It’s difficult to look at even a partial list of entertainers with deep Michigan roots and not marvel at the richness of our creative soil. Of course you can find more musicians, actors, playwrights, and others on the coasts, but most of them came from somewhere else — and often, that somewhere else is Michigan.
What makes it happen? How can one metro area produce Marvin Gaye and Eminem and the White Stripes and Iggy Pop and Bob Seger and Was (Not Was) and probably have a hand in whatever the next big thing is? Part of it is demographics. Part is geography. Part is culture. Part is the creative sparks that inevitably fly when people rub up against one another in the urban rock pile. And one part is probably forever indefinable. We’re just lucky to have it.
Consider Madonna will be making a personal appearance off the concert stage, supporting I Am Because We Are at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in August. The film, a documentary she wrote and produced, is about orphans and poverty in the African nation of Malawi. Madonna’s father, Tony, owns and runs Ciccone Vineyard and Winery in nearby Suttons Bay.
The musicians aren’t the only ones who’ll be busy. Jeff Daniels has a film out this year and several more in the pipeline. Whether it strikes joy or dread in your heart, Moore has a new project slated for 2009. Even Farmington Hills native Elizabeth Berkley — you remember her, the poor, kicked-around laughingstock of Showgirls — is back on her feet, hosting Step It Up and Dance, a new reality show on Bravo.
With a new tax-incentive package already drawing filmmakers to Michigan, expect more entertainers to join the long line the state has already spawned.
The earnings just keep coming and coming.
A major player, with plenty in the pipeline.
*** Treading Water
Plenty to write home about, but not lately.
** Fading Fast
Reaching the end of a prominent career.
* Dim Light
There was something there once.
Mitch Albom ****
Columnist, author, radio host
Born 1958, Passaic, N.J.
Did someone say newspapers are sinking? If so, this multimedia outlet will be in one of the first lifeboats; you can’t say the guy hasn’t diversified. Still, it’s his post at the Detroit Free Press that gives him prestige — and a credential for whatever sporting event he wants to cover. Residence: Bloomfield Hills. Body of work: Lots of people dismiss Albom and his paint-by-numbers output (the columns with their one-sentence paragraphs and dramatic repetition; the books that simultaneously jerk tears and cleave nicely to screenplay structure; the nice-guy radio persona), but whatever he’s selling, people buy in bulk. Current project: For One More Day, newly out in paperback; untitled project with Adam Sandler, set for 2010.
Tim Allen ****
Born 1953, Denver, Colo.
He moved to Birmingham as a teenager, and got his start in comedy by taking the stage at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle on a dare. He worked in advertising locally before moving west to try showbiz. While most of his time is spent in Hollywood, he still maintains a home in Birmingham. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Home Improvement made Allen a household name, but steady work in films has sustained him since. From the voice of Buzz Lightyear (“To infinity … and beyond!”) to one of the aging little boys in Wild Hogs, he always seems to be working somewhere. A diverse actor, he’s played everyone from Santa Claus to Joe Somebody. Current projects: Toy Story 3, The Six Wives of Henry Lefay.
Anita Baker ***
Born 1958, Toledo, Ohio
A church-trained Detroit songstress, Baker found fame as a smooth-jazz singer, with a string of multiplatinum releases in the 1980s and ’90s that were great for slow dancing, cuddling on the couch, or just singing along with in the car. Residence: Grosse Pointe. Body of work: For a while, Baker’s smoky contralto was inescapable — “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Sweet Love,” and other hits netted her eight Grammys and millions in sales. Marriage and parenthood followed, and Baker now lives a quiet life in Grosse Pointe, but she’s not out of the game entirely; she’s released two albums since signing with Blue Note in 2004, including a Christmas collection. Current project: Limited touring.
Jerry Bruckheimer ****
Born 1945, Detroit
A Mumford High alum, Bruckheimer is responsible for Eddie Murphy’s sporting a Mumford T-shirt beneath his Lions jacket in Beverly Hills Cop. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: A gold-standard producer, Bruckheimer is credited with a string of movie blockbusters (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Con Air) and TV franchises (CSI in all its cities, The Amazing Race, and more). He prefers hot stars, big explosions, and a bullet’s-eye view of bleeding livers. Current project: Four films in varying states of production; at least that many ongoing TV series, mostly police procedurals.
