Harry Connick Jr.
Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, heartthrob Harry Connick Jr. became a successful jazz musician at an early age and later moved into acting. His big musical break came with the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally. Connick has acted in several major films, as well, including Memphis Belle (1990) and Independence Day (1996). Connick began starring as a judge on American Idol in 2014 (season 13), alongside Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.
Musician Harry Connick Jr. was born Joseph Harry Fowler Connick Jr. on September 11, 1967. Connick's parents Harry and Anita were prominent New Orleans lawyers who encouraged their son's early interest in music. At the age of 5, Connick gave his first concert—a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the campaign headquarters of his father, who was running for district attorney. By age 9, the young performer had recorded his first few albums at home and joined the musicians' union. When Harry was 13, his mother died after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer, a painful time for the family.
While still in school, Connick began taking classes at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts with pianist Ellis Marsalis, father of famous jazz musicians Wynton and Branford. He also got tips from prominent pianist James Booker, a family friend who often stopped by the Connick home.
After graduating from high school, Connick spent a semester at Loyola University in New Orleans before moving to New York in January 1986. He took a few college courses and immersed himself in the music scene, playing gigs wherever he could find them.
Harry Connick Jr. got his big break in 1989: a month-long engagement at the Algonquin Hotel. The show attracted a great deal of press attention, particularly after legendary singer Tony Bennett saw a performance and proclaimed, "Connick could be the next Frank Sinatra." Connick was then approached by director Rob Reiner to record an album of bluesy standards for the soundtrack to his 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. The movie, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, became a smash hit, fueling double-platinum album sales for Connick's soundtrack, which also garnered Connick his first Grammy Award. By 1990, Connick had three albums on Billboard's pop chart.
As he continued to release bestselling album after best-selling album, Connick developed a persona in the media as something of a throwback, a modern-day heartthrob to match the romantic crooners of a bygone era. Connick's thick drawl, Southern manners (he doesn't smoke or drink) and slicked-back hair became his calling cards. Some critics insisted that his music was an inferior imitation of other, better artists.
"I've learned that people latch onto labels and stereotypes," Connick later said. "There was a period when I was asked in every single interview how I liked being the new Frank Sinatra ... I think people will soon realize that I do a lot more than interpret old songs."
Among those other talents that Connick possessed was acting. His first role was as a hard-gambling airman in the World War II bomber drama Memphis Belle (1990). Connick went on to appear in a string of successful movies, playing a serial killer in Copycat (1995), a pilot in the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day (1996) and a romantic lead opposite Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats (1998). In 2002, Connick took on a recurring role as the boyfriend and later husband of character Grace Adler in the smash sitcom Will & Grace, a gig he held through the show's finale in 2006.
When Will & Grace stopped production, Connick starred in a Broadway revival of The Pajama Game (2006), a 1950s-era musical about a labor dispute in a pajama factory.
In 2013, Connick made headlines when he agreed to join the judges' panel for the 13th season of American Idol, having already made appearances on the show as a guest mentor for contestants. He began starring on the popular singing-competition series in January 2014, working alongside fellow judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson.
Despite these successful forays onto stage and screen, Connick remained focused primarily on his music, releasing a steady stream of new albums full of jazz, funk, pop and Christmas songs. After Hurricane Katrina laid waste to his hometown in 2005, Connick returned to New Orleans and teamed up with Branford Marsalis and Habitat for Humanity to build homes and a new community center, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Connick remains one of the most outspoken celebrity voices advocating for New Orleans' reconstruction.
Connick married Jill Goodacre, a former Victoria's Secret model, in 1994. The couple has three daughters. Over the course of his career, Connick has sold more than 25 million records and appeared in nearly two dozen films. "Everything I do is part of my passion," he said, explaining his diverse talents. "I do the things I like to do. It's sort of a bigger version of having more than one hobby. I love to play piano, sing, and act. I love to do all those things."
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