Gary Busey

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Gary Busey
CUN2008 Oscar party Gary Busey.jpg
Busey in 2008
William Gary Busey[1]

(1944-06-29) June 29, 1944 (age 77)
Years active1967–present
Judy Helkenberg
(m. 1968; div. 1990)

Tiani Warden
(m. 1996; div. 2001)
Partner(s)Steffanie Sampson
Children3; including Jake

William Gary Busey (/ˈbjuːsi/; born June 29, 1944)[2] is an American actor. As a character actor, he portrayed Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story (1978), for which Busey was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor.

Early life[edit]

Busey was born in Goose Creek, Texas, the son of Sadie Virginia (née Arnett), a homemaker, and Delmer Lloyd Busey, a construction design manager.[3] While he was in fourth grade, Busey moved from Goose Creek to Tulsa, where he later attended Bell Junior High School, then attended and graduated from Nathan Hale High School.[4] Busey attended Coffeyville Community College[5] before attending Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, on a football scholarship, where he became interested in acting.[6] He then transferred to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he quit school just one class short of graduation.


Early career[edit]

Gary Busey (standing), Mark Hamill and Jack Elam from The Texas Wheelers, 1974

Busey began his show business career as a drummer in The Rubber Band.[7] He appears on several Leon Russell recordings, credited as playing drums under the name "Teddy Jack Eddy"[8] a character he created when he was a cast member of a local television comedy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting[8] on station KTUL (which starred fellow Tulsan Gailard Sartain as "Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi"). For his skits on Uncanny Film Festival, Busey drew on his American Hero, belligerent, know-it-all character. When he told Gailard Sartain his character needed a name, Sartain replied, "Take three: Teddy, Jack and Eddy."[8]

He played in a band called Carp, which released one album on Epic Records in 1969.[9] Busey continued to play several small roles in both film and television during the 1970s. In 1975, as the character "Harvey Daley," he was the last person killed on the series Gunsmoke (in the third-to-last episode, No. 633 – "The Busters").[10]

Rise to prominence[edit]

Gary Busey at the premiere of A Star Is Born in 1976

In 1974, Busey made his major film debut with a supporting role in Michael Cimino's buddy action caper Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.

In 1976, he was hired by Barbra Streisand and her producer-boyfriend Jon Peters to play Bobby Ritchie, road manager to Kris Kristofferson's character in the remake film A Star is Born. On the DVD commentary of the film, Streisand says Busey was great and that she had seen him on a TV series and thought he had the right qualities to play the role.

In 1978, he starred as rock legend Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story with Sartain as The Big Bopper. For his performance, Busey received the greatest critical acclaim of his career and the movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and the National Society of Film Critics' Best Actor award for him. In the same year he also starred in the small yet acclaimed drama Straight Time and the surfing movie Big Wednesday, which is now a minor cult classic.

In the 1980s, Busey's films included the critically acclaimed western Barbarosa, the comedies D.C. Cab[11] and Insignificance, and the Stephen King adaptation Silver Bullet. He played one of the primary antagonists opposite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the action comedy Lethal Weapon.

In the 1990s, he had prominent supporting roles in successful action films such as Predator 2, Point Break and Under Siege. He also appeared in Rookie of the Year, The Firm, Black Sheep, Lost Highway, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Busey sang the song "Stay All Night" on Saturday Night Live in March 1979 (season 4, episode 14), and on the Late Show with David Letterman in the 1990s.[12]


Busey (right) in 2016 with a fan

In 2002, Busey voiced the character Phil Cassidy in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and later reprises the role in the prequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories in 2006. He received much praise from critics and fans for his portrayal of the outlandish character. In 2003, Busey starred in a Comedy Central reality show, I'm with Busey. In 2005, he also voiced himself in an episode of The Simpsons[13] and appeared in the popular miniseries Into the West. Busey controversially appeared in the 2006 Turkish nationalist film Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, (Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak, in Turkish), which was accused of fascism, anti-Americanism[14] and antisemitism.[15]

In 2005, Busey starred in the cinematic cult classic The Gingerdead Man as the titular character and crazed killer Millard Findlemeyer.

In 2007, he appeared as himself in a prominent recurring role on HBO's Entourage, in which he parodied his eccentric image, ultimately appearing on three episodes of the show.

In 2008, he joined the second season of the reality show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.[16] Busey returned to reality television in Celebrity Apprentice 4, which premiered in March 2011,[17] and appeared again in Celebrity Apprentice 6. There, he briefly reprised his role as Buddy Holly by performing "Not Fade Away".

In a series of 2010 YouTube advertisements for Vitamin Water, Busey appeared as Norman Tugwater, a lawyer who defends professional athletes' entitlements to a cut from Fantasy Football team owners.[18]

In 2014, he became a celebrity spokesperson for Amazon Fire TV. That August, he appeared in, and became the first American winner of the fourteenth series of the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother.

On September 1, 2015, it was announced that he would be competing on the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars. He was paired with professional dancer Anna Trebunskaya.[19] Busey and Trebunskaya made it to Week 4 of competition but were then eliminated and finished in 10th place.[20]

On June 17, 2019, he was announced to star as God in the Off-Broadway musical Only Human at the Theatre at St. Clements in New York.[21] The production was scheduled to begin performances on October 8, 2019, and officially on open October 21.[22] The plot of Only Human is described as follows: "Before they were enemies, they were co-workers. Jesus and Lucifer never saw eye-to-eye, but when an extreme case of creative differences gets the best of them, all hell breaks loose. Literally."[23] In a statement on playing God in the upcoming production, he said, "God is everything love is and that love becomes the beginning of blessings and miracles. Playing this role of God is easy because I'm not acting, I'm just believing."[24] In May 2020, the first season of Gary Busey Pet Judge was released in which Busey presides as a pet court show judge to help resolve problems.