George Clinton **
Born 1941, Kannapolis, N.C.
Although he was neither born here nor calls it his home, Clinton’s ties to Detroit are strong, dating to his time as a staff songwriter at Motown. He’s also been a mainstay at United Sound Systems studio at Wayne State University, where he helped funk out bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Residence: Tallahassee, Fla. Body of work: Clinton has evolved beyond planet Earth; he’s a resident of his own personal universe. Remember, this is the Dr. Funkenstein who used to land onstage in a spaceship. From his early work in do-wop, rising through R&B to become the proto-funk ringmaster. Parliament Funkadelic still tours and puts on free-form multi-hour sets, presided over by Clinton. Current project: Headlining at Comerica Cityfest.
Alice Cooper ***
Rocker, writer, radio host
Born Vincent Furnier, 1948, Detroit
Detroit and Phoenix have a tug of war over who gets to claim the original shock rocker; although born here and educated into middle school, the family moved to sunnier climes when their asthmatic son was 14. Residence: Phoenix. Body of work: Hard to believe, but once upon a time parents and children went 15 rounds over Alice — the makeup, the bats, the guillotine! — and today it all seems like a Halloween prank. Maybe it’s the golf that Alice plays so devotedly today. Still, give the guy his props: He wore makeup like a man, and put on a great show in the process. He also has a regular stint on late-night radio where he dishes out backstage happenings from the good old days. Current project: Still touring regularly; a memoir, Golf Monster, was published last year.
Francis Ford Coppola ***
Born 1939, Detroit
His father, Carmine, was a flutist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and named his firstborn son as a tribute to the Ford Motor Co. The automotive giant sponsored the Ford Radio Hour, which kept the DSO afloat during the Depression. Residence: San Francisco Bay area. Body of work: Before he was 40, he’d directed a fistful of the greatest films in American cinema, including The Godfather, parts I and II, and Apocalypse Now. That alone would have justified resting on his laurels forever after, but Coppola has kept swinging for the fences. Other memorable films include The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He works more often as a producer now, particularly for his daughter, Sofia. Current project: Directing and producing Tetro, now filming in Buenos Aires.
Jeff Daniels ****
Born 1955, Athens, Ga.
Grew up in Chelsea, Mich., where he still lives. His success as an actor, coupled with his determination to make his home in Michigan, makes him beloved by everyone from the state Capitol down to fans of his Purple Rose Theatre Co. Residence: Chelsea, Mich. Body of work: A solid character actor who keeps one foot in leading-man territory, Daniels doesn’t rest on his laurels. He plays in big-budget (Good Night, and Good Luck) and local-indie (Escanaba in Da Moonlight) features, serious drama (The Squid and the Whale), and stupid comedy (Dumb & Dumber). His plays for the Purple Rose keep him connected to the stage, and he also plays guitar — a Michigan renaissance man. Current project: Upcoming films, Sweet Nothing in My Ear, Traitor.
Born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, 1972,
St. Joseph, Mo.
His biopic was all about escaping Detroit, but forgive us if we think Eminem needs to record an album called Straight Outta Warren, because that’s where the bard of blue-collar Macomb County is really from. Residence: Macomb County, Mich. Body of work: One of the most successful rappers of any color, Eminem has the multiplatinum albums to prove it. At 35, he’s aging into the place where many rappers start concentrating on their acting and/or producing careers, but we’re still waiting for the remake of Have Gun, Will Travel. Current project: The fifth Eminem studio album, Detox, promised sometime this year.
Aretha Franklin ***
Born 1942, Memphis, Tenn.
Grew up singing in her father’s church on Detroit’s west side, a vocal prodigy who had her first record contract at 14, but soon exploded out of the gospel niche to become Detroit’s — and the world’s — Queen of Soul. Residence: Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Body of work: Her days of cracking the Top 10 seem to be over, but Franklin is in no danger of disappearing from sight, not as long as she can still send that voice into the rafters. A show earlier this year at Radio City Music Hall was typical — a one-woman show that drew heavily on her place in the pantheon of R&B greatness, she was introduced as “the Empress of Music.” She’s an accomplished actress as well, and may best be remembered for her fiery spin with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in 1980’s The Blues Brothers. Current projects: Jewels in the Crown, a duets album, was released in 2007.
