11 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were from Iowa

Ashton Kutcher

Iowa’s famous for its huge cornfields and the awesome Iowa State Fair, but did you know this state has also given us a bunch of celebrities? Yep, from actors to singers, plenty of well-known folks call it their home. Let’s check out some of the coolest famous people from Iowa!

1. Elijah Wood

Born: Cedar Rapids

Known for: Movie, television, and video game actor

Elijah Wood, who you probably know as Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings,” was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His acting journey kicked off early when he moved to Los Angeles at just eight years old.

He didn’t waste any time making a name for himself, snagging roles in movies and TV shows pretty quickly. Despite his worldwide fame, Elijah still proudly represents his Iowa roots being one of the most famous people from Iowa.

2. Michelle Monaghan

Born: Winthrop, 1976

Known for: Film and television actress

Famous for her roles in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “True Detective,” Michelle Monaghan was born in Winthrop. She finished high school at East Buchanan and then headed to Chicago to study journalism. But her heart was set on acting, so she made her way to Hollywood and carved out an impressive career.

Michelle’s work in both movies and TV has earned her a lot of praise and a solid fan base. And let’s not forget about “The Best of Me”

3. Ron Livingston

Born: Cedar Rapids, 1967

Known for: Film and television actor

Ron Livingston, who you might remember from “Office Space” and “Band of Brothers,” also calls Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his hometown. After graduating from Yale, he moved to Chicago to sharpen his acting chops.

His big break came with the cult favorite “Office Space,” which really put him on the map. Since then, Ron has wowed audiences with his versatile acting in a bunch of movies and TV shows which made him one of the most famous people from Iowa.

4. Sharon Needles

Born: Newton, 1981

Known for: Drag performer

Sharon Needles, whose real name is Aaron Coady, is a legendary drag performer who shot to fame after winning the fourth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Born in Newton, Iowa, her unique style and edgy performances quickly made her a fan favorite.

In fact, Pittsburgh loved her so much that they declared June 12 as Sharon Needles Day in 2012 to honor her contributions to the drag community. Sharon is still a big deal in the drag world, wowing audiences everywhere with her one-of-a-kind performances.

5. David Anthony Higgins

Born: Des Moines, 1961

Known for: Actor

David Anthony Higgins, the funny guy we all know from “Ellen” and “Mike & Molly,” is one of the famous people from Iowa. With his comedic chops and unmistakable voice, he’s become a beloved character actor on TV.

You’ve probably seen him in “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Big Time Rush,” and of course, “Mike & Molly.” David’s knack for bringing humor to any role has secured him a special place in the entertainment world.

6. Hailey Whitters

Born: Shueyville, 1989

Known for: Country singer-songwriter

Hailey Whitters, the Grammy-nominated country singer-songwriter from Shueyville, Iowa, has taken the country music scene by storm. With her heartfelt lyrics and soulful voice, she’s touched the hearts of many. Songs like “Everything She Ain’t” and “Ten Year Town” have really struck a chord with listeners.

She was even named New Female Artist of the Year at the ACM Awards in 2023. Hailey keeps writing and performing songs that deeply resonate with her fans.

7. Mary Beth Peil

Born: Davenport, 1940

Known for: Opera singer and stage, film, and TV actress

A Tony-nominated powerhouse, Mary Beth Peil hails from Davenport, Iowa. Her career is a fantastic mix of opera, stage, film, and TV. You’ve probably seen her in “Anastasia,” “The King and I,” “Dawson’s Creek,” or “The Good Wife.”

Mary Beth’s incredible talent and dedication have earned her tons of awards and a special place in the hearts of many fans.

8. Adam DeVine

Born: Waterloo, 1983

Known for: Film and television actor

The hilarious guy from “Workaholics,” “Pitch Perfect,” and “The Righteous Gemstones,” was born in Waterloo, Iowa. His comedic chops and high-energy performances make him a standout in both movies and TV.

Fans adore him for his work in “Workaholics” and the “Pitch Perfect” series. Adam keeps us laughing with his unique blend of humor and charisma.

9. Tom Arnold

Born: Ottumwa, 1959

Known for: Actor

Tom Arnold, the guy you know from “Roseanne” and “True Lies,” was born in Ottumwa, Iowa. He kicked off his career writing for “Roseanne” and also acted on the show. Remember his role in “True Lies”? And who could forget his time hosting “The Best Damn Sports Show Period”?

Tom’s sharp wit and versatility have made him a familiar face in Hollywood while being one of the most famous people from Iowa.

