Famous residents, former residents

Famous residents, former residents

By The News-Gazette

Some folks with worldwide reputations have ties to East Central Illinois ... among them TV star Dick Van Dyke, film director Ang Lee, personal finance guru Suze Orman, conservative commentator George Will, opera superstar Nathan Gunn, bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, two-time Nobel recipient John Bardeen and dog photographer William Wegman.

For details on their connections — and a supporting cast of hundreds of other luminaries with local ties — read on!


Bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss, a Champaign native, has her fingerprints on more than two dozen Grammys.

Rapper Ludacris — once known as Chris Bridges — was born in Champaign.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, a Tony and Grammy award winner, sang with the UI Jazz Band in the late ´60s and married one of its members, Champaign native and jazz trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. He and his brother, saxophonist Ron Bridgewater, a UI music professor, once played in the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.

Adrian Belew, the idol of many a rock guitarist, lived here before moving to Wisconsin.

The late Dan Fogelberg, another folk-rocker, played open-stage nights as a student here in the 1970s and wrote at least one album review for the Daily Illini.

Blues guitarist J.B. Lenoir, whose death in 1967 in Urbana was lamented by John Mayall in the songs, “I´m Gonna Fight for You, J.B.” and “Death of J.B. Lenoir,” and whose career was covered in documentaries by Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders, worked at the University of Illinois.

You might see a sign marking “REO Speedwagon Way” in downtown Champaign. The band´s two founding members, keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer, met at UI´s Illinois Street Residence Hall. Centennial High alum Bruce Hall became the band´s bass player in 1978. The band´s second album featured a photo taken at the former Vriner´s, on Main Street, er, REO Speedwagon Way.

Nathan Gunn, a baritone who performs at Chicago´s Lyric Opera, New York´s Metropolitan Opera and opera houses worldwide, makes his home base in Champaign with his wife, Julie, and their five children, and has a faculty position in the UI School of Music.

Opera stars Erie Mills and the late Jerry Hadley both graduated from the UI. Another Grammy winner, the late jazz organist Jack McDuff, grew up in Champaign-Urbana. One of his early bands included a guitarist by the name of George Benson.

Concert violinist Gil Shaham was born in Urbana and moved to Israel at the age of 7. He performs with the world´s leading orchestras and has released at least 20 CDs.

Composer Michael Masser, a UI grad, is known for many popular songs, including “The Greatest Love of All” and “Theme from Mahogany.”

The late Bobby Short, cabaret singer who wowed ´em at the Carlyle in New York for decades, grew up in Danville.

Former Wilco member Jay Bennett, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, graduated from the UI. Sometime after Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy fired him, Bennett moved to Urbana, where he died, at age 45, in 2009.

You might not have heard of trombonist Jim Pugh, but Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and countless other musicians have; you´ve probably heard Pugh´s playing on recordings and advertising jingles. Pugh was the top trombone sessions man in New York City for nearly 30 years before he took a position at the UI School of Music. He has also toured with Steely Dan.

Michael Colgrass Jr. won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for music for his symphonic piece “Deja vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. He also picked up an Emmy in 1982 for the PBS documentary “Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass.”

George Crumb received the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1968 for “Echoes of Time and the River” and a Grammy for best contemporary composition in 2001 for “Star-Child.”


Roger Ebert, arguably the most famous film critic in the world, grew up in Urbana and graduated from Urbana High and the University of Illinois. He returns here each year for his Roger Ebert´s Film Festival, a special event of the UI College of Media.

Jon Michael Hill, a 2007 UI grad, was nominated for a Tony Award this year for his performance in “Superior Donuts” and won several other awards for that role.

UI graduate Andrew Davis is best known as a director/producer of such productions as “The Fugitive,” “Under Siege” and “Collateral Damage,” earning himself seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture.

Danville was home to brothers Dick and Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke starred in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Diagnosis: Murder,” and Jerry Van Dyke is best known for his role in “Coach.”

