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From ‘More Cowbell!’ to the King of Rock and Roll: Facts About Christopher Walken

Steve Palace
Actor Christopher Walken arrives at the premiere of CBS Films' "Seven Psychopaths" at Mann Bruin Theatre on October 1, 2012 in Westwood, California. (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Christopher Walken is one of the most instantly recognizable actors in Hollywood. He comes across as a little intense on camera, but is this true behind the scenes?

Find out more about the unmistakable Mr. Walken and his extraordinary (yet at the same time kind of ordinary) life…

Christopher isn’t his name

Walken was born Ronald Walken in New York in 1943. For a time he performed under the name Ronnie. Actress and dancer Monique van Vooren suggested “Christopher” and he adopted it in 1964.

Where did Ronald come from? Another actor, the legendary Ronald Colman. His parents Paul and Rosalie ran a bakery in Astoria – he came from Germany, she from Scotland. Christopher, or “Chris” as he likes to be known, has two brothers, Glenn and Ken. They too went into showbusiness.

a young Christopher kneading dough

circa 1955: Young television stars Glenn (left) and Ronnie Walken, later film star Christopher Walken, roll out dough for pie crusts at their father’s bakery. (Photo Credit: Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

Walken liked Elvis

Like many young people, Walken was affected by Elvis Presley. His hairstyle is modeled on Presley’s and he wrote and took the title role in Him, a 1995 play about the rock and roll icon.

The script “examined Presley’s life after death,” writes Mental Floss, “positing an insane theory about his demise and casting his dead twin brother as a major character.” It was described as “woozily conceived” and “fantastical” by the New York Times.

combing his hair in the mirror

circa 1955: Young clown Ronnie Walken, later film star Christopher Walken, combing his hair in front of a mirror. (Photo Credit: Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

He’s got the moves

Before he became a movie star, Walken trained as a dancer. Every so often he shows how light on his feet he is – Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” video remains an offbeat highlight.

Someone surprising who showed an interest in his dancing skills was Marlon Brando. As revealed to David Letterman, the method master wanted to tickle the ivories in a variety show – Walken had been earmarked as a twinkle-toed guest! Ultimately the project never got off the ground.

posing for the camera

Photographed in 1973. (Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

Christopher Walken speaks!

That halting style of speech associated with Walken isn’t put on. It reflects his upbringing among immigrants in Queens.

“Both my parents had heavy accents,” he told CBS Sunday Morning, adding: “It’s a rhythm thing – people who speak English where they have to hesitate and think of the right word.”

This reportedly carries over to writing stuff down. Grunge mentions his handwriting “is just as odd as his speech: all capital letters, no punctuation, and just a single sentence.”

Speaking of what’s on the page… Walken doesn’t appreciate it when scripts are tailored to his performance style. If anyone’s going to tinker with a Christopher Walken movie, it’s the man himself!

a scene from Deerhunter

circa 1980: American actor Christopher Walken, who won an Oscar for his intense performance in ‘The Deer Hunter’. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He’s happily married

Since 1969, Walken has been married to Georgianne Thon, who used to work as a casting director. They never had kids, though own cats.

Walken is an animal rights advocate. In 2015 he fronted a campaign for the Humane Society of the United States.

Christopher Walken and his wife Georgianne

Actor Christopher Walken and his wife Georgianne Walken. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Approach to acting

Speaking to the Daily Mail about his role in the British comedy-drama Outlaws, Walken revealed a somewhat repetitive approach to the craft of acting.

He states what he does “is to read over and over until it sounds right. Suddenly, it’s almost like talking to somebody you know: you believe them or you don’t.”

This must be challenging for him. Why? Walken isn’t a fan of learning lines, reportedly finding it a trying experience.

learning his lines

circa 1965: American actor Christopher Walken resting his foot on a chair while examining a script in a dressing room. Walken wears a checkered jacket. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He was a lion tamer

At the age of just 16, Walken was part of a lion taming act at the circus. How did he get the job? Easily, according to Grunge. They advertised in the paper, where seemingly anyone could face the jaws of death!

Walken wielded a whip but apparently didn’t need it. His role was to interact with an elderly female lion, who he says was quite docile.

Friendship with Natalie Wood

Actress Natalie Wood died while on vacation in California with husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. He was reportedly a friend of Wood’s – they were on a break from shooting the 1983 sci-fi drama Brainstorm.

The Independent – covering 2020 documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains – writes that Wood, Wagner and Walken were on a yacht together at the time. Actress Natasha Gregson-Wagner (daughter of Wood and Richard Gregson) spoke to Robert Wagner on camera about what happened.

He states that he and Walken had an argument concerning his wife. There have been allegations that Wood flirted with Walken. Wood later disappeared from the yacht and was found floating in the water off Catalina Island. She could have been suffering the effects of alcohol.

Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken

Raleigh, North Carolina: Actress Natalie Wood, 43, is shown with her costar Christopher Walken (L) last August during filming of her last motion picture Brainstorm, near here. The body of Ms. Wood was found floating in the ocean off Catalina Island, 11.29 after she disappeared from her husband’s yacht. Actor Robert Wagner, her husband, and Walken were aboard the yacht according to the Los Angeles country sheriff’s department. This photo was from a wedding scene in her last movie. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)

Walken rarely speaks about the tragedy but is on record as saying her death was an accident, in line with the official verdict. He told Playboy in 1997 that she may have tried to move a dinghy against the boat that was making noises. “There was a ski ramp that was partially in the water” he mentioned. “It was slippery – I had walked on it myself.”

The exact details of her death will probably never be known, leaving an agonizing legacy for Wood’s friends and family.

Holy Cowbell

Christopher Walken has appeared many times on Saturday Night Live. The team regards him as kind of a legend – he apparently has carte blanche to come back whenever he wants.

The famous “More Cowbell” sketch from 2000 presents Walken as Bruce Dickinson, a music producer. Will Ferrell appeared in the sketch.

It made such an impression that when Walken played King Louie in Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book (2016), a cowbell was featured in tribute.

He’d like to tuck you in at night

In the 1990s, Walken appeared on British television to read a bedtime story. The result has to be seen to be believed.

He’s an old-fashioned sort of guy

Don’t try and find Christopher Walken online. Chances are you won’t have much luck. “I’m a luddite,” he revealed to Men’s Journal, stating he doesn’t rely on modern technology like mobile phones and computers.

Roles you nearly saw him in

As reported by Ranker, Walken has been in demand for all kinds of roles. He came close to playing some iconic characters, such as Han Solo, Captain Jack Sparrow and even Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Scene from A View to a Kill

American actor Christopher Walken, Jamaican actress Grace Jones, American actress Tanya Roberts and British actor Roger Moore on the set of the James Bond 007 film A View to a Kill, directed by John Glen. (Photo Credit: Nancy Moran/Sygma via Getty Images)

More from us: Bill Murray As Batman? Eddie Murphy As Robin? David Bowie As The Joker? Hold The (Bat) Phone!

One famous face who did appear was David Bowie, as Pontius Pilate. Walken inherited two roles from Bowie – Max Zorin in Bond film A View To A Kill (1985) and Max Schreck in Batman Returns (1992). The Thin White Duke passed on them both.