When the child of a famous performer follows in their parent’s footsteps, some people question whether they got their break in the industry because of talent, connections, or both. The unspoken word “nepotism” may come to mind.
Some offspring of well-known celebrities are keenly conscious of the assumption, so they sidestep the whole issue by trying to make it without the help of their famous parent. They have a recognizable last name but are willing to do whatever it takes to get noticed, primarily through their own efforts.
Gary Busey’s son, Jake, is one such actor. Maybe people behind the scenes in the film world have occasionally given him preference because of who he is rather than what he can do—but overall, it’s apparent that Jake has done plenty of legwork himself.
Here’s everything we know about Jake Busey’s career in the entertainment industry.
His Famous Father Gave Him a Foot in the Door
Jake got his first role opposite Gary in Straight Time (1978). He was cast as Dr. Keyes in The Predator (2018) because Gary had played his character’s father in Predator 2. In a 2018 interview with The Santa Barbara Independent, Jake was upfront about his father’s influence in getting him the role.
“… [I]t’s really the first time I’ve done a movie that’s full-blown nepotism. It’s entirely because of my dad [Gary Busey, who starred in Predator 2]. I owe a big thanks to him and a big thanks to the writer/director, Shane Black. It’s going to be a fantastic iteration of the Predator franchise.”
Jake’s relationship with Gary, as his son and as a fellow actor, seems to have been kind of fraught. In 2015, he told Esquire that things had finally mellowed. “It’s a lot calmer now (laughs),” Jake said. “My dad is a very energetic force to be reckoned with. He has a motivation and drive that is unmatched. His enthusiasm for performance is so strong.“
Busey First Saw Career Success With Several ’90s Cult Classics
Jake found a niche for himself acting in films such as The Frighteners (1996), Contact (1997), and Starship Troopers (1997).
The Frighteners was one of Peter Jackson’s early directorial ventures. Jake played fictional serial killer Johnny Bartlett. Contact was based on a 1985 novel by Carl Sagan. In that film, Jake was a religious fanatic opposite Jodie Foster. Starship Troopers is based on a 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein and in it, Jake portrayed a soldier named Ace Levy.
While these roles did not prove to be star-making vehicles for Jake, he was working and getting seen by directors, critics, and audiences.
He Never Made It As A Leading Man
None of Jake’s movies were ever big enough to catapult him into stardom. Of course, all actors hope for a sizzling, unforgettable breakthrough that makes them bankable and buzzed-about, like Sharon Stone’s role in Basic Instinct (1992) or Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman (1990).
Jake’s professional trajectory thus far has been quite different. He did not morph into a leading man the way Gary did after starring as the titular rock ‘n’ roll icon in The Buddy Holly Story (1978), a role that earned him an Oscar nomination. Even the added advantage of Jake’s respected last name has not whisked him to the top of the heap.
Jake spoke frankly about his career in a 2014 interview with Den of Geek. At that time, he was dividing his time between being a dad, building dirt bikes, and acting. Jake’s other passions, like fatherhood, seemed to have supplanted acting as a top priority in his life at that time.
“I never really did make the leap into being a lead character on the giant movies,” Jake admitted. “I just didn’t lock into being in the right role in the right big movie, and it going huge. I did never really make the leap to hyperspace. Who’s to say that it can’t still happen. I just enjoy working, and feel fortunate to be doing the things that I am doing.”
He essentially retired at 32, “just trying to fill my days,” as he described it to The Independent.
The 2008 Recession Destroyed His Wealth
Before his early retirement, however, Jake shared that he “lost everything” because of the steep downturn in the economy. He was homeless in Los Angeles, living in a Honda Element. “My lowest point was spring 2011,” Jake said. “That was a case of beer a day, homeless, and without a penny in the bank. Then I found sobriety, and everything started changing.”
But Jake’s problems would not end. His house burned down in 2010, and he didn’t even have enough money for an apartment. He was forced to come out of retirement to rebuild his fortune with shows like From Dusk Till Dawn.
Jake Has Enjoyed A Career Resurgence In The Late 2010s And 2020s
Jake has been more fortunate in recent years. He’s back on our screens with shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., L.A.’s Finest, and Stranger Things. Nailing the Stranger Things role seemed to take Jake by surprise, he told Access Live.
“I was watching season two and I was thinking to myself, ‘I would love to be on a show like that but I’m not the kind of guy who gets that lucky.’ The next thing I know, I auditioned for them, and bam, I was on the show. I felt like I was dreaming.”
He’s consistently working on multiple projects every year.
Gary Busey’s Other Son, Luke Samson Busey, Is Also An Actor
Luke is the son of Gary’s girlfriend, Steffanie Sampson; he is Jake’s half-brother. He appeared in a short film titled Change of Heart in 2012, along with his parents. Luke gained a recurring role in Bunk’d in 2022.
The story of Jake Busey’s career proves that having a famous last name does not make someone an automatic shoo-in for stardom. All the cards have to fall the right way, such as landing the right part in the right film at the right time.
Jake seems to have taken everything that has happened to him, good and bad, in stride. He has survived major setbacks. He has also made sure that his life is full of meaningful responsibilities he loves besides acting, like being a dad. Stranger Things brought him an unexpected and welcome career rebound, however, and now everyone is eager to see what’s awaiting Jake next.