10. Hynden Walch

Born: Davenport, 1971

Known for: Voice actress

Hynden Walch, who hails from Davenport, Iowa, is a voice actress you might recognize. She’s brought to life some of our favorite animated characters like Starfire in “Teen Titans,” Princess Bubblegum in “Adventure Time,” and Penny Sanchez in “ChalkZone.”

Her unique voice and talent have made her a standout in the animation world, continuing to delight and inspire fans of all ages.

11. John Wayne

Born: Winterset, 1907

Known for: Iconic actor

“The Duke” was born Marion Robert Morrison at 224 South Second Street in Winterset, Iowa. Fun fact: he weighed in at a whopping 13 pounds when he was born! Wayne became a Hollywood legend with his tough-guy roles in classic Westerns, and his distinct voice and rugged charm won over countless fans.

His Iowa roots are a proud part of the state’s heritage, proving that big talent can come from small places.

12. Jefferson White

Born: Mount Vernon, 1987

Known for: Actor on “Yellowstone”

Jefferson White, who you might know as Jimmy Hurdstrom from “Yellowstone,” was born in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He’s had quite a career, popping up in shows like “The Twilight Zone” (2019), “The Americans,” and “House of Cards.” Jefferson’s got a real knack for acting, and his role in “Yellowstone” has earned him a lot of love and recognition.

13. Ben Silbermann

Born: Des Moines, 1982

Known for: Creator of Pinterest

Ben Silbermann hails from Des Moines, Iowa. He went to Theodore Roosevelt High School and then Yale University. In 2009, he and his team launched Pinterest, the virtual pinboard we all know and love. Thanks to his innovative vision, Pinterest became a massive hit, valued at over $20 billion. Not too shabby!

14. Nate Ruess

Born: Iowa City, 1982

Known for: Member of the band Fun

Nate Ruess, the voice behind the band Fun, was born in Iowa City, Iowa. Fun rocked the charts with hits like “We Are Young” and “Some Nights,” and even snagged a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2013.

Nate also dropped a solo album, “Grand Romantic,” in 2015, showing off his unique voice and songwriting chops. He’s definitely made his mark in the music world as one of the famous people from Iowa.

15. Danai Gurira

Born: Grinnell, 1978

Known for: Actress in “The Walking Dead” and “Black Panther”

Danai Gurira, born in Grinnell, Iowa, is a powerhouse actress and playwright. You probably know her as Michonne from “The Walking Dead” or Okoye in the Marvel movies. She’s not just an actress; she wrote the Tony-nominated play “Eclipsed,” which got rave reviews. Danai’s impressive talent and contributions to the arts have earned her a lot of respect and admiration.

16. Dave Keuning

Born: Pella, 1976

Known for: Guitarist with the rock band The Killers

Dave, the guitarist and co-founder of The Killers, was born in Pella, Iowa. The Killers shot to fame with tracks like “Mr. Brightside” and “Caution,” and Dave’s guitar work is a huge part of their sound. In 2021, he went solo with his album “A Mild Case of Everything,” showing off more of his musical skills. Dave’s influence on rock music is still going strong, and fans can’t get enough.

17. Michael Emerson

Born: Cedar Rapids, 1954

Known for: Film and television actor

This actor who you might know from “Lost,” “Arrow,” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His role as Benjamin Linus in “Lost” was a game-changer, earning him tons of praise and award nominations, including five Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Emerson has this knack for bringing complex characters to life, making him a standout in both film and TV. He’s got a loyal fan base and a lasting legacy in the entertainment world.

18. Lara Flynn Boyle

Born: Davenport, 1970

Known for: Actress in the television series “Twin Peaks”

Lara Flynn Boyle, best known as Donna Hayward from “Twin Peaks,” was born in Davenport. She’s also made waves with roles in “Men in Black II” and “The Practice,” and more recently, starred in “Death in Texas” (2020).

Boyle’s performances are always captivating, and her distinctive presence has made her a memorable figure in Hollywood. Fans of both film and TV continue to appreciate her work.

19. Fred Grandy

Born: Sioux City, 1948

Known for: Actor in “The Love Boat” and politician in the U.S. House of Representatives

Fred is known for his role as Gopher on “The Love Boat.” After his acting days, he switched gears and served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He’s also co-hosted “The Grandy and Andy Show” and stayed involved in various film and TV projects. Grandy’s career is a cool mix of entertainment and politics, showcasing his many talents and dedication to public service.

20. N.K. Jemisin

Born: Iowa City, 1972

Known for: Science fiction/fantasy author

N.K. Jemisin is an award-winning sci-fi and fantasy author and the last celebrity on our list of famous people from Iowa (for now). She’s celebrated for her groundbreaking works like “The Broken Earth Trilogy,” the “Far Sector” comic, and “The City We Became.”

