Famous Lithuanian Americans - Successful Migrants

Actor/Director/ Social Activist Sean Penn

Sean Penn at the premier for Milk at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, October 2008.
Sean Penn at the premier for Milk at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, October 2008. | Source

Like my home, Australia, The United States could never have succeeded as a nation without a healthy migration program. People suffering persecution, plague, famine, war or insurrection have always dreamed of going to a better place, often America. Some of the people lucky enough to have made it to America were of Lithuanian origin. I have been researching and writing about what happened in Lithuania in the last century including World War II (Lithuanian Diaspora - A Brief History of WWII Lithuanian Displaced Persons and The Lithuanian Holocaust - The Extermination of the Jewish Population of Lithuania). Examples of successful migration defray the horror and unspeakable devastation visited upon Lithuania and its population last century.

The lives of these successful people show that the dream of a better life is possible, if not for migrants, then for their children or grandchildren. Sometimes success can spring out of the great misfortunes that cripple nations. If conditions in Lithuania had not been so been so devastating, migration would not have have occurred, and these people, if they had been born in Lithuania may not have even survived, let only been able to fulfil their life's ambitions.

Sean Penn - Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking

Superbly adapted and directed by Tim Robbins from the nonfiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, this spiritually enlightened drama is too intelligent to traffic in polemics or self-righteous pontifications against the death penalty. But in examining the issue of capital punishment from a humanitarian perspective, the film urges thoughtful reflection on the justifications for legally ending a human life.


Famous Actor Sean Penn

Famous Lithuanian American actor Sean Penn, s successful, if controversial, performer specialising in intense roles. Never one to shy away from difficult or emotive roles, he has played a murdering racist rapist (Dead Man Walking), a gay activist (Milk), a presidential assassin (The Assassination of Richard Nixon) and an intellectually handicapped father (I am Sam) among other roles. Penn has been nominated for an Oscar for best actor five times and won the award twice.

Penn was born in Las Angeles on 17 August 1960. His paternal grandparents were Jewish Lithuanians. His mother is of Irish/Italian Catholic descent. Penn was once married to Madonna and was charged with (and pleaded guilty to) domestic violence against her. He also served jail time for assaulting an extra. He part-owned a restaurant/bar and is also an extremely successful director and renowned social activist/philanthropist.

Sean Penn "George Bush should be in Jail"

Tough Guy Charles Bronson


Famous Lithuanian American Actor Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson is so interesting that I dedicated a hub to him alone (Charles Bronson - Famous Lithuanian American). Born to a very poor Lithuanian migrant family in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, in 1921, he went on to become one of the most iconic movie stars of the 20th century. His mother was born in America to Lithuanian parents. His father, born in the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai, was a Lithuanian 'Lipka Tatar', descended from Mongolians. He was a child coal-miner, served with distinction in WWII and obtained a college degree in Art after the war. Featuring in at least 96 major films as an action hero, his estate when he died was valued at $48 million dollars.

Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin"

Young Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan Unplugged

Mtv Unplugged
Mtv Unplugged

Recorded in 1994, Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged is a brilliant, quietly impassioned performance by one of pop music's most significant figures. Fronting his empathetic five-piece band Bob himself plays frequent "rhythm leads" on his Martin. Dylan performs four of his best-known and potentially most overdone tunes in the 73-minute show; "All Along the Watchtower," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door".


Famous Lithuanian American Bob Dylan

Incredibly successful musician and artist over more than five decades, Bob Dylan is the creator of anthems for civil unrest such as "The Times They are a-Changin" and "Blowin in the Wind". He represented a force for civil agitation in the 1960s with his anti-war music and counter-culture appeal. It is difficult to accurately describe how successful Dylan has been due to his monumental influence on a multiplicity of fronts including social change, politics, music and the arts. He re-created the music conventions of his time and even went on to re-create himself as a successful artist. An extremely talented musician, he plays guitar, piano and harmonica. An active man, he has been touring consistently since 1980. He has won innumerable awards and gained world-wide recognition for his genius.

Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Dylan's father was Abram Zimmerman, who's parents were Russian Jews that emigrated as a result of anti-semitic pogroms in 1905. His maternal grandparents were Jewish Lithuanians who emigrated in 1902.

