William Zabka

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William Zabka
William Zabka Photo Op GalaxyCon Richmond 2019.jpg
Zabka at GalaxyCon Richmond in 2019
William Michael Zabka

(1965-10-20) October 20, 1965 (age 54)
Years active1983–present
Stacie Zabka
(m. 2008)

William Michael Zabka (born October 20, 1965), also known as Billy Zabka, is an American actor, martial artist, screenwriter, director and producer. He is best known for his roles in several iconic 1980s films, such as his role as Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid (1984) and The Karate Kid Part II (1986), and the spin-off TV series Cobra Kai (2018–present).[1] In 2004, he was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing and producing the short film Most.

Early life[edit]

Zabka was born in New York City, the son of Nancy (Heimert) Zabka, business liaison, producer, and production assistant, and Stanley William Zabka, a director, writer and composer.[2] He has a brother and a sister. His father was assistant director of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson during the first two years of Carson's tenure, and worked as production manager on a number of motion pictures, including the Chuck Norris film Forced Vengeance (1982).[3]


Zabka's breakout acting role came in his first movie, The Karate Kid (1984). He played Johnny Lawrence, the main antagonist to the title character and protagonist played by Ralph Macchio. He had no training in karate at the time but was an accomplished wrestler.[4] His participation in the film inspired him to learn the martial art of Tang Soo Do and he later earned a second degree green belt.[1]

During the 1980s, Zabka appeared in the comedy movies Just One of the Guys (1985) and Back to School (1986). Zabka also co-starred on the CBS television series The Equalizer as the son of the title character (1986–89). He also played Jack, Audrey's jock boyfriend, in National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985). He later tried to step away from playing the class bully character. He mentioned in an interview how he was sometimes hassled in public by random people because of the villainous characters he was best known for.[5][6]

During the 1990s and 2000s, he acted mostly in independent films while studying to be a filmmaker. In 2003, he wrote and produced the short film Most, shot on location in the Czech Republic and Poland. Most (aka The Bridge) had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2003 and won numerous awards at prestigious film festivals, including Best of Festival at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films in 2003. In 2004, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Most in the Live Action Short Film category.[5][6][7]

In 2007, Zabka directed and starred in a music video for the band No More Kings entitled "Sweep the Leg". The video stars Zabka as a caricature of himself, living in a trailer in the desert and obsessed with his role in The Karate Kid. The video includes cameos by several of the original Karate Kid cast members, including Martin Kove and Ralph Macchio.[8][9] In 2010, Zabka directed Rascal Flatts in their music video for the song "Why Wait" and also directed the video for their 2017 hit "Yours If You Want It." Also in 2010, Zabka made a cameo appearance in the comedy movie Hot Tub Time Machine. In 2013, Zabka, along with Macchio, guest starred in the season 8 episode of How I Met Your Mother, "The Bro Mitzvah". Zabka also appeared in several episodes of the sitcom's ninth season. Zabka also directed commercials for clients including Little Tikes and Verizon at Heresy in Venice, California.[10]

Zabka in 2015

On August 4, 2017, it was announced that Zabka would reprise his role as Johnny Lawrence in a 10-episode Karate Kid revival series for YouTube Premium titled Cobra Kai that debuted in 2018. He also co-executive produces the series with Ralph Macchio. The series is set 34 years after the events of the first film, and revolves around a down and out Johnny who, seeking to rebuild his life, reopens the Cobra Kai dojo. It reignites his rivalry with a now-successful Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), who has been struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his now-deceased mentor, Mr. Miyagi.[11][12]


