MOTW: Craig T. Nelson's Biography

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
June 20th, 2013

MOTW: Craig T. Nelson's Biography

Craig T. Nelson has had a long and successful Hollywood career that has spanned five decades. Born as Craig Richard Nelson in Spokane, Washington, on April 4, 1944, the actor grew up in the entertainment industry since both of his parents were very active in show business, with his father taking care of the business aspects and his mother being a professional dancer. Nelson's father died when he was still a young boy, so he was raised by his mother Vera on her own.

During his high school years, Nelson was an athletic phenomenon, excelling in golf, football, basketball, and baseball. His tall, muscular frame led many to believe that a sports scholarship to a top-level university would be inevitable, but Nelson's career took a very different path. Besides having talent on the sports field, Nelson was also an aspiring actor. Before he graduated from high school, Nelson received an acting scholarship from the University of Arizona, which he took up afterwards. Nelson did not stay in that school for long and later moved to Central Washington University.

In 1969, Nelson dropped out of college in order to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Not long after moving to the Golden State, Nelson officially changed his middle name to avoid confusing it with another Craig Richard Nelson, who was already a well-known Hollywood actor. Nelson settled with the middle name Theodore but shortened it to the initial T when appearing on screen.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Nelson found work as a security guard at a soap factory. He wished to become a comedy writer, but he needed to secure a big break first. This came in 1970, when Nelson was hired as an intern writer for radio comedians Al Lohman and Roger Barkley and for the television series "The Tim Conway Show." These developments allowed Nelson to quit his job as a security guard and instead focus on performing as a stand-up comedian at numerous low-key gigs.

It was through contacts made from writing gigs that Nelson made his first forays into acting, starring in 1971's "The Return of Count Yorga." Many other small guest roles came up for him, most notably that in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Flesh Gordon." During the early 1970s, Nelson married Robin and had two kids with her, Tiffany and Christopher. With a young family to feed and small-time film roles not providing a solid income, Nelson and his family moved back to Spokane. While living in this city, he worked numerous jobs, such as a school janitor, carpenter, and surveyor.

After only a few years, Nelson's work dried up and his family had to rely on welfare and food stamps in order to get by. In 1978 the pressure finally took its toll on Nelson and his wife, with the pair choosing to get a divorce. This sudden life change freed Nelson up from taking care of his young family, so he chose to move back to Hollywood in order to pursue an acting career once again.

Nelson found success quickly upon his return, and he landed a role in the 1979 film "...And Justice for All," starring Al Pacino. The film proved to be a big success and was nominated for two Academy Awards as a result. Nelson's career blossomed after that, especially in 1982, when he starred as the lead role in the horror classic "Poltergeist," which was directed by Steven Spielberg. This role gave Nelson's career a real boost, with many offers for film and television available to him following this performance.

The 1980s was an extremely successful time for Nelson both professionally and personally. Nelson acted alongside Tom Cruise in "All the Right Moves" and Meryl Streep in "Silkwood," and in 1987 he remarried, this time to Doria Cook. A couple of years later, Nelson received an offer from ABC to play Haydon Fox in the television series "Coach." Nelson accepted the role, and the series ran for a total of eight seasons. During that time, Nelson won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

After "Coach" ended, Nelson starred as a police chief in "The District" for four seasons. In 2004, Nelson's career took a slight turn to voice acting, voicing the character of Mr. Incredible in the Disney hit "The Incredibles." In 2009 Nelson once again returned to the big screen, this time in comedy flick "The Proposal."

Having not appeared in a feature film since 2011 and with his advancing age, it is likely that Nelson will never act on screen again. Nelson has played the role of Zeek Braverman in the television series "Parenthood" in all its four seasons and is scheduled to return for a fifth season this summer.