The Sunshine State is home to the fourth-largest economy in the United States, which makes it no shock that a significant number of famous people hail from all over the state: all the way from the panhandle to the keys. As a powerhouse for entertainment, sports, business, and more, here are 35 people you may not have been aware were from Florida.
35. Faye Dunaway
Hailing from Bascom in the Florida panhandle, Faye Dunaway has won several awards over her acting career spanning more than 50 years. She began acting on Broadway but quickly got her breakout role as the titular Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde, then starred in The Thomas Crown Affair and Network, among other notable films. Read more on Faye’s town next, Strangest Town Names in Florida »
34. Gloria Estefan
Havana-born Gloria Estefan came to Miami after the Cuban revolution, and became an integral part of the local music scene. After studying at the University of Miami and working at Miami International Airport as a translator, she met a member of the Miami Latin Boys in a church ensemble. She soon joined the band, changing the name to Miami Sound Machine. The band proceeded to sell millions of singles performing both Latin and pop music, with 1985’s Conga catapulting them to international stardom.
33. Pat Boone
Pat Boone has had a vast and diverse show business career, among the most notable being a pop singer in the 50s. He sold over 45 million records and was just behind Elvis in the charts. Born in Jacksonville, Boone spent most of his childhood in Nashville and his first performances in Centennial Park set the stage for his career. He then hosted The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom variety show.
32. Chris Núñez
Miami native Chris Núñez is a tattoo artist and entrepreneur who owned Handcrafted Tattoo and Art Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. He was a graffiti artist until his first apprenticeship at a tattoo shop as a teen. With almost 30 years in the trade, Núñez rose to stardom after being featured on Miami Ink and he is now a judge on Ink Master.
31. Sarah Paulson
The Tampa-born actress is a highly influential entertainer. Paulson spent time in both Tampa and New York as a child and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. This led to various shows on and off Broadway before landing roles in American Gothic and What Women Want before being nominated for a Golden Globe in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
30. John Young
John Young had the longest career of any astronaut to date, flying six missions in over 40 years of service to NASA. He was born in San Francisco, although his family relocated to Orlando when he was barely a year old, so he spent his formative years in Florida. He studied aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech and served in the Navy during the Korean War.
29. Carl Hiaasen
Plantation native Carl Hiaasen is a notable author who’s written more than 20 crime novels. His books take a very humorous tone and are heavily based on the political corruption he observed in Florida over the years. Before he wrote novels, Hiaasen was also a long-running Miami Herald columnist and he got his start at the University of Florida writing for The Independent Florida Alligator.
28. Amanda Bearse
Best known for playing Marcy D’Arcy on Married…with Children, Amanda Bearse has had an interesting career on both sides of the camera. Hailing from Winter Park in Orange County, Bearse’s acting career took off when she landed a role on All My Children and various B-movies before her breakout role. Bearse is also a notable LGBTQ icon who came out at the show’s height.
27. Sara Blakely
Sara Blakely is an influential entrepreneur and billionaire who stood down numerous challenges. Born and raised in Clearwater, she attended Florida State University and was going to follow in her parents’ footsteps to become an attorney. But after a business machines sales job, she got fed up with the humid Florida weather and being forced to wear pantyhose to do her job although she liked the way she looked in them. This led her to found Spanx which later became a hosiery empire.
26. Roman Reigns
Born Leati Joseph Anoa’i in Pensacola, Roman Reigns is a WWE wrestler signed to their SmackDown brand. A former football player at Georgia Tech, Roman Reigns had seasonal stints with the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Edmonton Eskimos before retiring from football and moving onto Florida Championship Wrestling.
25. Carla Gugino
A prolific film and TV actress, Carla Gugino was born in Sarasota and described her upbringing as “having two childhoods” between Florida and Paradise, California upon her parents’ separation. She landed roles in TV bastions of the 80s and early ’90s like The Wonder Years, Who’s the Boss?, and Saved By the Bell predecessor Good Morning, Miss Bliss before making her film debut in Troop Beverly Hills.
