Steven Frederic Seagal was born on April 10, 1952, in Lansing, Michigan, USA to Samuel Seagal and Patricia. His mother was a medical technician and his father was a high school teacher. He is of Jewish-Russian origin from his father’s side and English, German and Dutch ancestry from his mother’s side. His paternal grandparents were Russian-Jewish immigrants and his mother had English, German and distant Irish and Dutch ancestry.
His family shifted to Fullerton where he studied at Buena Park High School in Buena Park. He landed a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant named The Wagon Wheel. Since he was extremely swift on his feet, the cook, who was a Japanese Shotokan Karate expert, observed him and decided to give him some training on the basics of Karate.
When he was 5 years old, he moved with his parents to Fullerton, California. Seagal was frail and suffered from asthma. He was a puny kid back then. The enigmatic Seagal commenced his martial arts training at the age of 7 under the tutelage of well-known karate instructor and author Fumio Demura and in the 1960s, commenced his Aikido training in Orange County, California, under the instruction of Harry Ishisaka.
During his late teens, he moved to Japan with his father who was visiting the country for military reasons and decided to stay in Japan permanently. Seagal received his 1st dan accreditation in 1974 after he had moved to Japan to further his martial arts training. After spending many years there honing his skills, he achieved the ranking of a 7th dan in the Japanese martial art Aikido and was instructing wealthy clients in Los Angeles when he came to the attention of Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz.
Ovitz saw star value in the imposing looking Seagal. The high octane action movie genre was in full swing in the late 1980s. And Seagal’s debut movie, Above the Law, was widely received by action fans and actually received some complimentary critical reviews. He followed up Above the Law with another slam bang thriller Hard to Kill (1990) as a cop shot in an ambush by the mob who revives from a coma to take his revenge. The movie also starred Seagal’s wife at the time. Kelly LeBrock who was married to him from 1987 to 1996 and is the mother of 3 of his children.
His next outing was battling voodoo using Jamaican drug posses in the hyper violent Marked for Death (1990) before returning to fight psychotic mob gangster William Forsythe in the even more punishing Out for Justice 1991.
Seagal was by now enormously popular and his next movie the big budgeted Under Siege (1992), set aboard the battleship USS Missouri and also starring Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey, was arguably his best film to date, impressing both fans and critics alike. Seagal’s fighting style was rather different from that of other on-screen martial arts dynamos such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who were predominantly fighters from striking arts backgrounds such as Karate or Tang Soo Do. However, Aikido is built around using an opponent’s inertia and body weight to employ various locks, chokes and holds that incapacitate him.
Seagal carries himself differently too and often appears wearing Italian designer clothes and usually favors an all-black outfit, generally with a three-quarter length coat with elaborate trim. Additionally, Seagal’s on-screen characters were often seemingly benign or timid individuals. However, when the going gets rough, they reveal themselves to be deadly ex CIA operatives or retired special forces soldiers capable of enormous destruction.
As his box office drawing power grew, Seagal began to infuse his film projects with his personal and spiritual beliefs, especially concerning the abuse of the environment. He appeared as an oil fire expert who turns against his corrupt CEO played by Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground (1994) to save the eskimo population from an oil disaster. In Fire Down Below (1997), he plays an environmental agency troubleshooter investigating the dumping of toxic waste in Kentucky coal mines. And in the slow moving The Patriot (1998), he plays a medical specialist trying to stop a lethal virus unleashed by an extremist group. Action fans struggled to come to terms with social messaging being built into bone-crunching fight films. However, Seagal’s box office cloud remained fairly strong and more traditional chop socky projects followed with the buddy cop film The Glimmer Man (1996). Then, almost a cameo role as a Navy SEAL alongside CIA analyst Kurt Russell before Seagal is sucked out of a jet at 35,000 feet in Executive Decision (1996).
In 1999, Seagal took a different turn in his film projects with the surprising genteel Prince of Central Park (2000) about a child living inside NYC’s most famous park. He returned to more familiar territory with further high voltage guns blazing action in Exit Wounds (2001), Half Past Dead (2002), Out For A Kill (2003), and Belly of the Beast (2003).
Unbeknownst to many, in 1997, Seagal publicly announced that one of his Buddhist teachers, his holiness Penor Rinpoche, had accorded Seagal as a tulku, the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama. This initial announcement was met with some disbelief until Penor Rinpoche himself gave a confirmation statement on Seagal’s new title. Seagal has repeatedly discussed his involvement in Buddhism and how he devotes many hours studying and meditating on this ancient Eastern religion.
While his box office appeal has somewhat declined from his halcyon blockbusters of the mid-90s, Seagal still has a very loyal fan base in the action movie genre and continues to remain a highly bankable star.
While in Japan, Seagal married his first wife, Miyako Fujitani, the daughter of an Aikido instructor. With Fujitani, he had a son, actor and model Kentaro Seagal and a daughter, writer and actress Ayako Fujitani. Seagal left Miyako to move back to the United States. During this time, he met actress and model Kelly LeBrock with whom he began an affair that led to Fujitani granting him a divorce. Seagal was briefly married to actress Adrienne La Russa in 1984 but that marriage was annulled the same year over concerns that his divorce had not yet been finalized.
LeBrock gave birth to Seagal’s daughter Annaliza in early 1987. Seagal and LeBrock married in September, 1987, and their son Dominic was born in June, 1990. Their daughter, Arissa, was born in 1993. The following year, LeBrock filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences.
Seagal is married to Mongolian Erdenetuya Batsukh, better known as Elle. They have one son together, Kunzang. From an early age, Elle trained as a dancer at the Children’s Palace in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. After her graduation from high school and the Children’s Palace, she pursued a career as a professional dancer. She won a number of dancing contests and was considered the top female dancer in Mongolia, excelling at ballroom dancing in particular. Elle first met Seagal in 2001 when she worked as his interpreter during his visit to Mongolia.
Seagal has seven children from four relationships, two grandchildren by his eldest son, Kentaro, and one granddaughter by his daughter Ayako Fujitani. In addition to his biological offspring, Seagal is the guardian of Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, the only child of the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet. When she studied in the United States, Seagal was her minder and bodyguard.
On his feelings regarding past movies, Hollywood is a mercurial place where people are sort of a victim of their environment and how the environment changes. Movies that would be timely now, ten years from now would be passe and nobody would be interested in the subjects.
“All the movies that I have done, I have not been in control of. Sometimes there is a contractual situation where you go to the studio and they kind of tell you which ones they want you to do. Be that as it may, I have also been lucky in the sense that I have been able to make environmentally conscientious movies as well as politically conscientious movies. Above the Law (1988) was a politically conscientious movie. On Deadly Ground (1994) was environmentally conscientious. So I want to keep making movies like that which are more geared with a certain entertainment value but also bring people forward into contemplation.”
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