Born James George Janos on July 15, 1951, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jesse Ventura went on to find success and fame in the worlds of professional wrestling, acting, and politics.
Born James George Janos, on July 15, 1951, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, George, worked for the city of Minneapolis as a steam fitter, while his mother, Bernice, was a nurse in a local hospital. After graduating from high school in 1969, James Janos enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was accepted into the elite Navy SEALs program. In 1970, Janos completed the SEALs training program and was sent to Vietnam. During his service in Vietnam, he made over 100 parachute jumps as well as many deep-sea dives. He was honorably discharged in 1973 and settled for a brief time in California, where he joined a motorcycle gang and worked as a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones.
Janos returned to Minneapolis in 1975 and enrolled in a community college, but he dropped out after one year. During that year, he accelerated his weight training program and began to work seriously on his already large—6'4," over 200 pound-physique. A wrestling promoter spotted Janos and offered him a job wrestling in the Central States division (at that time professional wrestling in the United States was organized strictly into regions). His stage persona was the California surfer-type Jesse "the Body" Ventura—"bad guy" in big sunglasses and bright pink tights.
During Ventura's ten years on the pro wrestling circuit, he was part of the American Wrestling Association as well as the World Wrestling Federation. While he was never considered the most talented wrestler, he won fans with his charisma and his outspoken style. These qualities led to a steady gig as a color commentator for the WWF in 1985. Ventura cut back on his wrestling schedule, then quit completely in 1986 when doctors discovered he had a pulmonary embolism. His success as a commentator led to several movie roles, including a part in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator and a starring role in the B-movie Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1991).
Foray into Politics
In 1990, Ventura became upset by what he perceived to be an ineffective local government in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, where he was living with his wife, Terry, and two children, Tyrel and Jade. At Terry's urging, Ventura decided to run for mayor as an independent candidate. That November he shocked skeptics and scored an upset victory over the 18-year incumbent, becoming mayor of Brooklyn Park. Though conflict with the Democratic and Republican council members prevented Ventura from accomplishing much significant legislation, the town's crime rate dropped and citizen interest in local government grew during his four-year term.
Ventura decided not to seek reelection and instead continued his career as a commentator, this time for the WWF's rival, World Championship Wrestling. In early 1994 he sued the WWF for $2 million, claiming they were cheating him out of videocassette royalties—he won the case and was awarded more than $810,000. Ventura also continued acting, landing roles in such high profile movies as 1993's Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone, and 1997's Batman and Robin, starring George Clooney. He and his family moved from Brooklyn Park to Maple Grove, Minnesota, and Ventura began hosting several radio talk shows.
In late 1997, Ventura decided to run for governor of Minnesota as a Reform Party candidate. His unusual platform—pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun—and somewhat unorthodox background caused many observers to completely dismiss Ventura as a serious candidate. His promises to lower taxes and improve education appealed to Minnesota voters, however, and his performances in the gubernatorial debates showcased his down-to-earth style and plain-spoken, "Everyman" politics.
On November 3, 1998, Jesse "The Body" Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. As CBS news anchorman Dan Rather put it on election night: "The people of Washington could not be more surprised if Fidel Castro came loping across the midwestern prairie on the back of a hippopotamus." As the first Reform Party candidate ever elected to state or federal office, Ventura was the party's highest-ranking member, and some supporters hoped he might become its next presidential candidate. In February 2000, however, disappointed with both the party's management and Reform presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, Ventura announced he was leaving the Reform Party.
In a June 2002 interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Ventura announced that he would not seek re-election.
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