24. Tom Petty
Tom Petty was a venerated and multi-talented musician and actor, and founder of the eponymous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Between his solo work, singles released with The Heartbreakers, and supergroup Traveling Wilburys, Petty was one of the best-selling artists of all time.
23. Rita Rudner
Miami-born actress and comedian Rita Rudner is a vanguard for women in stand-up comedy. She left Florida for New York to be a dancer on Broadway before she got into comedy upon noticing how few women were in the field. Rudner made her TV debut on David Letterman and she’s also dipped her toe into screenplay writing.
22. Zora Neale Hurston
Noted author and scholar Zora Neale Hurston’s most salient work is Their Eyes Were Watching God, but the influential anthropologist wrote over 50 other stories, essays, plays, and dabbled in film. While Hurston was born in Alabama, she moved to Eatonville in Orange County as a child. The town served as a setting for a majority of her work and the Zora! festival is held in Eatonville in her honor every year.
21. Brittany Snow
Tampa native Brittany Snow first rose to prominence as Susan “Daisy” Lemay on the soap opera Guiding Light at the turn of the millennium. However, the inception of her modeling and acting career began as a child model for now-defunct Miami-based department store chain Burdines. Snow then starred in Nip/Tuck, John Tucker Must Die, and Pitch Perfect as well as providing the voice for Naminé in Kingdom Hearts II.
Born Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy in Plantation outside of Miami, but best remembered by his stage name XXXTentacion, the rapper had a sadly brief career and life but left behind an enormous legacy in hip hop and lo-fi. Onfroy was a pioneer of building a music career on SoundCloud, where he began uploading tracks after his release from juvie in 2013.
19. Delta Burke
An Orlando native and former Miss Florida pageant winner, Delta Burke got her start on the set of Bozo the Clown which ABC filmed in Orlando in the mid ’70s. She had a few other roles on CBS series before her breakout role as Suzanne Sugarbaker in Designing Women. After the show’s cancellation, Burke went on to produce and act in other sitcoms as well as Broadway.
18. Josh Gad
Born and raised in Hollywood, Josh Gad attended Nova Southeastern University in Davie then transferred to Carnegie Mellon where he earned a BFA in drama. He played a news director on the sitcom Back to You and was a correspondent on The Daily Show prior to playing Elder Cunningham on Broadway in The Book of Mormon, winning a Tony for his performance.
17. Maya Rudolph
Maya Rudolph has had a long and diverse career as an actress, singer, and comedian. As the daughter of musicians, with 80s R&B singer Teena Marie named her godmother, the Gainesville native had an early exposure to music. She kickstarted her entertainment career as one of the revolving members of former Weezer bassist’s alternative band The Rentals.
16. Aaron Carter
The younger brother of Nick Carter of Backstreet Boys fame, Aaron Carter’s journey into pop stardom began at the age of 9. Born in Tampa, Carter frequently made appearances on Nickelodeon and toured with his brother’s band, with both of them achieving platinum records. After a decade-plus hiatus, the singer released a new single in 2016 followed by his fifth studio album in 2018.
15. Carrot Top
Carrot Top got his start in stand-up comedy while attending Florida Atlantic University which led to being a continuity announcer for Cartoon Network, prior to landing other roles in shows like Space Ghost Coast to Coast and his own performances that entail a variety of props.
14. Amy Dumas
Pro wrestler Amy Dumas is better known by her ring name Lita, which was originally Angelica when she started wrestling in Mexico in the late 90s. While Dumas began her wrestling career with the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre before going independent, she hailed from Fort Lauderdale. The four-time WWE champion and hall of famer was also a roadie for various bands before forming her own punk band, The Luchagors upon retiring from wrestling.
13. Ashley Greene
An actress and model, Jacksonville native Ashley Greene became a household name among Twilight fans for the role of Alice Cullen in all five film adaptations. Greene is still friendly with her former co-stars and appeared in A Warrior’s Heart with Kellan Lutz who played Emmett in the Twilight films, along with Summer’s Blood and The Apparition.