Also considered from Danville, though he was on the vaudeville road a lot as a kid, is the late Donald O´Connor, who starred in “Singin´ in the Rain.” One of his last public appearances was at Ebert´s 2003 film festival in Champaign.

And Gene Hackman, the two-time Oscar winner, was back in hometown Danville a few years ago, signing copies of a murder mystery he co-wrote.

In show business, who needs education? Allan Sherman was kicked out of the UI but went on to a successful career as a television-game show writer and nightclub comedy star. He wrote and sang the ´60s smash “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.”

Andy Richter, Conan O´Brien’s sidekick and star of three short-lived sitcoms, also attended the UI — briefly.

The late Jerry Orbach, best known for his longtime role as police detective Lennie Briscoe on “Law & Order,” attended the UI. He also had a long career on Broadway and starred as Lumiere alongside Urbana High grad David Ogden Stiers´ Cogsworth in Disney´s “Beauty and the Beast.” Stiers also was Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III on TV´s “M*A*S*H.”

Actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who starred opposite Tom Cruise in “The Color of Money” and in “Robin Hood” and “The Abyss,” studied music at the UI.

Alan Ruck, co-star of “Ferris Bueller´s Day Off” and the TV series “Spin City,” passed through as an acting student at the UI.

Barbara Bain of TV´s “Mission: Impossible” also attended the UI, as did actress Donna Mills of “Knots Landing.”

UI graduate Michael Filerman created the TV series “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest,” and fellow alum Irna Phillips created and scripted many of the first American soap operas, including “Another World,” “As the World Turns,” “Days of Our Lives” and “Guiding Light” and the radio version of “Young Dr. Malone.”

Taiwanese-born film director Ang Lee graduated from the UI´s theater program before going on to win the best director Academy Award for “Brokeback Mountain.” His film credits include “The Hulk,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Sense and Sensibility.”

Comedian Mark Roberts graduated from Urbana High and got his start in comedy at the long-defunct Chicago Club in Campustown. He had a role in the syndicated television show “The New WKRP” but has moved on to bigger things: He´s been a producer and writer for the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men.”

Arte Johnson, nearly forgotten star of “Laugh-In,” attended the UI. “Ver-r-y interesting.”

Jennie Garth moved away from Sadorus and became snobby rich kid Kelly Taylor on the TV teenie-bopper smash “Beverly Hills 90210.” She followed that with the role of Val on “What I Like About You” on the WB network. Most recently, she kicked up her heels on ABC´s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Yvonne Suhor, a Champaign native and Central High graduate, became the Pony Express-riding cowgirl on the television series “The Young Riders.” She guest-starred on “Northern Exposure” and “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Crystal Lawes Green, who appeared in the MGM movie “A Family Thing,” got her start acting in ex-Champaign playwright Cheryl West´s plays at Parkland College.

The late Lynne Thigpen, 1997 Tony Award-winning actress for “An American Daughter,” was a UI graduate. The Joliet native was the Chief in “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and appeared in the CBS series “The District.”

Broadlands native Doug Wilson has been a host and designer on “Trading Spaces,” “Moving Up” and “America´s Ugliest Rooms” series on TLC.

Nina Paley grew up in Urbana and attended Urbana High School and the UI before becoming a syndicated cartoonist and then an award-winning maker of the animated film “Sita Sings the Blues,” part of Ebert´s 2009 film festival.

Urbana native Carl Deal Jr., a documentary filmmaker who worked with Michael Moore, now makes films with his life partner, Tia Lessin. Their Oscar-nominated “Trouble the Water” won the Sundance Film Festival best-documentary award, was shown at numerous festivals, was broadcast by HBO and shown at Ebert´s 2009 film festival in Champaign.

Paul Debevec, a Uni High School graduate, received an Oscar for technical and scientific achievement for his work in lighting technology.

