Over the past 50 years, David Hasselhoff has followed an extraordinary and often unpredictable career trajectory. From his breakthrough role in The Young and the Restless, he went on to star in the wildly successful shows Knight Rider and Baywatch, cementing his status as a TV heartthrob — and earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as “The Most Watched Man on Television.” He even made a successful crossover into music as a German pop icon and a Broadway star and David Hasselhoff continues to make cameos in movies and TV shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Hasselhoff remains a beloved figure across generations, thanks to his larger-than-life alter ego “The Hoff” — and his refusal to take himself too seriously. But there was a time when his career almost fizzled out as quickly as it started — his first album tanked in the U.S., and Baywatch was cancelled after the first season. Find out how The Hoff overcame these obstacles as we look back at some of our favorite David Hasselhoff movies and TV shows through the years.
Early David Hasselhoff Movies and TV Shows: Theater Kid to Soap Star
Born on July 17, 1952, David Hasselhoff was first bitten by the acting bug after performing in a production of Peter Pan when he was seven years old. In high school, he sang with the choir and performed in various school plays. He went on to attend California Institute of the Arts, where he earned a degree in theater. (Paul Reubens, the late legendary comic actor who created Pee-wee Herman, was his college roommate!)
Many actors struggle for years to break into Hollywood, but one of Hasselhoff’s first roles was Dr. William “Snapper” Foster on the popular soap opera The Young and the Restless — a role he played for seven seasons, appearing in 850 episodes.
After his character was written off the show, he was offered the lead role of Michael Knight in the action series Knight Rider. Hasselhoff played an undercover cop turned vigilante crime fighter, assisted by a high-tech talking car named K.I.T.T. The popular show ran for four seasons and launched Hasselhoff into TV stardom.
How David Hasselhoff Became a Musical Icon in Germany
With his star on the rise, Hasselhoff wanted to cross over into a music career. In 1984, he made a guest appearance on the popular children’s program Kids Incorporated, singing the song “Do You Love Me.”
A year later, he released his debut album Night Rocker — but it was a flop on the United States. (Hasselhoff once joked with Hollywood Reporter that the album “sold seven copies here in America, and I bought five and my mom bought the other two.”) But in Europe, it was a different story. The album unexpectedly hit #1 on the Austrian album charts, and Hasselhoff’s music career started to pick up steam in neighboring Germany too.
His popularity in Germany reached a fever pitch in 1989, when he was invited to perform a New Year’s Eve show in Berlin. The Berlin Wall had fallen a few weeks earlier, and Hasselhoff made the bold request to perform his show at the Brandenberg Gate, a former restricted area that just reopened to the public on December 22, 1989.
Performing the song “Looking for Freedom” in a bucket crane over the crowd, Hasselhoff became a feel-good symbol of reunification for many Germans — a legacy that lives on today. There’s even a David Hasselhoff Museum in Berlin, which showcases the piano keyboard scarf he wore during the 1989 Berlin performance.
The Baywatch Era: From Failure to Global Phenomenon
Hasselhoff had another big career win in 1989 — he was offered the role of Mitch Buchannon in Baywatch, a new drama series about a team of lifeguards in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, critics panned the series, the ratings floundered, and NBC cancelled Baywatch after its first season.
But the sun-soaked drama had gained a cult following in the UK and — you guessed it — Germany. Encouraged by the show’s success overseas, the production company bought the rights to the show for syndication for only $10. Hasselhoff stayed on board and reportedly agreed to take a pay cut in exchange for a percentage of the show’s profits. His gamble paid off. Baywatch and Baywatch: Hawaii ended up running for a total of 11 seasons in 140 countries, with more than a billion weekly viewers at its peak.
David Hasselhoff Movies and TV Shows: Embracing “The Hoff”
Hasselhoff’s love for acting originally began on the stage, and that came full circle in 2000, when he landed the lead role in the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde. He went on to perform in other musical productions, including a London production of Chicago, a Las Vegas production of The Producers, and a British pantomime version of Peter Pan.
But despite these successes, David Hasselhoff’s best-known role in the 2000s has been…David Hasselhoff.
In 2005, Hasselhoff was visiting Australia when fans began referring to him as “The Hoff.” The nickname quickly evolved to become his campy, outsized alter ego — and it helped to transform him into a cult icon. The nickname even inspired the title for his 2007 autobiography, Don’t Hassel the Hoff.
Hasselhoff has appeared as hilariously exaggerated versions of himself in movies like Dodgeball, SpongeBob SquarePants, Hop, Piranha 3DD, Stretch, Ted 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more. He competed on Celebrity Fear Factor and the eleventh season of Dancing with the Stars, and appeared as a judge on the first four seasons of America’s Got Talent. He also made appearances in the third and fourth installments of the Sharknado horror-spoof franchise.
In 2017, a Baywatch movie reboot was released, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking over the role of Mitch Buchannon. Hasselhoff made a cameo as a mentor to Mitch, who also happened to be named Mitch. The movie was a flop domestically, bringing in $58 million at the box office — just shy of its $60 million production budget. But Hasselhoff’s devoted German fan base pulled through once again, and the film earned more than $175 million internationally.
Hasselhoff has had a few career missteps along the way, like his attempt to launch a social networking site called “HoffSpace,” or his A&E reality show that was cancelled after two episodes. But through it all, he’s kept his sense of humor about himself and his career. Now in his 70s he shows no signs of stepping out of the limelight anytime soon. “I just go where The Hoff goes,” he told The Guardian. “And it’s so much more fun.”
We can’t wait to see where he pops up next.
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