Jemisin’s novels have snagged multiple Hugo Awards, and she’s been nominated for Best Novel at both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Her imaginative storytelling and richly developed worlds have earned her a top spot in contemporary literature.

Worthy Mentions

1. Herbert Hoover

Born: West Branch, 1874
Known for: Being the 31st President of the United States

Herbert’s journey from a small-town boy to the President is truly inspiring. Before his presidency, Hoover was a successful mining engineer and humanitarian.

He graduated from Stanford University and even witnessed the Boxer Rebellion in China. As President from 1929 to 1933, Hoover faced the daunting challenge of the Great Depression, shaping American policies that still resonate today.

2. Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Born: Davenport, 1880
Known for: Inventing the commercial bread-slicing machine

Otto Frederick Rohwedder revolutionized the way we consume bread. In 1928, he invented a machine that could slice and wrap loaves of bread, changing the baking industry forever. Thanks to Rohwedder, we can enjoy the convenience of pre-sliced bread, a staple in households worldwide.

3. Harry Hopkins

Born: Sioux City, 1890
Known for: Being an advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt

Harry Hopkins, a Sioux City native and definitely one of the famous people from Iowa, played a crucial role during the Great Depression and World War II. After graduating from Grinnell College in 1912, Hopkins became a key figure in implementing New Deal programs to combat the economic crisis.

His efforts continued during World War II, when he was a trusted advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, significantly influencing wartime strategies.

4. Grant Wood

Born: Anamosa, 1891
Known for: Painting “American Gothic”

Grant Wood is best known for his iconic painting “American Gothic.” This artwork, depicting a stern-looking farmer and his daughter, has become a symbol of American culture.

Wood studied art in France and Germany before gaining fame in the United States. From 1935 to 1940, he taught at the University of Iowa, leaving a lasting impact on American art.

5. W. Edwards Deming

Born: Sioux City, 1900
Known for: Pioneering statistical quality control and influencing Japanese manufacturing

W. Edwards Deming was a statistician whose methods helped Japan recover economically after World War II (talking about

famous people from Iowa, right?). Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Deming’s work in statistical analysis led to the creation of The Deming Prize, awarded to companies for excellence in quality control. His teachings revolutionized manufacturing practices worldwide, making him a key figure in modern industrial history.

6. Meredith Willson

Born: Mason City, 1902
Known for: Composing the musical “The Music Man”

Meredith Willson, from Mason City, Iowa, composed one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, “The Music Man.” This Tony Award-winning show debuted in 1957 and remains a favorite among theater enthusiasts. Willson’s catchy tunes and engaging storylines have left an indelible mark on American musical theater.

7. Leon ‘Bix’ Beiderbecke

Born: Davenport, 1903
Known for: Being a pioneering jazz musician

“Bix” was a jazz musician known for his exceptional improvisation skills. In the 1920s, he joined the Jean Goldkette group, contributing to the evolution of jazz music.

Although his life was tragically short—he died of lobar pneumonia at the age of 28—Beiderbecke’s musical legacy continues to influence jazz musicians today.

8. Mildred Day

Born: Durham, near Knoxville, 1903
Known for: Helping create Rice Krispies Treats

Mildred Day, hailing from Durham, Iowa, is credited with developing the beloved Rice Krispies Treats. Working at Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, Day concocted the recipe in 1941, combining Rice Krispies cereal with marshmallows and butter.

This simple yet delightful treat has become a favorite snack for generations of children and adults alike.

9. Mildred Wirt Benson

Born: Ladora, 1905
Known for: Writing the first 25 Nancy Drew books

Mildred Wirt Benson penned many of the original Nancy Drew mystery stories under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene.” Her work has captivated young readers for decades, making Nancy Drew an iconic character in children’s literature.

As one of the most famous people from Iowa, Benson’s storytelling prowess laid the foundation for a series that continues to inspire curiosity and adventure.

10. Donna Reed

Born: Denison, 1921
Known for: Starring in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Donna Reed, from Denison, Iowa, won the hearts of millions with her performance in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She won an Academy Award in 1954 and later starred in “The Donna Reed Show.” Reed’s charm and talent made her one of Hollywood’s most cherished actresses, leaving a lasting legacy in the entertainment industry.

In Summary

These celebrities’ journeys from Iowa to global stardom show that you can make it big no matter where you come from. Whether they’re from the fields of Shueyville or the streets of Cedar Rapids, these amazing folks prove that Iowa’s got some serious talent making waves in the entertainment world.

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