Dylan Minnette, a teenager who regularly appeared on TNT’s “Saving Grace,” is a Champaign native. Another Champaign native, Mary Sohn, is a member of Second City’s e.t.c. ensemble in Chicago.

Leslie Erganian has gained fame through her contributions to many film and television projects for Warner Bros., MGM, DreamWorks, NBC, MTV and PBS as art director, set decorator and prop designer.


Larry Doyle is an author and freelance writer and is a former writer and supervising producer for “The Simpsons.”

Hugh Hefner worked at The Daily Illini while he was a student here and later donated a complete collection of his Playboy magazines to the UI library.

The late Dee Brown (not the basketball player) was a former UI librarian who wrote “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.”

Timothy Zahn, who studied physics at the UI, writes best-selling science fiction. He moved to Oregon.
Godfrey Sperling grew up in the area before becoming a Washington political columnist for the Christian Science Monitor.

Richard Powers, a UI graduate now teaching at the university, has published novels to considerable critical acclaim and won, among several awards, a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and National Book Award for his novel “The Echo Maker.”

Another UI grad, David Herbert Donald, is best known for his biography of Abraham Lincoln, but he also won Pulitzer prizes for his biographies of Charles Sumner and Thomas Wolfe.

The late Shel Silverstein, author of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Giving Tree,” attended the UI, as did Beth Henley, who won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for “Crimes of the Heart.”

Financial adviser and author Suze Orman is a UI graduate, as is Nicole Hollander, syndicated cartoonist of “Sylvia.”

Dave Eggers is a former UI student who wrote the Pulitzer-nominated book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”

The late Iris Chang, a Uni High and UI graduate, wrote “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” a widely reviewed and much-praised history of Japan´s 1937 invasion of China, and followed with “The Chinese in America: A Narrative History,” published in 2003.

Temple Grandin is a high-functioning autistic author who is also noted as a professional designer of humane livestock facilities. She received her doctorate from the UI.

The late David Foster Wallace, author of “Infinite Jest,” other novels, short stories and essays, grew up in Urbana and graduated from Urbana High School, where he was a standout tennis player.

Media types

Illinois alum Barry Bearak won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for his accounts of poverty and war in Afghanistan.

The late John Chancellor, who attended the UI in the early 1940s, became an NBC anchor and commentator.

James Clayton served as editor of the Washington Post, and fellow alum John Coleman founded the Weather Channel.

Hal Bruno, a UI grad who worked part time at The News-Gazette in 1950, went on to become an ABC news executive. Dennis Swanson, former president of ABC Sports and ABC Daytime and Children´s Programming, is also a grad.

The late James “Scotty” Reston graduated from the UI to become a New York Times political columnist. His family donated his vast collection of papers to the UI Library.

UI alumnus Robert Novak, a longtime columnist and CNN commentator whose reporting sparked the controversy over CIA operative Valerie Plame, died in 2009. Columnist Roger Simon is another UI grad.

George Will is no mere columnist. A philosopher of baseball and politics, he grew up here and was a member of the Uni cross-country team.

Bill Geist, a 1968 UI graduate, appears on “CBS Sunday Morning.” And he appeared on the stage at the Assembly Hall for the 2005 UI commencement.

Rick Kaplan, former head of CNN and president of MSNBC who now is a CBS News executive, is a UI grad. He has at least two dozen Emmys to his credit.

Artists and architects

Henry Bacon is best remembered for his severe Greek Doric Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It took from 1915 to 1922 to complete and was his final project. He attended the UI in 1884.

Carol Ross Barney was the principal in the architectural firm to design the Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the Murrah Building destroyed by a bombing in 1995.

Another UI multiple degree student, W. Gene Corley, served as senior vice president for CTLGroup and head of federal investigations into the 2001 collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City as well as the collapse of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Temple Hoyne Buell designed more than 300 buildings in Colorado and is credited with the first-ever shopping mall, Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Jeanne Gang is the founder and principal of the Chicago architecture firm Studio Gang.

