Oklahoma hasn’t exactly had a national reputation as an area known for the arts. But the number of influential actors and musicians from the state is actually very high.
Athletes, politicians and people known for other pursuits aren’t included. Those are lists for another day. And save the e-mails on Brad Pitt. He wasn’t included because he left shortly after his birth. He typically claims Missouri as his “home.”
All of that said, here’s the list of the top 10 famous Oklahomans.
1. Will Rogers
He’s immortalized in the names of so many Oklahoma locations, including OKC’s airport, and his story is a hit musical. But all that is the aftermath.
Born in 1879 somewhere in the middle of what is now Oologah Lake, Will Rogers was one of the world’s most renowned humorists. From Vaudeville and “The Follies” to film and newspaper, he was an American superstar in nearly every area of entertainment before the tragic plane ride with famed aviator Wiley Post that took his life in 1935.
2. Garth Brooks
Few would argue with the characterization of Garth Brooks as one of the most influential forces in country music. His success in the 1990’s, often crossing genres, helped country reach new levels of popularity.
Troyal Garth Brooks was born in Tulsa in 1962, grew up in Yukon and attended college at Oklahoma State in Stillwater. After living out of state for much of his early career, Brooks moved back to Oklahoma and married another country star, Trisha Yearwood.
3. Ron Howard
He gained fame on television, as “Opie” on the The Andy Griffith Show and “Richie Cunningham” on Happy Days, but he became one of Hollywood’s power players as a film director.
Born in Duncan, Oklahoma in 1954, Howard’s early directing career had commercial successes like Cocoon and Splash, but it was not met with great critical acclaim. Later pictures such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, though, have turned him into one of the elite filmmakers in Tinsel Town.
4. Chuck Norris
Born in the small, south Oklahoma town of Ryan, Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris began his rise to fame with a storied career in karate tournaments. His film career began in the 1970’s with such hits Way of the Dragon with Bruce Lee and his first starring role, Breaker! Breaker!.
After a series of hit films in the 1980’s, Norris took the lead role in television’s Walker, Texas Ranger. The series lasted 8 popular seasons on CBS and continues in repeats on syndicated television.
5. Reba McEntire
There’s no shortage of country music names from Oklahoma, but next to Garth there isn’t one bigger than Reba. With more than 20 #1 hits and millions of albums sold, McEntire is one of the most popular country stars of all time.
Hailing from McAlester, she sang at an early age. She performed the National Anthem in OKC at the 1974 National Rodeo Finals and was on her way to Nashville. Superstardom wouldn’t take long as she hit #1 the first time in 1982 with “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More.”
6. James Garner
Born James Bumgarner in Norman in 1928, Garner achieved stardom early in his career with television’s Maverick. But perhaps his greater achievement is the number of years he has worked steadily in Hollywood.
His role as “Bret Maverick” ended in 1960, and he has since appeared in dozens and dozens of movies such as The Great Escape, Murphy’s Romance and the 1994 film version of Maverick that starred Mel Gibson in the title role.
7. Gene Autry
It began in music for Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy.” After several early hits in the 1930’s, he went on to make more than 40 western films before 1940. In each, he rode his horse and sang often, becoming one of the top box office draws of the era.
Orvon Gene Autry was not born in Oklahoma but was raised in the southern towns of Achille and Ravia. He now has a town named after him just to the north of those areas.
8. Alfre Woodard
Born in Tulsa in 1953, Alfre Woodard has become one of today’s premiere television actresses. The list of her awards is extensive and includes multiple Emmy and Golden Globe wins.
From Hill Street Blues to St. Elsewhere, Woodard made her mark in series TV, but TV movies catapulted her popularity. Such films as Miss Evers Boys and Words by Heart won her great acclaim. She has also had some memorable performances in feature films such as Star Trek: First Contact and Love and Basketball.
9. Blake Edwards
Blake Edwards was born in 1922 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is best known as the director of the Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers, but he also directed a number of other popular movies such as The Party, another comedy classic with Sellers, and the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Edwards married Julie Andrews in 1969 and has directed her in several films including Victor/Victoria and 10.
10. Phil McGraw (aka Dr. Phil)
Hey, why not?
1950 Vinita saw the birth of Dr. Phil McGraw, a man that would gain national fame for his unique brand of behavioral advice on Oprah Winfrey. He would turn that fame in his own syndicated television show, Dr. Phil, which has become an incredibly popular daytime phenomenon.
McGraw originally went to the University of Tulsa on a football scholarship, but an injury turned him to the study of psychology.