Glenn Frey ***
Singer, songwriter, actor
Born 1948, Detroit
How’s this for irony? This son of Royal Oak became best known as a purveyor of California rock, as co-founder of the genre’s prototype — the Eagles. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: After record-setting album and ticket sales with the Eagles — belting out such classics as “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Already Gone,” “Take It Easy” and “New Kid In Town” — Frey went on to have a successful solo career as a performer and actor, appearing mostly on TV (Miami Vice, Wiseguy, Nash Bridges). And who could forget his contribution to Beverly Hills Cop with “The Heat Is On”? Current projects: In this stage of his career, Frey appears to work mainly as a composer.
Berry Gordy ***
Born 1929, Detroit
The Svengali of Motown has no shortage of detractors, but he’ll always be known as the man who put black music — and black performers — into white America’s homes like no one had done before. And all from Detroit. Residence: Palm Desert, Calif. Body of work: You can’t tell the Motown story in a paragraph, or even a movie (although Dreamgirls tried), but it’s inextricably tied to Detroit. The talents Gordy found in the city’s homes and clubs became household names, in large part, because of his eyes and ears. His unannounced move of the business to Los Angeles in 1972 may have cost him more than the hurt and bewilderment of his hometown; Motown was never as successful in L.A. as it was here. Current project: Retirement, mostly. There are rumblings he may be involved with a long-planned addition to the Motown Museum.
John Hughes **
Born 1950, Lansing, Mich.
Michigan-born, Chicago-raised, Hughes is known mainly as a bard of the Windy City, basing many of his films and stories in the city, especially in its surrounding suburbs. Residence: Somewhere in Wisconsin. Body of work: For most of the 1980s, you couldn’t avoid him — his teen comedies (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Pretty in Pink) played constantly at multiplexes, and his writing credits were even more plentiful. He made stars and careers and pop-culture references (“Bueller… Bueller”) and then, one day, called the whole thing off, moved back to the Midwest and has barely been heard from since. Current projects: Had a “story by” credit on the forgettable Drillbit Taylor, but otherwise, radio silence.
James Earl Jones ****
Born Todd Jones, 1931, Arkabutla, Miss.
Jones traded his broken home in Mississippi for his maternal grandparents’ farm near Jackson, Mich., where he was raised. He later attended the University of Michigan, where he joined the ROTC. Residence: Pawling, N.Y. Body of work: His traumatic childhood left him with a stutter, which so affected Jones that he was functionally mute until high school. Maybe that’s why his voice is so well-suited for playing God today — it got concentrated, or something. Jones reached great heights as an actor in 1977 when he provided the voice of Darth Vader in George Lucas’ Star Wars, but he’s a solid presence on stage and screen, too, taking on such memorable roles as Othello, King Lear, and the reclusive writer opposite Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Current project: Two vocal roles, the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk and Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey.
Casey Kasem **
Disc jockey, voice actor
Born 1932, Detroit
Kemal Amin Kasem is from Detroit-rooted Lebanese Christian stock and proud of it — he wrote a pamphlet for the Arab American Institute Foundation on well-known U.S. citizens of Arab heritage. Started his career at WJBK in the mid-1950s, but moved to California by the early ’60s. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: American Top 40 made him a household name, but since turning it over to Ryan Seacrest in 2004, he’s made his living as the voice of Shaggy in various productions of Scooby-Doo. Current projects: Being Casey Kasem in various venues.
Kid Rock ****
Born Robert James Ritchie, 1971, Romeo, Mich.
Another in a long line of Michigan-born and internationally famous musicians, the former Bob Ritchie made it very big but declined to move to California. Even brought Pamela Anderson back to Michigan — for a while, anyway. Residence: Ortonville, Mich. Body of work: 22 million albums sold since 1990; his breakout was Devil Without a Cause in 1998. Established himself as an all-around good-egg Detroit ambassador during Super Bowl XL, squiring Jimmy Kimmel around town and playing a concert at Cobo Arena with special guest Bob Seger. Current project: His Rock ’n’ Roll Revival Tour hits Europe this year. Another studio album in the pipeline.
