Political Performers by Lily Murphy

25 years ago this April Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs. He wasn’t the first and most certainly wont be the last in a long line of celebrities who chose to give up the day job to enter the world of politics.

Sonny Bono found difficulty with local bureaucracy when he set about trying to open a food joint in Palm Springs so he decided to run for mayor as a republican and lo and behold he got elected! He served as mayor from 1988 to 1992 before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994.

Long before Sonny Bono dived into politics, child star Shirley Temple also ran as a republican for a seat in the house of representatives. Unlike Sonny she didn’t get elected but in 1974 President Gerald Ford gave her the job of US ambassador to Ghana. Shirley Temple’s ambassador duties didn’t end there, she also served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia under President George H. Bush from 1989 to 1992.

Another old film star, but one who is still making political news, is Clint Eastwood. In 1986 Clint was elected mayor of the laid back sea side town of Carmel on the Californian coast. In his two years as mayor he successfully over saw the construction of tourist walkways along the beach and the construction of an impressive library annex for the town known for its artistic inhabitants. In recent times the man we all knew as the poncho wearing spaghetti western cowboy seems to have lost the political plot when he started talking to a chair at the Republican convention in 2012.

The Republican convention that year chose Mitt Romney as the party candidate for President but perhaps the most famous and most successful republican candidate of recent times was an actor before he became Mr. President.

Ronald Reagan initially started his political career as a democrat but somewhere in the 1950s he shifted his political views to the right when he fell for republican actress and future first lady Nancy Davis.

Another actor turned darling of the Republican party is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian bodybuilder married into America’s ultimate political family the Kennedy’s when he wed Maria Shriver the niece of JFK. Although he married into the stalwarts of the Democrat party, Schwarzenegger chose to be a Republican and in 2003 he was elected the governor of California.

Arnie may be known for his block buster action movies but Kal Penn is better known for his indie comedies of Harold and Kumar yet by 2009 he had become a familiar face within the Obama administration when he gained the job of an associate director.
Faces from the small screen have also waded their way into political life and before Jerry Springer became associated with one of America’s most absurdly trashiest show he was better known as mayor of Cincinnati. Springer, a democrat, spent the 1970s dabbling in politics, running unsuccessfully for congress but winning election to Cincinnati city council.

While Jerry Springer was spending the 70s carving out a political career, Fred Grandy was busy entertaining millions of viewers as Gopher in the TV series The Love Boat. After the show set sail into the horizon, Grandy ran for congress as a republican for Iowa in 1986. He won and served until 1995.

Another hit TV series which dominated the early 80s gave the world of politics another politician. Ben Jones, better known as Cooter from The Dukes of Hazard, served as democratic member of congress from 1989 to 1993.

While Jones was busy representing Georgia on Capital hill during the early 90s, Jesse Ventura was busy serving as a mayor in Minneapolis. The one time wrestler turned actor, turned his hand to politics when he was elected in 1990 to serve a four year term as mayor of Brooklyn Park.

Politics past and present is saturated with former stars of the big and small screen but the political world also calls out to the musical world.

In the wake of the Haitian earthquake Wyclef Jean, a native of the Caribbean island, decided to run for the presidency but he wasn’t taken serious enough to be a real contender and eventually withdrew from the race.

Someone who didn’t seek the role of a president but ended up working for one was Condoleezza Rice. The former secretary of state under George W. Bush is an accomplished pianist and performed with the Denver symphony orchestra.

Classical music is most certainly one musical trend that wont be associated with Krist Novoselic, the bass player with Nirvana. As the throbbing sound of grunge died out in the mid 90s Novoselic started playing politics and founded JAMPAC, Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee, in 1995. The group was founded in response to a law which Washington state wanted to introduce in order to curb the amount of music albums that could be sold to teenagers. Novoselic has also campaigned for electoral reform and has been on the board of FairVote since 2008.

Before there was the heavy sound of grunge there was the punching sound of punk and The Dead Kennedys were one of the many bands to carry that style of music in the 1970s. In 1979 lead singer Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco but was unsuccessful. Fast forward to 2000 and Biafra hoped for a nomination from the Green party to become their candidate in the presidential election but lost out to Ralph Nader, whom he then strongly supported.

While some musicians tend to separate music and politics Robert Byrd released an album while still serving as a senator. ‘U.S Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler’ showed the democrat from West Virginia as a renowned fiddler who was a familiar sound on the Grand Ole Opry along with being the longest serving senator in history, dying in office at the age of 92 in 2011.

Actors and musicians ply their trade on stages big and small in front of an audience sparse or dense and politics is just another extension to that world. The gravitation from one profession to another, such as acting to politics or music to politics just shows that politics is not that far removed from acting or music, the two professions both command a large degree of respect. An actor or musician wants the admiration of an audience as does a politician and as long as that concept remains the same then we can expect many more celebrities to enter politics. Who knows, we may even be seeing a certain Mr. Clooney take up residency in the White House some years from now.


Lily Murphy is 24 years old and comes from Cork city, Ireland. She graduated last year from University College Cork with a B.A in history and politics. She can be reached at Lilymurphycork@gmail.com