What Ever Happened To?
He was first noticed by many in the 1984 hit film, The Karate Kid as bad boy karate student, Johnny Lawrence, of the Cobra Kais. Now, I'm sure most of you who are reading this have seen The Karate Kid, but it is of great interest to take you back on a jpurney through time. A journey not only through the times of two Karate Kid films, but through the life of an actor who was just so good at playing the bad kid in town, that it was hard to see him as anything but. A journey through the life of William Zabka.
William Zabka was born October 20, 1965 to Stanley and Nancy Zabka in New York City. William has two siblings: sister Judy; brother Guy. William and Guy have a share love for writing and music. They both own and operate Big Island Music, Incorporated.
In 1983 Zabka broke into acting in one episode of The Greatest American Hero. In 1984 he was casted in a CBS School Special as well as an episode of Gimme a Break. His breakout role in movies was The Karate Kid where he learned the martial art of Tang Soo Do. During the 1980s, Zabka went on to play several bully roles similar to his role in The Karate Kid.
In 1984 The Karate Kid was made. It was written by Robert Mark iKame and drected by John G. Avildsen, who also directed an underdog movie years earlier called Rocky. The Karate Kid centers around a young teenage boy from New Jersey, Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), who is forced to move to California with his mother after she gets a new job. When Daniel gets invited to a beach party, he notices Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). The two begin to talk and he teaches her a few soccer moves, until her ex-boyfriend and karate student Johnny Lawrence (WIlliam Zabka) crashes the party and gives Daniel a free beating. Now we all know the rest, pretty much Johnny and his Cobra Kai buddies Dutch, Tommy and Bobby (Chad McQueen, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison) pick on Daniel and beat on him whenever they get a chance, until Daniel is rescued by his apartment's handyman, Mr. Miyagi, who happens to know a little about karate himself. So in order to stop Daniel from getting a beating every day, and give him a chance to woo Ali. Mr. Miyagi makes an agreement with the Cobra Kai's maniacal sensei John Kreese (a great Martin Kove) to enlist Daniel into the All-Valley Karate Tournament with the agreement that the Cobra Kais do not pick on Daniel while he is training. The rest after that is history. The movie had many great lines, including the one given by Sensei Kreese when Johnny is on the verge of losing to Daniel, "Sweep The Leg."
The unusual aspect here is that you really tend to like William Zabka's Johnny. He's mean, but also self confident. He is a charmer with the ladies as well, and well liked, able to hide a mean streak he possesses. You sort of find yourself liking him over the hero, Daniel. And the best part is his karate looks legit! William came into the movie as an amateur high school wrestler, and was taught karate before the making of the film. And he did it with such finnesse, you would think he was doing it his entire life. But who is William Zabka and what has happened to him since The Karate Kid?
In 1985 Zabka starred as Greg Tolan. Greg was very similar to Johnny Lawrence; he was the school bully. The only difference is Tolan lack the karate skills that Lawrence possessed. The movie centers around a teenage girl name Terry (Joyce Hyser) who feels that she is not being taken seriously as a writer because of her gender. She enrolls into a different school as a boy to try to see if she then can be taken seriously as a writer. There she befriends, and eventually falls for, the school geek Rick Morehouse (Clayton Rohner). Then comes in Tolan. Tolan pretty much picks on Terry and Rick until the very end of the movie where our geeky hero, who Terry transforms into an ultra hip kid, stands up for himself. The movie became a cult classic, and proved that Zabka still got it as the bad boy.
In 1986, Zabka signed on as not a high school bully this time around, but a college bully. He played Chas Osbourne in Back to School. The movie is about a billionaire Thorton Mellon (Rodney Dangerfield) who decides to go to college to see his son Jason (Keith Gordon). Jason is supposed to be on the swimming team, the same team his father was on before him, but is the towel boy instead, bowing down to the wishes of the team member Chas. Once again, Zabka plays a character who picks on someone who is weaker than him and less good looking as well. But, once again like the previous films, the good guys beat out the bad because in his third consecutive movie as a bad boy, he loses his girlfriend to one of the geeks he has been picking on in the movie. This time around, he trades in his normal short blonde hair for long locks.
In 1985-1989, Zabka starred as Scott McCall in 9 episodes of the television show The Equalizer. In 1986 Zabka returned to reprise his role as Johnny in The Karate Kid Part II, where he gets brutalized by an angry Sensei Kreese for losing the championship for the Cobra Kais.
Unfortunately for William, as you get older you get out of that certain young look. He was no longer able to play the bad boy tough guy in high school and college. He started to be casted in a lot of B-movies, direct to video movies nobody ever tuned in for inluding the made for television movies Python and Python II.
Then in 2007, Zabka directed and starred in the video for the band No More Kings for their song Sweep The Leg. The story revolves around The Karate Kid. Zabka again plays who we are to believe is Johnny. He is still depressed about being beaten in the All Valley Tournament. It features cameos by The Karate Kid alumni Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison and Martin Kove in their same roles. As the song goes on, it leads Johnny to break through the roof of a bulding only to land in the All Valley Tournament decked out in his Cobra Kai uniform, with Sensei Kreese still with his arms crossed watching and fellow Cobra Kais Tommy and Bobby cheering him on. It even has Pat E. Johnson returning as the referee. And at the end, you get the much wanted cameo by Ralph Macchio. The video is hysterical, especially if you are a fan of the movies and the song is actually pretty good too.
On March 16, 2007 the video became number one on You Tube. As of May 2008, it had received 3 million views
In the 1990's-2000s Zabka too a liking in independent films whil studying to become a filmaker, a different turn for him. In 2003 Zabka got a break in independent filmaking. He wrote and produced the short film called Most. It was filmed in Czech Republic and Poland and debuted at the Sundance Film Festivel in 2003, winning numerous awards including Best Of Festival at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films.
in 2004, Zabka was nominated for an Oscar for Most in the Live Action Short Film category.
2010 was a very noticeable year for William Zabka. He had a small cameo in the hit movie Hot Tub Time Machine. It was a perfect return for him to the screen. The movie was about three friends who go back in time via a hot tub time machine. Zabka's small part is pretty funny as a hustler who bets on a football game with Robert Corddry, putting his own wife at stake.
Also in 2010, Zabka went on to direct the music video for Rascal Flatts, for their song Why Wait. The video starred David Arquette and has cameos by Carrot Top, Wayne Newton, Ron White and Penn n Teller.
In 2011, Zabka's Rascal Flatts video was Nominated for CMT Video Of The Year and Group Video of the year.
William Zabka, along with Martin Kove, attended the premier of the remake of The Karate Kid. The remake, similar but different as well, starred Wil Smith's son Jaden Smith as Dre Parker, an innter city kid who is forced to move to China where he becomes the victim to a harsh group of karate students.
William has come full circle in his career. He was a guest on Jimmy Kimmell Live where he did a satire portraying Johnny Lawrence. He has a great career going forward as a filmaker. However, and this might not be such a bad thing, he will always be remembered as Johnny Lawrence, bad boy of karate who showed no mercy.
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