Earl Klugh ****
Born 1953, Detroit
Another famous alumnus of Mumford High, Klugh started playing guitar as a teenager, and grew up going — chaperoned — to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge to watch the Funk Brothers and other Motown artists play jazz. Residence: Atlanta. Body of work: One of the progenitors of so-called smooth jazz, Klugh was inspired to pick up the guitar as a child after seeing Chet Atkins on The Perry Como Show. Forty-one albums, including 14 compilations; 13 Grammys; and millions of sales later, he’s yet to put down his ax. Current project: The Spice of Life, released this year, and touring.
Elmore Leonard ****
Born 1925, New Orleans
Los Angeles had Raymond Chandler, Boston has Robert B. Parker, but Detroit might be luckiest of all — it has Elmore Leonard, not just one of the most successful crime writers working today but, by many estimates, the very best. Residence: Bloomfield Village, Mich. Body of work: A blue-collar writer for a blue-collar town, Leonard started writing fiction while still employed at ad agency Campbell-Ewald. Although he sold his first novel, a Western, in 1953, he’d stay at his adman’s desk for several years before making the break for good in the early ’60s. Even then, he toiled in relative obscurity, writing screenplays and novels for several more years before attracting critical acclaim. Notable novels that hit the big screen include Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, and Get Shorty. His short story 3:10 to Yuma became a movie for the second time in 2007. Current project: Leonard works constantly; a new book called Road Dogs will be out in the coming months. His latest, Up in Honey’s Room, set in WWII-era Detroit, is newly out in paperback.
Lucy Liu ****
Born 1968, New York City
A city girl born and bred, Liu’s IMDB entry says she left NYU after one year, disenchanted with the “dark and sarcastic” atmosphere, and transferred to the University of Michigan. Hmm. Everything’s relative. She graduated with a degree in Asian cultures and languages and was a Chi Omega. Residence: New York. Body of work: In a country where Asians are stereotyped as smart, Liu’s made her career playing smartypants. What her Chi O sisters think of all this, we don’t know. Current project: A role on TV’s Cashmere Mafia; voice work in Kung Fu Panda, and cast in
Charlie Chan, in pre-production.
Singer, actress, director
Born 1958, Bay City, Mich.
One of the state’s most famous (and infamous) expats. But while Madonna’s southeast Michigan roots have pretty much withered, her father, Tony Ciccone, still owns and runs a winery near Traverse City. Residence: London, mostly, but owns several homes around the world and possibly on other planets. Body of work: Madge’s résumé could fill several pages, but we’ll boil it down to this: hugely successful pop star and media personality, laughingly inept — but always willing to give it another try — actress. Inducted this year into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Current projects: Hard Candy, album released earlier this year; recently directed the film Filth and Wisdom. Net worth: $850 million
Michael Moore ****
Writer, director, actor
Born 1954, Davison, Mich.
The face — and, with that accent, unmistakably the voice — of Michigan leftism, a Genesee County born-and-bred provocateur whose face is as familiar as any movie star’s. Which he is. Residence: Torch Lake, N.Y. Body of work: With his baseball cap, fat man’s amble, and pesky camera crew in tow, Moore is a one-man wrecking crew — or ringmaster, depending on your point of view. His unapologetically liberal politics propel his funny-with-an-edge documentaries, while his brash attitude drives conservatives crazy. But he has an Oscar, and they don’t, and anyone who can’t see his influence in the anti-evolution film Expelled isn’t paying attention. Current project: Captain Mike Across America, a documentary about Moore’s tour of college campuses and “the birth of a new political generation,” released late last year.
Ted Nugent ****
Born 1948, Detroit
A Michigan rocker who stuck close to his roots, Nugent ran his empire from his home near Jackson, until pulling up roots to become neighbors with President Bush. Residence: Crawford, Texas. Body of work: Parlayed a successful music career into all-around celebrity as a colorful contrarian opposed to all things rockers are supposed to love — drugs, liberal politics — with the possible exception of chicks. His pro-hunting, pro-gun stance plays well with right-wing rock fans. Current project: Love Grenade, released in late 2007; Rolling Thunder tour, this summer.
