        Bravo to all these famous Lithuanians!

        Irena Brazaityte/ Montuori born In Prienai

      • profile image

        Dalita Lovett 

        8 months ago

        Vytas Gerulaitis - tennis player

      • profile image

        Aras 

        8 months ago

        William Shattner

      • profile image

        Lina 

        8 months ago

        Drummer Phil Rudd of AC/DC

      • profile image

        Charlie Berch 

        9 months ago

        Hey you forgot Jack Sharkey who was Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1932. He was born in Binghamton NY to Lithuanian immigrants.

      • profile image

        Vikchik 

        23 months ago

        My maternal grandfather is 1st generation American & was also born in Scotland in 1908 or 1909 I forget - they escaped war & it is still a family argument whether they went with friends or family there, but surname is Kudzma... we have a large Lithuanian community here in Baltimore, MD. I have some homemade sausage & want to know the best way to cook this & what to serve with it, as most of that side of my family has passed & didn't teach us enough of their ways unfortunately...

      • profile image

        tom 

        2 years ago

        i look up pink and John c. Reilly on a website and it didnt say they were born in Lithuania

      • profile image

        juozas milavickas 

        3 years ago

        3 stooges were Litvaks

      • profile image

        penta 

        3 years ago

        Jonas Mekas !

      • profile image

        Arūnas 

        3 years ago

        Valdas Adamkus

      • profile image

        Arūnas 

        3 years ago

        Ruta Gedmintas did anyone menshioned her?

      • profile image

        Jurga 

        3 years ago

        Great British actor Sir John Gielgud was of Lithuanian descent!

      • profile image

        povilas 

        3 years ago

        Michael Gira vocalst of Swans.

        Natas Kaupas most famous scateboardust.

        But Im agree that hey dont care what they parents grandparents was from Lithuania.uk proud of Zemaitis guitars wish he was lived in Lithuania:)

      • profile image

        Creebhills 

        3 years ago

        wow this article is rich in quality information and i really like the actors talked abut here too.

        http://www.creebhills.com/

      • profile image

        zzz 

        3 years ago

        a more comprehensive list already is on wikipedia

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanian_American

      • profile image

        JP 

        3 years ago

        Johny Unitas - Jonas Jonaitis

      • profile image

        Mary 

        3 years ago

        Thank you for this information, fascinating, my grandparents were born in Lithuania migrated to Scotland, named Pazikas and Pridodkute ..... so I am reading up on Lithuania and it's people.

      • profile image

        Mozeika 

        3 years ago

        Dickbutkus.jpg

        Dick Butkus in 1984

        No. 51

        Position: Middle Linebacker

        Personal information

        Date of birth: December 9, 1942 (age 72)

        Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois

        Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)

        Weight: 245 lb (111 kg)

        Career information

        High school: Chicago (IL) Vocational

        College: Illinois

        NFL draft: 1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3

        AFL draft: 1965 / Round: 2 / Pick: 9

        Career history

        Chicago Bears (1965–1973)

        Career highlights and awards

        8× Pro Bowl selection (1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972)

        6× First Team All-Pro selection (1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972)

        2× Second Team All-Pro selection (1966, 1971)

        2x NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970)

        NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team

        NFL 1960s All-Decade Team

        NFL 1970s All-Decade Team

        Chicago Bears #51 retired

        Illinois Fighting Illini #50 retired

        College Football Hall of Fame inductee (1978)

        Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (1979)

        Rated #10 NFL Player of all-time by NFL.com

        Career NFL statistics

        Tackles: 1,020

        Interceptions: 23

        Fumble Recoveries: 27

        Stats at NFL.com

        Pro Football Hall of Fame

        College Football Hall of Fame

        Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus (born December 9, 1942) is a former American football linebacker who played for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He was drafted in 1965 and he is also widely regarded as one of the best and most durable linebackers of all time. Butkus started as a football player for the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears. He became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He played nine seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Billed at 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m), 245 lb (111 kg), he was one of the most feared and intimidating linebackers of his time, being named the most feared tackler of all time by NFL.com in 2009.[1]

      • profile image

        bubu 

        3 years ago

        If Sean Penn would not be democrats butt kisser,I'd probably like him. But as they say: It is much easier to flow with the stream,then swimming against it......