Renowned artist John David Mooney grew up in Champaign, attended Holy Cross School, graduated from high school in Champaign and received a master´s degree at the UI.

Photographer William Wegman, best known for capturing Weimaraner dogs in costume, is a UI graduate.

Lee Falk, the creator of “The Phantom” comic strip, also graduated from the UI. His real name was Leon Harrison Gross.

Julie Larson, who created the comic strip panel “The Dinette Set,” earned a degree in architecture from the UI.

Ed Boon co-created the video game “Mortal Kombat” and has been the voice of several game characters, including Scorpion in “Mortal Kombat” and Rudy in the pinball game “Funhouse.”
Sculptor Lorado Taft was an early graduate of the UI.

Max Abramovitz, another UI graduate, is one of the world´s best-known architects. He designed the UI Assembly Hall, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and the United Nations building in New York, among many other buildings in a stellar career.

Another architect, Cesar Pelli, who has been called one of the 10 most influential living American architects, earned his master´s degree at the UI.


Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of the popular Jimmy John’s sandwich chain, based his company in Champaign several years after opening his first store in Charleston, near the Eastern Illinois University campus. The chain opened its 1,000th store this year.

Marc Andreessen helped develop the World Wide Web surfing program Mosaic while an undergraduate student at the UI. He went on to found the company that produced Netscape.

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, once owned a controlling interest in the NBA´s Charlotte Bobcats, following in the footsteps of fellow grad Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

If you do much buying or selling online, and you use Paypal, you have UI grad Max Levchin and his colleagues to thank for developing the Internet-payment company.

YouTube co-founders Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley attended the UI. They co-founded the video-sharing company, which was sold to Google.

Thomas Siebel, the founder of Siebel Systems, committed $100 million to his alma mater, the UI. His company was sold to Oracle Corp., which was co-founded by another former UI student, Larry Ellison.

Doris Kelley Christopher graduated from the UI before founding The Pampered Chef. A building on campus is named for her.

Shahid Khan, owner of auto parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate Corp., made a bid this year to acquire a controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams. His company, which has plants internationally, is based in Urbana.

The late Harry Gray, who was president of United Technologies, was a UI grad, as was the late Thomas Murphy, once the CEO of General Motors. Other UI grads include Richard Frank, former president of Walt Disney studios, and Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.

Champaign native Bill Smith was named president and chief executive officer of bicycle marketer Huffy Corp. this year.


A number of Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the University of Illinois in various capacities, including graduates, attendees, researchers and academic staff.

Here are some of the recipients, the field in which they won, the year they received the Nobel Prize and their projects:

Edward Adelbert Doisy, biochemistry, physiology or medicine, 1945, for discovery of vitamin K and its chemical structure.

Wendell Stanley, chemistry, 1946, contributions to the preparation of enzymes and virus proteins in pure form.

Vincent Du Vigneaud, chemistry, 1955, for first synthesis of polypeptide hormone.

Polykarp Kusch, physics, 1955, shared for his work toward precise measurement of the magnetic moment of the electron.

John Bardeen, physics, 1956 and 1972, shared in 1956 for research on semiconductors and the invention of the transistor and shared in 1972 for the theory of superconductivity.

Robert Holley, medicine and physiology, 1968, work on determining the precise structure of nucleic acids.

Murray Gell-Mann, physics, 1969, for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.

Salvador Luria, medicine and physiology, 1969, shared for discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.

John Robert Schrieffer, physics, 1972, shared for work on the theory of superconductivity.

Leon Neil Cooper, physics, 1972, shared for development of the theory of superconductivity.

Rosalyn Susman Yalow, medicine and physiology, 1977, discovery and development of radioimmunoassay, a technique that employs radioactive isotopes to detect and measure the levels of insulin and hormones in the blood and in body tissues.