Iggy Pop ***
Born James Newell Osterberg Jr., 1947, in Muskegon, Mich.
Generally claimed as a son of Ypsilanti, Iggy was one of the brightest lights in southeast Michigan’s music scene. The Stooges’ clubhouse at the corner of Eisenhower and Packard in Ann Arbor is sometimes called the birthplace of punk. Residence: Miami Beach, Fla. Body of work: Forty years after changing the music game, Iggy and the Stooges are still touring and still making albums. And Iggy, at 61, is still dancing shirtless and doing the move he claims to have invented — the stage-dive. When they say, “Rock and roll will never die,” think of Iggy. Current projects: Takes his “The Weirdness” tour to Europe this summer.
Sam Raimi ****
Producer, director, writer
Born 1959, Royal Oak, Mich.
A nice Jewish boy from a nice Jewish home, Raimi dropped out of Michigan State to make The Evil Dead, a cult classic that launched his career as a director and writer of singular films. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: He directed the hugely successful Spider-Man franchise, but Raimi has a reputation as someone who does more than just churn blockbusters. He once told a journalist, “My father told me, ‘If you want to be a filmmaker, don’t study film. Study literature, so that when you finally make pictures, you have something to bring to it.’ That advice really paid off for me.” Current project: Directing Drag Me to Hell, co-written with his brother Ivan Raimi.
Red Hot Chili Peppers ****
Alternative rock band
Formed 1983, in Los Angeles
One of the hardest-working bands in the universe, members have come and gone, but Grand Rapids native Anthony Kiedis, Flea, and the boys (drummer Chad Smith grew up in Bloomfield Hills and attended both Andover and Lahser high schools) have sold millions of albums while somehow staying alive to perform thousands of shows. Residences: Los Angeles. Body of work: The Peppers came up the hard way, touring the States for years on end in an array of beat-up party wagons before hitting it big in 1991 with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The album earned considerable radio play (most especially “Give It Away”), and it didn’t hurt that the band’s rise to stardom coincided with the advent of the alternative rock scene in the early ’90s. Other Detroit connections abound; George Clinton produced an album for the L.A. lads at United Sound Systems studio at the north edge of Wayne State. They also performed what some consider a livelier version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Current project: Look for another album down the road, and multiple tour dates the world over.
Della Reese ***
Actor, singer, minister
Born 1931, Detroit
Born Delloreese Early, she learned her musical craft in the place many Detroit singers got their start — in church. Discovered by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, Reese first sang for a paying public at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Although Reese started out as a jazz singer, it was her late-career casting in CBS’ Touched by an Angel that introduced her to millions of Americans in the mid-1990s. She’s still acting and running the L.A.-based Understanding Principles for Better Living Church. Current projects: An undated entry at touched.com says she and Angel co-star Roma Downey are at work on a new show.
Smokey Robinson ***
Singer, songwriter, producer
Born William Robinson Jr., 1940, Detroit
A true son of Detroit, the boy nicknamed for his love of Westerns — his uncle dubbed him “Smokey Joe” — made his bones singing with various groups, starting in his teens. He was the one who suggested fellow songwriter Berry Gordy might find more success if he founded his own label. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: If Gordy was the brains behind Motown, Smokey was the heart. And the voice. And the sense of humor. His distinctive, lilting tenor and way with a lyric (“Just like Pagliacci did / I try to keep my sadness hid. …”) made him a cornerstone of Hitsville’s creative success. A successful solo career after leaving his signature group, the Miracles, kept him on the pop charts into the ’80s. Current project: Not much since 2006’s Timeless Love, an album of standards.
The Romantics ***
Formed 1977, Detroit
(on Valentine’s Day — hence the name)
Soul, funk, R&B, rock, gospel — is there a pop-music genre this city can’t nurture? Apparently not. The Romantics hit it big in late-’70s New Wave, a pop-punk hybrid most often associated with the coasts. Self-described as “hard-working street kids from the east side,” Wally Palmar, Mike Skill, Richie Cole, and Jimmy Marinos wore those red leather jackets with Detroit style. Residences: Band members have come and gone, but Palmar lives in Birmingham, Mich. Body of work: Stripped-down power-rocker “What I Like About You” will be in rotation as long as there are people capable of dancing to it. Current project: In addition to a summer tour, the lads are working on a new album due out next year.