      • profile image

        Dia 

        3 years ago

        This list should not count Lithuanian Jews because Jewish people are their own cohesive racial group who do not look like Lithuanians

      • profile image

        Ieva 

        3 years ago

        Jason Sudeikis not lithuanian :) He got this surname from his father which was mixed too. So its far away.. :)

      • profile image

        Nicole Prashuk 

        3 years ago

        I'm Lithuanian, my

        Grandfather was first generation American.. Lithuanian from my fathers side and proud.. I am big into my family tree and am in touch with relatives there.. Lugan proud!! All the way!!

      • profile image

        Jazz 

        3 years ago

        How about Comrade V.I Lenin?

      • profile image

        dainius 

        4 years ago

        How about Jason Sudeikis? Come on now:)

      • profile image

        Eimantas 

        4 years ago

        Rod Hot Chille Peppers - WTF ?

      • profile image

        bluesky dvaras 

        4 years ago

        John Wayne -Vainius

      • profile image

        Karlis 

        4 years ago

        Hi I'm Latvian you Lithuanians are/have really made it. Hang on I'm gonna write more this is just a test.

      • profile image

        thesame 

        5 years ago

        Well,as i understand they all HALF lithuanians, but born in australia, U.S. or elsewhere. Most haven't visited Lt and Im pretty sure, most dont care where they parent from as a country, they just know it as a fact n that's it.

        n its not about successful emigrants of Lithuania, its about they parents/grandparents, who moved somewhere else, found a lover n rised a successful child.

        Anyways, i found it informative, cheers :)

      • profile image

        dfhdf 

        5 years ago

        None of these people are Lithuanian, most of them never visited it, nor will they. They don't care that their grand-grand-grandfather was from Lithuania. I'm Lithuanian, but articles like these just make me angry, why pin these famous people to Lithuania just because of their long-forgotten and ignored ancestry? They have nothing to do with our country, this just makes us look desperate. "Successful Migrants" - more like "Look, we're kinda significant! Bob Dylan is slightly related to our country!".

      • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Jay 

        5 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for stopping by FlourishAnyway, yes he is an incredibly talented actor. Cheers, Mel

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 years ago from USA

        In my book, there is no better actor than Sean Penn! He is stellar.

      • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Jay 

        5 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for the info everyone - amazing how such a small population base has filtered through!

      • profile image

        Carol 

        5 years ago

        Actress, director, and choreographer Gates McFadden is half Lithuanian. Her mother, now deceased, was Lithuanian.

      • profile image

        Valdas 

        6 years ago

        Tony Kiedis RHCP, Tony Zemaitis, Zemaitis Guitars, Phill Rudd AC/DC drummer.

      • profile image

        Arunas Kulikauskas 

        6 years ago

        Ruta Lee

      • profile image

        VJ 

        6 years ago

        Vitas Gerulaitis

      • profile image

        J.A. 

        6 years ago

        You forgot Jason Sudeikis. :)

      • profile image

        ed abderholden 

        6 years ago

        Is Keith Urban Lithuanian ? Know he was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia--but had a dentist by the surname of Urban who was Lithuanian. I am 2/3rds Lugan--only last name is Swiss.

      • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Jay 

        6 years ago from Australia

        Thanks gryphin423, I wonder if your mum come to be where she is because of post-WW2 migration? That is how most of the Australian Lithuanians came here. There is a small but vibrant Lithuanian population in Australia, mainly in the bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Most of the migration was after the world wars last century. I understand that many post-war migrants came here instead of the States because often the waiting lists to get on a boat to the States was much longer than the list to come here, even though the distance is much greater. Looking forward to checking out your hubs, Cheers Mel

      • gryphin423 profile image

        gryphin423 

        6 years ago from Florida

        My mother is Lithuanian, this was an interesting article, thanks for sharing!

      • gryphin423 profile image

        gryphin423 

        6 years ago from Florida

        My mother is Lithuanian, this was an interesting article, thanks for sharing!

      • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Jay 

        7 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for the comment nebraska66 - glad you liked it, Cheers, Mel

      • nebraska66 profile image

        nebraska66 

        7 years ago from Grand Island, Nebraska USA

        Many actors I like very much are listed in this article. I found this very informative.

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