Actor John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly at Mann Village Westwood during the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival for the premiere of Ponyo in June 2009.
John C. Reilly at Mann Village Westwood during the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival for the premiere of Ponyo in June 2009. | Source

Famous Lithuanian American Actor John C. Reilly

An Irish father and a Lithuanian mother produced this loveable, homely, lumbering actor who, despite his looks, has been a film success. Growing up in Chicago, a home to large numbers of Lithuanian Americans, Reilly was the fifth of six children. He has played many characters, specialising in the "adorable schmuck". This type-casting did not stop him from crossing over into villainous characters, though. A thoroughly professional actor, he displayed his versatility with the role of the rapist soldier in "Casualties of War". He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best supporting actor.

Director/Producer/Screenwriter Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis at Tribeca Film Festival 2010
Robert Zemeckis at Tribeca Film Festival 2010 | Source

The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis

The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis
The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis

If you truly study Zemeckis you will realize that he had many commercial failures early in his career but more importantly he never gave up. Before Romancing the Stone, Zemeckis couldn't get arrested in Hollywood, afterwards, he was able to make Back to The Future. A film that you may say is dated, but is great example of the perfectly crafted script. The rest, as they say is history.


Famous Lithuanian American Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis's first success was "Back to the Future" starring Michael Fox in 1980. His talent as a director extended through to animation with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in 1988 and he won an Oscar for "Forrest Gump" in 1994. His hallmark as a director is his exemplary use of special effects. He is a pioneer in cinema of the use of technology.

Like many other Lithuanian Americans he was born in Chicago. His father was Lithuanian and his mother was Italian American. Born May 14, 1952, he developed his lifelong fascination with film from the age of eight, when he used his parents' 8mm camera to film.

Robert Zemeckis about his work



Other Famous Americans of Lithuanian Heritage

  • Pink - Performer, Musician
  • Johnny Unitas - Football Star
  • James Laurinaitis - Football Star
  • Anthony Kiedis - Rod Hot Chille Peppers Singer
  • Brandon Flowers - The Killers Singer, Songwriter, Keyboard
  • Dick Durbin - US Senator
  • Jonas Mekas - Actor
  • Ann Jillian - Actor/ Breast Cancer Activist
  • Leonard Cohen - Singer, Songwriter, Musician
  • John Candy - Actor

© 2011 Mel Jay

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Comments 38 comments

nebraska66 profile image

nebraska66 5 years ago from Grand Island, Nebraska USA

Many actors I like very much are listed in this article. I found this very informative.

Mel Jay profile image

Mel Jay 5 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks for the comment nebraska66 - glad you liked it, Cheers, Mel

gryphin423 profile image

gryphin423 5 years ago from Florida

My mother is Lithuanian, this was an interesting article, thanks for sharing!

gryphin423 profile image

gryphin423 5 years ago from Florida

My mother is Lithuanian, this was an interesting article, thanks for sharing!

Mel Jay profile image

Mel Jay 5 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks gryphin423, I wonder if your mum come to be where she is because of post-WW2 migration? That is how most of the Australian Lithuanians came here. There is a small but vibrant Lithuanian population in Australia, mainly in the bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Most of the migration was after the world wars last century. I understand that many post-war migrants came here instead of the States because often the waiting lists to get on a boat to the States was much longer than the list to come here, even though the distance is much greater. Looking forward to checking out your hubs, Cheers Mel

ed abderholden 4 years ago

Is Keith Urban Lithuanian ? Know he was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia--but had a dentist by the surname of Urban who was Lithuanian. I am 2/3rds Lugan--only last name is Swiss.

J.A. 4 years ago

You forgot Jason Sudeikis. :)

VJ 4 years ago

Vitas Gerulaitis

Arunas Kulikauskas 4 years ago

Ruta Lee

Valdas 4 years ago

Tony Kiedis RHCP, Tony Zemaitis, Zemaitis Guitars, Phill Rudd AC/DC drummer.

Carol 4 years ago

Actress, director, and choreographer Gates McFadden is half Lithuanian. Her mother, now deceased, was Lithuanian.

Mel Jay profile image

Mel Jay 4 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks for the info everyone - amazing how such a small population base has filtered through!

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

In my book, there is no better actor than Sean Penn! He is stellar.

Mel Jay profile image

Mel Jay 3 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks for stopping by FlourishAnyway, yes he is an incredibly talented actor. Cheers, Mel

dfhdf 3 years ago

None of these people are Lithuanian, most of them never visited it, nor will they. They don't care that their grand-grand-grandfather was from Lithuania. I'm Lithuanian, but articles like these just make me angry, why pin these famous people to Lithuania just because of their long-forgotten and ignored ancestry? They have nothing to do with our country, this just makes us look desperate. "Successful Migrants" - more like "Look, we're kinda significant! Bob Dylan is slightly related to our country!".

thesame 3 years ago

Well,as i understand they all HALF lithuanians, but born in australia, U.S. or elsewhere. Most haven't visited Lt and Im pretty sure, most dont care where they parent from as a country, they just know it as a fact n that's it.

n its not about successful emigrants of Lithuania, its about they parents/grandparents, who moved somewhere else, found a lover n rised a successful child.