Diana Ross ****
Born 1944, Detroit
It’s “Miss Ross” to you, Motown’s diva of divas, a personality so fabulous even Beyonce Knowles couldn’t encompass her. The Supremes’ story is as important in the greater Detroit narrative as Mad Anthony Wayne, and as well-known. Residence: Has an estate in Greenwich, Conn. Body of work: She didn’t have the pipes her colleagues did, but it’s easy to see how the skinny girl with the big eyes became Berry Gordy’s Motown muse — the label was all about image, and no one took a better picture. Since then, Ross has tucked one pop-music era after another under her belt, segueing from pop to disco to power ballads as deftly as she changes outfits. An acting career never amounted to much, but the Cass Tech graduate was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. Current project: A new album, I Love You, in 2007; some European concerts in 2008.
Bob Seger ****
Born 1945, Detroit
What Motown was to Detroit pop, Bob Seger is to Detroit rock — and that’s saying something. Locally born and bred, wildly popular here for years before he broke out nationally, Seger is as much a part of Detroit as the Big Tire and GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Residence: Clarkston, Mich. Body of work: Where do you start with Seger? From his start in local bands here and in Ann Arbor to his triumphs as an arena rocker, the man’s songs are as familiar and ubiquitous as, well, “Respect.” A little luck never hurts, either. He and the Silver Bullet Band were introduced to millions of new fans in 1983 when Tom Cruise lip-synced “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” in Risky Business. Oh, and did we mention he’s won the Port Huron-to-Mackinac yacht race — twice? Current project: A long semi-retirement ended with the release of Face the Promise in 2006, supported by a national tour.
Tom Selleck ***
Born 1945, Detroit
He left town for California before he started kindergarten, but as Magnum P.I., he always wore a Tigers cap. He even took spring training with the team in 1992. Why? Because he could, plus he was promoting Mr. Baseball. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: You could call him the poor man’s Burt Reynolds, or you could call him a hunk who’s aged well and never lost his sense of humor about himself, which made him both believable as Monica’s boyfriend on Friends and tolerable to those outside his squealing fan base. Current project: Recurring role in TV series Las Vegas, starring in Jesse Stone: Thin Ice, a series of TV movies based on Robert Parker’s novels.
Born David Adkins, 1956, Benton Harbor, Mich.
Sinbad was one of six children born to Donald and Louise Adkins. His father was a Baptist minister in Benton Harbor, Mich. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Sinbad may be one of those celebrities banished to the outer regions of your memory — “that guy” territory — but he works steadily, doing standup, television, and movies. While he doesn’t have a long résumé in Hollywood, he starred in Houseguest, Jingle All The Way, and First Kid. Most recently, he was a fact-checker, one of those who had to correct Hillary Clinton on her landing-under-sniper-fire-in-Bosnia whopper. Current project: Slacker Cats, a TV series in production.
Tom Skerritt ****
Born 1933, Detroit
Skerritt was born and raised in the city, and graduated from Mackenzie High School before enrolling at Wayne State, which kindled his interest inacting. He transferred to UCLA. Residence: Seattle area. Body of work: On the one hand, dimples and that still-abundant hair should’ve made Skerritt an onscreen ladies’ man, but instead, he took the sort of character roles that make for a less-flashy but longer-lasting career. From his first screen appearance, in the TV series Combat!, he’s rarely been idle for long, playing cowboys, lawmen, soldiers, and other he-men, in comedies, dramas, thrillers, and weepers, under directors such as Robert Altman and Robert Redford. Current project: Three films and one TV production, all set for 2008 release — and he turns 75 this summer.
Jeffrey Tambor ****
Born 1944, San Francisco
Most people on this list were born here and went to California. Tambor grew up in California and moved to Detroit — long enough to get a master’s degree from Wayne State, anyway. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Whether you know him by his name or as “that bald guy, what’s-his-name,” you know Tambor — he works a lot, in TV and movies. His hound-doggy face and unapologetic chrome dome make him well-suited for comedy. Memorable stints on Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show. Current project: Filming This Side of the Truth with Ricky Gervais, set for release in 2009.