Personal life[edit]

Busey in September 2007

In 1971, Busey's wife, Judy Helkenberg, gave birth to their son, William Jacob "Jake" Busey. Busey and Helkenberg divorced when Jake was 19 years old. Busey has a daughter named Alectra, born in 1994, from a relationship with stunt coordinator Tracy Hutchinson.[25]

On December 4, 1988, Busey was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in which he was not wearing a helmet. His skull was fractured, and he suffered permanent brain damage.[26]

In 1996, Busey publicly announced that he was a Christian, saying: "I am proud to tell Hollywood I am a Christian. For the first time I am now free to be myself."[27][28] Busey cites the motorcycle accident, as well as a 1995 cocaine overdose,[29] as events that strengthened his religious faith. Also in 1996, he married actress Tiani Warden, who was in three movies with Gary – The Chain, The Rage, and Plato's Run. They divorced in 2001.

In 1997, Busey underwent successful surgery to remove a cancerous, plum-sized tumor from his sinus cavity. The growth was found after Busey began suffering nose bleeds.[30]

During the filming of the second season of Celebrity Rehab in 2008, Busey was referred to psychiatrist Charles Sophy. Sophy suspected that Busey's brain injury has had a greater effect on him than realized. He described it as essentially weakening his mental "filters" and causing him to speak and act impulsively. Sophy recommended Busey take valproic acid (Depakote), with which Busey agreed.[31]

In February 2010, Busey's fiancée, Steffanie Sampson, gave birth to their son.[32]

Busey has a pet parakeet named Pee Wee.[33]


Selected filmography[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result
1978 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor The Buddy Holly Story 3rd place
New Generation Award[citation needed] Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor 2nd place
1979 Academy Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor Won
1980 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Nominated
1987 CableACE Awards Actor in a Dramatic Series[citation needed] The Hitchhiker Won
1994 Fallen Angels Nominated


  1. ^ "William Gary Busey : Texas Birth Index". Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "Texas Births, 1926–1995". Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  3. ^ "Gary Busey Biography (1923)". Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  4. ^ Eaton, Kristin; Dean, Anna Holton (August 22, 2011). "The road to fame". Tulsa People. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  5. ^ "Coffeyville Celebrities | Coffeyville, KS – Official Website".
  6. ^ "Gary Busey". eBiog. Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2007.
  7. ^ Johnny Carson Show August 23, 1985.
  8. ^ a b c Tulsa TV, Gary Busey reference as Teddy Jack Eddy in Tulsa, Okla.
  9. ^ Carp at AllMusic.
  10. ^ "The Busters".
  11. ^ People May 15, 1989, pp. 65–68.
  12. ^ Gary Busey – Stay All Night on YouTube
  13. ^ "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister". The Simpsons. Season 16. Episode 11. June 3, 2005. Fox.
  14. ^ "Turkish rush to embrace anti-US film". BBC News. February 10, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  15. ^ "Turkish Film Uproar: Attacking the American Enemy on Screen". Der Spiegel. February 22, 2006. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  16. ^ Archive of "Celebs Check Into Rehab 2 With Dr. Drew". Archived from the original on June 13, 2008. Retrieved March 22, 2010., VH! press release, June 10, 2008.
  17. ^ Wright, Adam (November 18, 2010). "Celebrity Apprentice Season Four Cast Revealed". Archived from the original on November 29, 2010.
  18. ^ Cassens Weiss, Debra (August 30, 2010). "'Lawyer Norman Tugwater' Ready to Sue for Pro Athletes' Fantasy Rights". ABA Journal. American Bar Association.
  19. ^ "Dancing with the Stars Season 21 Cast Announcement". ABC. September 2, 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  20. ^ "'Dancing with the Stars' Recap: Most Memorable Years for the Top 10". Archived from the original on August 24, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  21. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Gary Busey to Star in Off-Broadway Musical Only Human". Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  22. ^ Evans, Greg. "Gary Busey To Play God In Off Broadway Musical 'Only Human' This Fall". Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  23. ^ BWW News Desk. "Gary Busey Is God In New Off-Broadway Musical ONLY HUMAN". Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  24. ^ Kreps, Daniel. "Gary Busey to Play the Role of God in Off-Broadway Musical". Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  25. ^ James Peragine. "First Photos: Gary Busey Introduces Son Luke". Archived from the original on August 16, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  26. ^ Moran, W. Reed (July 5, 2001). "Gary Busey ministers to brain injury community". USA Today. Retrieved August 5, 2007.
  27. ^ Cramberg, Joanne. "Tulsa's 'Bad Boy' Gary Busey Accepts Jesus". Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  28. ^ Virtue, David. "Rescued From The Present Evil Age". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  29. ^ "Gary Busey On His Life-Changing Cocaine Overdose And Motorcycle Accident (VIDEO)". HuffPost/Oprah Winfrey Network. January 21, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  30. ^ Johns, Elizabeth (May 22, 1997). "Gary Busey Heads for Cancer Surgery". E! Online. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  31. ^ "Celebrity Rehab 2 with Dr. Drew (Episode 2)". Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  32. ^ Kate Stanhope. "Gary Busey and Girlfriend Are Expecting". Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  33. ^ "Actor Gary Busey attacked by bird on Aussie TV show". NewsComAu. February 8, 2021. Retrieved March 4, 2021.

External links[edit]