Anyways, i found it informative, cheers :)

Karlis 3 years ago

Hi I'm Latvian you Lithuanians are/have really made it. Hang on I'm gonna write more this is just a test.

bluesky dvaras 2 years ago

John Wayne -Vainius

Eimantas 2 years ago

Rod Hot Chille Peppers - WTF ?

dainius 2 years ago

How about Jason Sudeikis? Come on now:)

Jazz 2 years ago

How about Comrade V.I Lenin?

Nicole Prashuk 2 years ago

I'm Lithuanian, my

Grandfather was first generation American.. Lithuanian from my fathers side and proud.. I am big into my family tree and am in touch with relatives there.. Lugan proud!! All the way!!

Ieva 2 years ago

Jason Sudeikis not lithuanian :) He got this surname from his father which was mixed too. So its far away.. :)

Dia 21 months ago

This list should not count Lithuanian Jews because Jewish people are their own cohesive racial group who do not look like Lithuanians

bubu 18 months ago

If Sean Penn would not be democrats butt kisser,I'd probably like him. But as they say: It is much easier to flow with the stream,then swimming against it......

Mozeika 17 months ago


Dick Butkus in 1984

No. 51

Position: Middle Linebacker

Personal information

Date of birth: December 9, 1942 (age 72)

Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois

Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)

Weight: 245 lb (111 kg)

Career information

High school: Chicago (IL) Vocational

College: Illinois

NFL draft: 1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3

AFL draft: 1965 / Round: 2 / Pick: 9

Career history

Chicago Bears (1965–1973)

Career highlights and awards

8× Pro Bowl selection (1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972)

6× First Team All-Pro selection (1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972)

2× Second Team All-Pro selection (1966, 1971)

2x NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970)

NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team

NFL 1960s All-Decade Team

NFL 1970s All-Decade Team

Chicago Bears #51 retired

Illinois Fighting Illini #50 retired

College Football Hall of Fame inductee (1978)

Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (1979)

Rated #10 NFL Player of all-time by NFL.com

Career NFL statistics

Tackles: 1,020

Interceptions: 23

Fumble Recoveries: 27

Stats at NFL.com

Pro Football Hall of Fame

College Football Hall of Fame

Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus (born December 9, 1942) is a former American football linebacker who played for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He was drafted in 1965 and he is also widely regarded as one of the best and most durable linebackers of all time. Butkus started as a football player for the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears. He became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He played nine seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Billed at 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m), 245 lb (111 kg), he was one of the most feared and intimidating linebackers of his time, being named the most feared tackler of all time by NFL.com in 2009.[1]

Mary 16 months ago

Thank you for this information, fascinating, my grandparents were born in Lithuania migrated to Scotland, named Pazikas and Pridodkute ..... so I am reading up on Lithuania and it's people.

JP 16 months ago

Johny Unitas - Jonas Jonaitis

zzz 16 months ago

a more comprehensive list already is on wikipedia


profile image

lumdyblog 16 months ago

wow this article is rich in quality information and i really like the actors talked abut here too.


povilas 16 months ago

Michael Gira vocalst of Swans.

Natas Kaupas most famous scateboardust.

But Im agree that hey dont care what they parents grandparents was from Lithuania.uk proud of Zemaitis guitars wish he was lived in Lithuania:)

Jurga 16 months ago

Great British actor Sir John Gielgud was of Lithuanian descent!

Arūnas 16 months ago

Ruta Gedmintas did anyone menshioned her?

Arūnas 16 months ago

Valdas Adamkus

penta 16 months ago

Jonas Mekas !

juozas milavickas 16 months ago

3 stooges were Litvaks

tom 5 months ago

i look up pink and John c. Reilly on a website and it didnt say they were born in Lithuania

Vikchik 2 months ago

My maternal grandfather is 1st generation American & was also born in Scotland in 1908 or 1909 I forget - they escaped war & it is still a family argument whether they went with friends or family there, but surname is Kudzma... we have a large Lithuanian community here in Baltimore, MD. I have some homemade sausage & want to know the best way to cook this & what to serve with it, as most of that side of my family has passed & didn't teach us enough of their ways unfortunately...

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