12. Mimi Rogers
Mimi Rogers’ most prominent role was Sharon in The Rapture. The actress and professional poker player was a social worker and substance abuse counselor before she entered the entertainment industry after divorcing her first husband and subsequently heading to Los Angeles.
Grammy-winning rapper, platinum record producer, and founder of Nappy Boy Entertainment, Tallahassee-born T-Pain is best known for pioneering the usage of autotune in his songs. He has collaborated with many rap and hip hop luminaries like Lil Wayne, Akon, Rick Ross, and others with his 2007 album Epiphany becoming a chart topper in the US.
10. Bella Thorne
Bella Thorne began an acting career as a child to support her family after the death of her father. A role in HBO’s Big Love was the major breakout for her acting career as well as Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up where the character CeCe Jones is an ambitious dancer despite her dyslexia, mirroring Thorne’s own struggles with the disorder.
9. Debbie Harry
Many people associate Debbie “Blondie” Harry with the punk and new wave scenes in New York and London, but she was actually born Angela Tremble in Miami prior to her adoptive parents relocating to New Jersey. While Harry reformed Blondie as a group in the late ’90s, she became a highly successful solo artist and Rapture is considered the first rap song to hit the top of the charts in America.
8. Sidney Poitier
Prolific veteran actor and diplomat Sidney Poitier is most well-known for late 1960s films To Sir, With Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner though his work spans several decades. The actor is of Bahamian descent and he was born in Miami due to its proximity to the Bahamas and his family there, though he moved to New York as a teenager.
7. Bob Ross
Bob Vila isn’t the only Floridian who had an enduring TV presence: the late Bob Ross was from Daytona Beach and his serene instructional show on PBS about painting happy trees still has adoring fans to this day. Ross developed his soft-spoken persona and an affinity for painting after his military service and became dedicated to teaching others the craft. Ross passed away in 1995, but his instructional videos have found new audiences on Twitter and YouTube.
6. Bob Vila
Prior to the deluge of reality TV shows and HGTV offerings about house-flipping and renovations, Bob Vila was the original vanguard of TV handymen: the star and entrepreneur actually grew up in a house in Miami that his father built by hand. Vila attended University of Florida, majoring in journalism, prior to being hired as a host for This Old House. The show ran for 10 years and gave way to spokesman and licensing deals with Sears and Home Shopping Network.
5. Janet Reno
Former Attorney General Janet Reno was the first woman to serve this role, and she served the entirety of President Bill Clinton’s term from 1993 to 2001. Reno was born in Miami and worked in two law firms in the city prior to taking a position with the state attorney’s office. However, most people are unaware Reno was also the first woman to serve as a state attorney in Florida. She was elected four times, serving Miami-Dade County for 15 years.
4. Stephen Root
You may know Sarasota-born Stephen Root best as Milton mumbling about setting the building on fire after getting his stapler back in Office Space or good-hearted but unlucky Army barber Bill Dauterive on King of the Hill. Root’s career as a character spans three decades and several iconic roles, and he embarked on this path with the University of Florida’s acting program after graduating high school in Vero Beach.
3. Eva Mendes
Miami native Eva Mendes got her start in horror B-movies that typically end up on Rifftrax, before her breakout roles in Training Day and 2 Fast 2 Furious. The actress has also done a significant amount of work as a spokesmodel, working with brands like Revlon, Pantene, Thierry Mugler, and more.
2. Wesley Snipes
Wesley Snipes has had a prolific film career both in front of and behind the camera in addition to training in martial arts for over four decades. Snipes grew up in The Bronx, but was born in Orlando then graduated from high school there. He’s most well-known for New Jack City and the Blade trilogy, as well as a multi-million dollar brush with the IRS that resulted in serving time.
1. Ariana Grande
The multi-platinum singer and actress hails from Boca Raton and is best known for pioneering music streaming and making the most out of a huge social media following. Grande got her start in entertainment as Cat Valentine with the Nickelodeon series Victorious and the spin-off series Sam & Cat, but it was shooting covers of Adele, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and other singers and uploading them to YouTube that ultimately skyrocketed her music career.