Year Film Role Notes
1984 The Karate Kid Johnny Lawrence
1985 Just One of the Guys Greg Tolan
National Lampoon's European Vacation Jack
1986 Back to School Chas Osborne
The Karate Kid Part II Johnny Lawrence Brief cameo
1988 A Tiger's Tale Randy
1989 The Karate Kid Part III Johnny Lawrence Archive Footage
1991 For Parents Only Ted Alternative title: Mean Parents Suck
1992 Shootfighter: Fight to the Death Ruben Alternative title: Shootfighter
1994 Unlawful Passage Howie
1995 Shootfighter II Ruben
The Power Within Raymond Vonn Alternative title: Power Man
1997 High Voltage Bulldog
1999 Interceptors Dave Alternative titles: Interceptor Force
Predator 3: Intercepters
The Last Line of Defence
2000 Falcon Down Security Guard John
2001 Ablaze Curt Peters
Mindstorm Rojack Alternative titles: Artificial Telepathy
Project: Human Weapon
2002 Gale Force Rance
Hyper Sonic The Executive
Landspeed Bob Bailey
Dark Descent Marty (Opening credits only) Alternative title: Descent Into Darkness
Antibody Otto Emmerick
2003 Most
Alternative title: The Bridge, screenwriter & producer
2004 Roomies Slick Salesman Alternative title: Wild Roomies
2007 Smiley Face Prison guard
Cake: A Wedding Story Sam Alternative title: Cake: A Wedding Comedy
Starting from Scratch Bill Bowman
2010 Hot Tub Time Machine Rick Steelman
Mean Parents Suck Detective Ted Clement
2014 Where Hope Grows Milton Malcolm
2015 The Dog Who Saved Summer Officer Johnny
2016 The Man in the Silo Kevin
Year Title Role Notes
1983 The Greatest American Hero Clarence Mortner Jr. 1 episode
1984 Gimme a Break! Jeffery 1 episode
CBS Schoolbreak Special Rick Peterson 1 episode
1984–1985 E/R Druggie Kid/Thief 1 episode
1985–1989 The Equalizer Scott McCall 9 episodes
1996 To the Ends of Time Alexander Television movie
2000 Epoch Joe Television movie
Python Greg Larsen Television movie
2002 Python II Greg Larsen Television movie, credited as Billy Zabka
2013 Robot Chicken Johnny Lawrence, Colonel Steven Shay, Werewolf (voice) Guest, Season 6, Episode 15, "Caffeine-Induced Aneurysm"
2013–2014 How I Met Your Mother Clown/Himself Guest Star (Season 8), Recurring Role (Season 9)
2014 Psych Coach Bagg Guest (Season 8)
2015 Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street Sensei Jeff Guest, Season 2, Episode 9, "Stanley and the Tattoo of Tall Tales"
2018–present Cobra Kai Johnny Lawrence Also executive producer

Award nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Film Result
1985 Young Artist Award Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama The Karate Kid Nominated
2004 Academy Awards Best Short Film, Live Action Most (shared with Bobby Garabedian)


  1. ^ a b "Sweep the Leg! Interview with the real Johnny, William Zabka". Kung Fu Magazine. Archived from the original on November 12, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  2. ^ "William Zabka Biography (1965-)". Filmreference.com. October 20, 1965. Archived from the original on June 27, 2017. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
  3. ^ "A Little About Us..." Zabka.com. March 31, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  4. ^ O'Neal, Sean (June 8, 2010). "William Zabka". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Fretts, Bruce (March 31, 2014). "Billy Zabka on How I Met Your Mother, the Zabkatage, and Sweeping the Leg". Vulture.com. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Sellers, John (June 23, 2011). "And the Number One Dick Is...Zabka!". GQ. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  7. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (August 4, 2017). "'Karate Kid' TV Sequel, Starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, a Go at YouTube Red (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  8. ^ Frye, Cory (March 10, 2018). "Of Being and Johnny Lawrence (Sweep the Leg)". Albany Democrat-Herald. Corvallis Gazette-Times. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  9. ^ Strauss, Chris (October 9, 2014). "'Karate Kid' villain Billy Zabka is still best friends with the Cobra Kais". USA Today. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  10. ^ Weldon, Sarah (August 4, 2017). "The Karate Kid: Where Are They Now?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  11. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (August 4, 2017). "'Karate Kid' TV Sequel, Starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, a Go at YouTube Red". MSN. Microsoft. Archived from the original on March 22, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  12. ^ Topel, Fred (April 27, 2019). "'Cobra Kai' Season 2: About That 'Karate Kid' Reunion in Episode 6…". /Film. Retrieved October 21, 2019.

External links[edit]