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Before ‘Overboard’ and ‘Backdraft,’ A Young Kurt Russell Captivated Audiences

The hunky actor earned his place in Hollywood and in our hearts well before his blockbuster films

Fans today may think of him as actress Kate Hudson’s stepdad. But Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn’s longtime partner, has had a career that spans longer than most Hollywood marriages. 

The 73-year-old dad of four was the son of an actor and a dancer who eased into the entertainment industry as a successful child star—somewhat of an oxymoron given that the careers of most child stars don’t make it past their teens. Since then, Kurt Russell’s tenure has been remarkable, from his early days as a child actor to his meteoric rise as a leading man in blockbuster movies like Backdraft, Overboard, and Tombstone

MUST-READ: Cast of the Original ‘Overboard’ Then and Now: See Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and More 

kurt russell young
Kurt Russell (1987)Aaron Rapoport / Contributor / Getty

With his ruggedness coupled with classic Old Hollywood charm, the handsome actor has captivated audiences for decades with various roles across all genres. Russell’s versatile style can range from clean-cut to rough and tumble, depending on his part. Overall, he exudes a confident and charismatic presence on screen. While he may have appeared in over 60 films, let’s also not forget he was a professional baseball player and served in the Air National Guard. 

Read on for a timeline of Kurt Russell’s early career and the roles that catapulted him to fame. 

MUST-READ: Kurt Russell Has the Same Hunky Charm He Did in the 70s and 80s — Check Out His Best Movies & TV Shows Over the Years

Kurt Russell’s early days: The 1950s and 60s 

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Kurt Russell in ‘Guns in the Heather’ (1969)United Archives / Contributor / Getty

Kurt Russell was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 17, 1951. His father, Neil (known as Bing), was a character actor, and his mother, Louise Julia, was a dancer, so naturally, the family picked up and moved to California. Neil—a former professional baseball player—went on to appear in the hit series Bonanza. 

A young Kurt Russell attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps on the baseball diamond, but just like the elder Russell, he also dabbled in acting from an early age. Russell made his acting debut at age nine in the series Sugarfoot. “I never got the chance to develop a real desire to act. I was acting by the time I was nine, so it seemed like a natural thing to do,” he once said. He also appeared in Dennis the Menace and The Dick Powell Theater

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Kurt Russell and Elvis Presley in ‘It Happened at the World’s Fair’ (1963)

In 1963, the rising star starred in the Western series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and the Elvis Presley movie It Happened at the World’s Fair that same year before signing a 10-year contract with Disney (reportedly recruited by Walt himself). Little did he know then that Elvis would play an integral part in shaping his career during those formative years. 

As the tumultuous 60s marched on, Russell enjoyed a stint as a minor-league baseball player, playing for several teams while starring in Disney movies such as Follow Me, Boys! (1966), The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and Superdad (1973). During this time, he also enrolled as an active California Air National Guard member. 

cast of 'The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band'
The cast of ‘The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band’ (1968)

In 1968, a young Russell, with his defined jawline and piercing blue eyes, first crossed paths with a charismatic young Goldie Hawn, starring in the Disney flick The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. “I didn’t really notice him, except he was a handsome, young guy. He was 16, and I’m 21 [at the time], so that would never—forget it,”  she recently shared with Conan O’Brien in a podcast interview. 

A young Kurt Russell in the 1970s 

As a new decade dawned, Russell knocked it out of the park both offscreen and onscreen, simultaneously partaking in two notable careers. His fate was decided in 1973 when he tore his rotator cuff—a career-ending injury, but for baseball, not acting. 

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Kurt Russell and Season Hubley in ‘Elvis’ (1979) Clark Productions

In the mid-to-late 1970s, he gained even more steam with two TV movies: The Deadly Tower and the biopic Elvis, whom he’d worked with early on in his career. With critical acclaim and box office success, Russell proved he was a star with staying power. Esteemed TV host Robert Osbourne even referred to Russell as the top actor of that decade

His personal life seemed to be thriving as well. The Elvis actor married co-star Season Hubley in 1979 and went on to have a son in Boston in 1980. 

A young Kurt Russell in the 1980s 

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Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn Art Zelin / Contributor / Getty

In the early 1980s, Russell’s career showed no signs of slowing down. In 1981, he starred in his first action thriller, Escape From New York, in a memorable role-playing war hero turned criminal Snake Plissken. The movie became a cult classic with fans. That was followed by 1982’s sci-fi flick The Thing and the acclaimed drama Silkwood

In 1983, Russell encountered Hawn again on the Swing Shift set. Both said they were in troubled relationships when they had lunch to discuss the movie. “We sat together. It was really great. And then when he left, because I was there with a producer and everything, he left but turned around. It was so romantic. He turned around and said across the room, ‘It’s OK if I don’t get this part, but I sure would like to see you again’… that was really interesting,” Hawn recalled on O’Brien’s podcast. 

MUST-READ: A Nostalgic Look Back at Goldie Hawn’s Iconic Style and Beauty Looks Through the Decades

man and woman posed together
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (1990)Images Press / Contributor / Getty

They did see each other again. That year, they merged their families: Russell’s son Boston and Hawn’s two kids with Bill Hudson, Oliver and Kate. Swing Shift was released in 1984, and although the film flopped, the relationship did not. 

In 1986, they welcomed son Wyatt while Russell was filming a series of crime dramas alongside several famous co-stars, including Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The couple starred together in 1987’s Overboard, in which a wealthy snob falls for a down-on-his-luck carpenter after falling off a boat and suffering amnesia, and it became an instant hit with fans. 

MUST-READ: 13 Shocking Behind-the-Scenes Facts About ‘Overboard’ 1987

Kurt Russell in the 1990s & 2000s 

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Kurt Russell and William Baldwin in ‘Backdraft’ (1991)

Ron Howard’s legendary firefighter drama Backdraft was the first in a series of hit movies for the actor in the early 1990s. Less than two years later, he memorably played Wyatt Earp in the Western Tombstone. That was followed by a sequel to 1981’s Escape from New York, which didn’t resonate with moviegoers as much as the first. 

From the 1990s to the 2000s, Russell remained a sought-after actor. He starred in films like Miracle, Poseidon, Death Proof, Deepwater Horizon, and the Fast and the Furious franchise. 

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Kurt Russell in ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ (2018)

He teamed up again with longtime partner Hawn for the Christmas Chronicles in recent years, portraying Santa Claus. The charming actor seems to have led a charmed life most could only dream of—and he makes no bones about it. 

I have a secret admiration for insurance salesmen, doormen, taxi drivers, guys working on the Alaska pipeline… many hundreds of jobs where they work. [There are] lots of jobs now in the world where we don’t work, we push a button. I don’t work. I’ve never worked. I take great pride in the fact that I played baseball, I drove race cars, I drove racing boats, I flew airplanes, and I acted. None of those things are work. Doing what you want to do that’s not work,” Russell told GQ Magazine in 2016.

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