Illinois may be known as the Land of Lincoln, but the 16th president of the United States is far from the only famous fellow from the great state. Though the state, and Chicago specifically, are pretty much synonymous with superstar rapper Kanye West, there are a host of other incredibly talented celebrities who once called the Prairie State home.
The late comedian Robin Williams was born in Chicago, like so many of his fellow comedians and celebrities. When he was 16, he and his family moved to California due to his father finding a new job. Once he graduated from high school, Williams attended Claremont Men’s College, though he soon dropped out to focus on his career in acting. He then spent the next several years studying his craft at the College of Marin before earning a full scholarship to the Juilliard School. He began his career performing stand-up in San Francisco before he landed his first big gig on the hit comedy Mork & Mindy. The show catapulted Williams to fame and he spent the next few decades appearing both in TV shows and feature films. Tragically, Williams took his own life at the age of 63 in 2014, leaving the world just a little darker, and with a little less laughter, without him.
Born in Downers Grove, Illinois, Denise Richards spent most of her childhood in the state before her family moved to Oceanside, California when she was 15 years old. Once she graduated from high school, Richards put her good looks to work and embarked on a modeling career that took her around the world. Eventually, she began landing guest spots on TV shows like Saved by the Bell, Married…with Children and Doogie Howser, M.D. With Starship Troopers and Wild Things, Richards made her big break in the movie industry, which soon led to a decades long career. Most recently, she was a housewife on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, though she is not expected to join the reality show for another season.
Betty White was born in Oak Park, Illinois on January 17, 1922, though her family relocated a year later to California, eventually settling in Los Angeles. As a teen, White discovered her love of acting and after graduating from high school, she went on to model and scored several small time gigs for television and radio. In the 1970s, White joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Sue Ann Nivens. In 1985, White got the chance to play her most iconic role, Rose Nylund, in The Golden Girls. In her later years, White enjoys her reputation as one of Hollywood’s oldest and most beloved stars.
Actress, model, and radio show host Jenny McCarthy was born in a small suburb of Chicago in 1972. Her cousin, Melissa McCarthy, was also born in Illinois. After posing for Playboy while wearing her Catholic school sweater, McCarthy became a hit, winning the title Playmate of the Year along with the $10,000 prize money. She soon left Illinois to move to California, where she hosted Hot Rocks, a Playboy TV show that featured uncensored music videos. She soon ventured into other television gigs, though she continued to work with Playboy over the years as well, both as a model and in other occupations. McCarthy is currently married to Blue Bloods star Donnie Wahlberg and hosts a radio program on Sirius XM.
Glee actress Jane Lynch was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, though she was raised in Dolton. Lynch spent the first decade of her career in Chicago, where she acted in the legendary Steppenwolf Theater Company. In 1988, Lynch made her breakthrough into film with a small role in Vice Versa. She also appeared in The Fugitive alongside fellow Illinois-resident Harrison Ford. It wasn’t until she made a small appearance in Judd Apatow’s 40-Year-Old Virgin, however, that the mainstream audience began to take notice of the funny woman. One role led to another, which ultimately resulted in Lynch’s most iconic character to date, Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester.
Husband to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard is another proud son of Illinois. The Green Lantern actor was born on Scott Air Force base in St. Clair, though his family would move around the country thanks to his father’s job as an Air Force engineer. Sarsgaard expressed interest in theatrical arts as a teen and as a student at Washington University in St. Louis, he co-founded an improv troupe. One of his first standout roles came in the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask, and Sarsgaard soon followed that role with his iconic performance in Boys Don’t Cry. His penchant for villainous characters has become something of a joke, with Sarsgaard once quipping on SNL that he’s actually a nice guy despite the roles he plays.
Comedian Kathy Griffin was born in Oak Park, Illinois and was the youngest of five children. A born performer, Griffin convinced her parents to move to Los Angeles after she turned 18 in order to further her dreams of entering show business. She began her career as a standup comedian in the 1980s and as her popularity continued to grow, she began appearing in guest roles on popular TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Alongside CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Griffin hosted the network’s New Year’s Eve Broadcast from 2009 until 2017, when she came under fire for photos she posted of herself holding up a model decapitated head made to look like President Donald Trump.
Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1942. He left the state to attend Ripon College in Wisconsin where he studied philosophy. During his last quarter at the school, Ford enrolled in a drama class in order to help him overcome his shyness. The course had another effect as well, and helped convince a young Ford to try his hand at acting. Soon after graduation, Ford moved to California to pursue his dreams. Life was tough for a while, with Ford struggling to secure acting gigs, but he finally caught his first big break playing the effortlessly cool Han Solo in Star Wars. Ford’s wife, Calista Flockhart, was also born in Illinois.
Nick Offerman was born in Joliet, Illinois, though he was raised in Minooka. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. After graduation, Offerman settled in Chicago where he became involved in the local theatrical scene, which is where he first met Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler. In 2003, he married Will & Grace star Megan Mullally and a few years later was offered the chance to play the now iconic Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec. In the show, Mullally played his character’s second ex-wife, Tammy Two, during several guest appearances.
International supermodel Cindy Crawford was born in 1966 in DeKalb, Illinois. Crawford’s beauty was undeniable and as a teen, while still attending high school, she began to model locally. After graduation, where she was named her school’s Valedictorian, Crawford went on to study at Northwestern University. She only stayed at the school for one quarter, however, before deciding to focus exclusively on her modeling career. Since she was already represented by Elite Model Agency, and had been since she was 17-years-old, the move proved to be wildly beneficial. Crawford’s daughter, Kaia Gerber, has followed in her mother’s footsteps and has embarked on her own journey into the world of modeling.
Illinois, and Chicago in particular, have become known as a center of entertainment, so it’s no wonder that so many of the nation’s most epic stars were born and raised there. Perhaps there’s even more talented people who have yet to be discovered. It’s entirely likely that the next big comedian, singer, or actor will come from the Prairie State.