Alabama has its share of hall of famers in sports, entertainment, politics and American history.
But there are some notable figures we would wager many of you didn’t even know hailed from our fair state. From superstar athletes to timeless crooners to cabinet members, here’s a reminder of some Alabamians you might not know you could have claimed all along.
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Born in Mobile, Austin is a retired United States Army four-star general who is currently serving as the 28th United States secretary of defense, the first African American person to serve in this role. He also has a master’s degree from Auburn University.
Best known for his roles as Kyle Reese in “The Terminator” (where he delivered the famous line, “Come with me if you want to live”) and Cpl. Dwayne Hicks in “Aliens,” Biehn was born in Anniston before he and his family moved to Nebraska and then Arizona where he attended high school and college. Other notable films include “Navy SEALs,” “Tombstone” and “The Rock.”
The Atlanta-born boxer Eric Esch, nicknamed “Butterbean” and famous for his shaved head and stars-and-stripes trunks, moved to Jasper at a young age. He also spent time in Addison before entering a Toughman Contest in Michigan. The heavyweight and super heavyweight fighter logged a fight record of 97-24-5, with 65 knockouts.
Nat King Cole
The talented singer and pianist was born in Montgomery and would later interpret 1940s-’50s anthems like “Unforgettable” and “Smile.” Cole famously sang “The Christmas Song,” still heralded as one of the greatest holiday songs ever recorded. Written by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé, the song was first recorded by the Nat King Cole trio in June 1946, though Cole’s 1961 version is the one you most often hear played on the radio during the Christmas season. In 2019, Montgomery celebrated Cole’s 100th birthday, during which his brother and fellow musician Freddy Cole visited the city and the house where his brother was born. A few years after Nat King Cole was born, the Cole family moved to Chicago.
READ: Alabama connections to Christmas pop culture you won’t believe
The Huntsville native attended Lee High School before later graduating from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Currently, she’s best known for playing Madison Clark on the AMC series “Fear the Walking Dead.” She’s also appeared on popular shows like “House of Cards,” “Treme” and “Deadwood.” Film roles include “The Blind Side,” “Gone Girl” and “Thank You for Smoking.”
You know him now as Baby Billy on HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” but before growing up in Georgia, Goggins was born in Birmingham. Beaming with a big smile and charisma, Waltons played former white supremacist Boyd Crowder on the FX series “Justified” and appeared in other popular shows like “The Shield” and “Vice Principals.” Goggins’ film roles include “The Apostle,” “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight.”
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Born in Selma, Hamm played for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team for 17 years. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, and she held the record for most international goals scored until 2013. She played college soccer at the University of North Carolina.
One of the greatest boxers of all time, the Atmore native reigned as undisputed champion at cruiserweight and heavyweight. “The Real Deal” is a four-time heavyweight champion (and an Olympic bronze medalist), with big wins over Buster Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.
You likely best remember Jones, a Mobile native, as an original cast member in the sketch comedy show “MADtv,” as well as spokesman for 7 Up in the Y2K era. He moved to South Carolina at a young age and later attended high school and college there. He appeared in notable films like “Office Space,” “The Replacements” and “Drumline.”
Born in Huntsville, the successful major league relief pitcher attended Lee High School where he played baseball and footballl. He played college ball at Wallace State before the Atlanta Braves selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. He has since recorded 414 saves playing for the Braves, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and his current team the Philadelphia Phillies. He was the National League saves leader four times and is a 9-time All-Star and one-time World Series champion.
One of (if not the) greatest baseball players of all time, the “Say Hey Kid” played for more than two decades for the New York/San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. Born in Westfield, Ala., he played for the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League in 1948. A 24-time All-Star and a World Series champion, Mays also won a World Series in 1954 and is a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Born in Alexander City, T.O. attended Benjamin Russell High School where he played football, baseball, basketball and track before attending University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He began his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers before stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks. The 6-time Pro Bowler and 5-time All-Pro was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
The “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star and co-creator was actually born in Japan, but he moved to Alabama at age 10. He graduated from Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery before moving to Miami where he attended New World School of the Arts. He also entered Julliard School’s Drama Divsion in 1996. Howerton would have various TV gigs like “That ‘80s Show” and “ER” before landing his career-defining work as Dennis Reynolds on “Always Sunny.” In 2023, he starred in the animated series “Velma” as well as the film “BlackBerry.”
Born in Bessemer, Gucci Mane would move to Atlanta at age 9. He has since become a major figure in hip-hop as a rapper and record executive, even helping to pioneer the subgenre of trap music. He’s released 14 studio albums including “The State vs. Radric Davis” and “Everybody Looking” and founded his own label 1017 Records.
The Jasper native and longtime character actor moved to Chicago at age 13 and later attended DePaul University. Rooker first came to prominence in the terrifying title role of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Notable film work includes “Eight Men Out,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Days of Thunder,” “JFK” and “Tombstone.” Rooker’s most popular big screen role came in 2014 when he first played Yondu Odonta in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He also earned acclaim for playing Merle Dixon, a villainous survivor on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
Roberts was born in Tuskegee and grew up in Mississippi. The Southeastern Louisiana University graduate joined ESPN as an anchor in 1990 (and would work at the company for 15 years) and began work as a reporter on “Good Morning America” in 1995. She is now the anchor of the ABC news show and earned a Peabody Award in 2012 for the coverage of her treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome.
Born in Mobile in 1906, the legendary pitcher first played pro ball for the Mobile Tigers in the 1920s. He would become one of the most successful Negro league players of all time before making his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians at age 42. Paige was 59 when he played his final big league game. He’s a two-time MLB All-Star, a 6-time Negro league All-Star, a World Series champion (1948) and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born in Montgomery, Smart grew up in Georgia and would play college ball for his beloved Bulldogs, whom he has coached the last seven seasons. He served as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama for eight seasons before taking his dream job in Athens. As UGA head coach, he’s led the program to two national championships, two SEC championships and five division titles.
Before battling Alabama in the SEC, Sumlin was born in Brewton in 1964. He would later move to Indianapolis where he played football, basketball and hockey in prep school. He played college football at Purdue and became head coach of Houston in 2008. He took the Texas A&M job in 2012 where he famously coached Johnny Manziel to a Heisman trophy win (and victory over Bama in Tuscaloosa). Sumlin is currently the associate head coach and co-offensive coordinator under Mike Locksley at Maryland.
One of the most feared pass rushers in NFL history, Ware was born in Auburn and attended Auburn High School where he played football, basketball and baseball and ran track. He attended Troy University and was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He became the all-time leader in sacks in Dallas Cowboys history and then played three seasons with the Denver Broncos, with whom he won Super Bowl 50. Ware was recently inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he sang the national anthem prior to the preseason game in Canton.