With 142 leading parts, John Wayne holds the record for the actor with the most lead roles. He played the lead character in all but 11 of his films.
John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa in 1907. Director Raoul Walsh is credited with changing Wayne’s name from Marion Morrison to John Wayne when he cast Wayne in his first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). Thinking the name “Marion” was not manly enough for a Western hero, Walsh suggested John Wayne after Revolutionary War general “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and the name stuck.
In 1925, Wayne earned a scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California, where he lined up as a tackle. Wayne thrived academically as well, and was an active member of his fraternity, Sigma Chi. Wayne’s football career ended when a surfing accident left him with a debilitating shoulder injury.
A staunch conservative, Wayne addressed the Republican National Convention on its opening day in August 1968. He was also a member of the right-wing, anti-communist John Birch Society.
On the 100th anniversary of Wayne’s birth, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially declared May 27, 2007 as “John Wayne Day” in California. Schwarzenegger has cited the iconic actor as one of his childhood role models.
Wayne’s status as an American icon was officially recognized by the U.S. government when he was honored with two prestigious awards, the Congressional Medal (in 1979) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously, in 1980). With this, Wayne received the two highest civilian decorations awarded by Congress.
Wayne’s endurng nickname, “Duke,” came from his childhood Airedale dog of the same name.
Between takes on the movie set, Wayne enjoyed playing chess, bridge and poker—three of his favorite leisure activities.
In 1973, Wayne released a spoken-word album, America: Why I Love Her, a collection of patriotic essays narrated to musical accompaniment. The album became a surprise bestseller and Grammy nominee. In the wake of 9-11, the album was reissued on CD and became a bestseller all over again.
Wayne has received a shout-out in many popular songs, including Jimmy Buffet’s “Incommunicado”, Tom Lehrer’s “Send The Marines”, Ray Stevens’ “Beside Myself”, Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and Queen’s “Bicycle Race.”
A heavy smoker, Wayne went through five packs of cigarettes a day and appeared in several Camel advertisements. In 1964, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove his entire left lung, but resumed his use of tobacco products after the procedure.