Successful Migrants: Famous Lithuanian Americans
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
- Sean Penn, Actor
- Charles Bronson, Actor
- Bob Dylan, Musician
- John C. Reilly, Actor
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
© 2011 Mel Jay