Hamilton Smith, medicine and physiology, 1978, discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics.

Franco Modigliani, economics, 1985, for two major theories: one on personal finance and one on corporate finance.

Elias Corey, chemistry, 1990, for development of the theory and methodology of organic synthesis.

Edwin Krebs, medicine and physiology, 1992, with Edmond Fischer for discoveries in 1950s concerning reversible protein phosphorylation.

Rudolph Marcus, chemistry, 1992, for contributions to the theory of how electrons are transferred between molecules, work that explains such phenomena as rust and how plants draw nourishment from light.

Phillip A. Sharp, medicine and physiology, 1993, discovery of split genes, which proved genes can be composed of several separate segments.

Jack S. Kilby, physics, 2000, a part in invention and development of integrated circuit, the microchip.

Anthony J. Leggett, physics, 2003, shared for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids. He formulated the decisive theory explaining how atoms interact and are ordered in the superfluid state.

The late Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield, medicine, 2003, shared for seminal discoveries concerning the use of magnetic resonance to visualize different structures.

Two local scientists, Kenneth Kunkel and Stanley Changnon, contributed to the work and therefore received recognition for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Kunkel and Changnon are atmospheric research scientists who served as authors, reviewers or contributors to a series of panel reports assessing the state of science and impact of global climate change.

Leonid Hurwicz, a member of the UI faculty from 1949 to 1951, received a 2007 prize for economics. He shared the award for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory.

Another famous scientist and inventor on campus, Nick Holonyak, developed the light-emitting diode, as well as the laser diode and switches used in light dimmers.  


John Anderson got his law degree from the UI in 1946, became a U.S. congressman and ran for president as an independent in 1980. He didn´t win. Jesse Jackson ran twice and didn´t win anything. He was a student here briefly and has sent some of his children to the UI, including U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who earned his law degree here.

Others from the Illinois congressional delegation with UI degrees include Tim Johnson and Jan Schakowsky.

Sam Skinner attended the UI and became U.S. secretary of transportation and later chief of staff for the first President Bush.

Lynn Martin, former U.S. labor secretary and congresswoman who led an internal investigation into sexual harassment at Bloomington-Normal´s Mitsubishi Motors plant, is a UI graduate.

The current president of Ecuador, Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado, has two degrees from the UI. The former president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, is also a UI grad.

Annette Lu, a former vice president of Taiwan, attended the UI. The lawyer and novelist was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a 20-minute political speech while the country was under martial law in 1979. Several years after her release from prison, she was elected to the Taiwan Legislature.

Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has a degree from the UI. Corzine served as a U.S. senator from New Jersey before becoming governor. He was defeated for re-election this year.

George Frampton, Bill Clinton´s assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks, is from Urbana.

Other folks

Erika Harold, who was Miss America 2003, is from Urbana. And Dorothy Day, who helped found the Catholic Worker House movement, attended the UI on scholarship at age 16.

UI alumni Joe Tanner, Dale Gardner, Steve Nagel, Scott Altman and Lee Archambault have served as astronauts. Tanner is from Danville. Archambault commanded a space shuttle mission.
Adm. Archie Clemins, commander of the Pacific Fleet before he retired from the Navy in 1999, is from Urbana.

UI alumnus James Brady, former White House press secretary, was wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and became a spokesman for handgun control.

Fellow UI graduate and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy was also wounded that day, blocking a bullet aimed at Reagan.

Jill Wine Banks, the miniskirted Watergate prosecutor, studied journalism at the UI but bypassed a column for a distinguished law career.

Mary Murphy Schroeder, who grew up in Urbana, is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the largest federal court circuit, which covers nine Western states and two U.S. possessions in the Pacific.

And now, for infamy: Morris Cohen, the Communist spy credited with helping the Soviets steal the secrets of the atomic bomb, attended graduate school at the UI and helped found a cooperative restaurant here.

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