Lily Tomlin ****
Born Mary Jean Tomlin, 1939, Detroit
Tomlin’s family came to Detroit from Kentucky during the Depression, but Tomlin put in her time here, graduating from Cass Technical High School and briefly attending Wayne State as a pre-med major, before classes in theater led her down another path. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In first introduced her to the world, where her characters — Edith Ann, Ernestine — showed her ability to both mimic and inhabit another soul. Since then, she’s traced an eccentric path as a stage performer, film actress (Nashville, 9 to 5, A Prairie Home Companion), and gay rights activist. Current project: Upcoming film, Seniors; HBO series 12 Miles of Bad Road.
Don Was ****
Born Don Fagenson, 1952, Detroit
Grew up in Oak Park and credits the rich diversity of Detroit’s musical scenes for his success across genres. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: One of the most sought-after record producers in the country, with a résumé as impressive as any, his list of partners includes Paula Abdul, Bonnie Raitt, and the Rolling Stones. Was (Not Was), co-led with fellow Detroiter David Weiss, was known for its eclectic mix of rock, funk, R&B, and what-have-you. “The Motown Revue on acid,” as Was once described it. Current projects: Boo! the first album of new material by Was (Not Was) since the early ’90s.
Jack & Meg White ****
(The White Stripes)
Born 1975, Detroit (Jack, nee John Gillis); 1974, Grosse Pointe Farms (Meg)
Proof the city’s rich creative soil is still yielding ripe fruit, the White Stripes formed in the late 1990s and played around Detroit for several years before breaking out nationally in 2001. Residence: Detroit (Meg); Nashville (Jack). Body of work: With six albums to their credit, the White Stripes have a solid base of success to build on — and their reputation for creative videos doesn’t hurt, either. Icky Thump, their latest, released in 2007, sold more than 1.2 million copies and won them a Grammy. The band’s innovative melodies and memorable lyrics have garnered praise from across the rock spectrum — Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, to name a few. Current projects: Jack has lately extended his reach into acting, while his other band, The Raconteurs, recently introduced another album. Meg, notoriously publicity-shy, plays it close to the vest.
Robin Williams ****
Born 1951, Chicago
Grew up in Bloomfield Hills as the son of a Ford executive. Attended Detroit Country Day School, where he claims he was named “Most Likely to Not Succeed.” Upon graduation, admitted to Juilliard’s advanced program. Since then: Success. Residence: San Francisco. Body of work: Comedy albums, more than 50 films. Since giving America a catch phrase via Mork & Mindy (“Na-nu, na-nu”), Williams has starred in comedies, dramas, and misbegotten combinations of the two. Multiple awards, including an Oscar (Best Actor, Good Will Hunting). Current projects: Two upcoming films, Old Dogs and The Krazees.
Mary Wilson ***
Born 1944, Greenville, Miss.
The non-tragic Dreamgirl, Wilson was the Supreme who lasted longest — sticking with the trio after Diana Ross’ departure and hanging on until the bitter end in 1976. Residence: Las Vegas. Body of work: She was the ultimate Motown trouper, but her career afterward never soared as high, and although she recorded as a solo artist, she never had a hit. She dabbled in acting and worked as a DJ, but her musical career in recent years is based on being an ex-Supreme. Current project: Released a live album of standards in 2007.
Stevie Wonder ****
Born Steveland Judkins, 1950, Saginaw, Mich.
Little Stevie Wonder was so little when he hit the charts with “Fingertips (Part 2)” that he’s the only original Motown artist still considered middle-aged. His upbringing on Detroit’s east side left him with many local ties, and he still slips into town from time to time. Residence: Los Angeles. Body of work: Wonder was the first Motown artist to go to the mat with Berry Gordy, wrestling away creative control and publishing rights to his own songs. It was a well-chosen fight, and guiding his own career kept him not only successful, but relevant — a hitmaker and an artist — throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Current project: Upcoming album, The Gospel Inspired by Lula, a tribute to his recently deceased mother.