Kansas City might be best known for jazz and fountains (it didn’t get the nickname of The City of Fountains for nothing, after all), but Missouri’s biggest city also has a reputation for producing some of the finest talent to ever emerge from The Show-Me State. Whether we’re talking stars of the silver screen, the comedy circuit, the writers guild, or the charts, the number of famous faces that call Kansas City home might just surprise you. Here are some of our all-time favorite celebrities from Kansas City.
20. Trai Byers
Actor Trai Byers was born in Kansas City on July 19, 1983. After studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and the Yale School of Drama, he made his TV debut on ABC’s All My Children in 2011. Since then, he’s featured in the teen soap, 90210, and Ava DuVernay’s historical epic, Selma. You can currently catch him playing Andre Lyon in Empire.
19. Lori Saunders
Lori Saunders was born in Kansas City on October 4, 1941. She first rose to fame in the ’60s in a trio of hit TV shows that included Green Acres, the rural sitcom Petticoat Junction, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Her success continued into the next decade, with starring roles in Dusty’s Trail and A Day at the White House. In addition to her acting career, Saunders also enjoyed a brief flirtation with the pop charts, releasing several singles throughout the 1960s both as a solo artist and alongside her Petticoat Junction co-stars Linda Kaye Henning and Meredith MacRae as part of the vocal group, The Girls from Petticoat Junction. Saunders officially retired from acting in 1980.
18. Ed Asner
Born and bred KC native Ed Asner made his name as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off series, Lou Grant. The role earned him numerous accolades, including seven Primetime Emmy Awards. He’s also known for his work on the TV miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man (which earned him another Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Performance in a television series) and in films like El Dorado and Elf.
17. Rob Riggle
Rob Riggle has worn many outfits in his time, alternating between the roles of actor, comedian, host, and US Marine Officer. The latter may have earned him numerous distinctions (including the Humanitarian Service Medal), but it’s his work on TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and Modern Family, not to mention films such as The Hangover, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Dumb and Dumber To, that have turned the Kansas City native into a household name.
16. Ellie Kemper
After rising to fame as Erin Hannon in The Office, Kansas City native Ellie Kemper landed a starring role on the Netflix comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Her performance as Kimmy has earned her huge acclaim, along with a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and several nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Award. Film-wise, she’s best known for her performance in Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, Sex Tape, and Home Sweet Home Alone.
15. Tuc Watkins
Tuc Watkins was born in Kansas City on September 2, 1966. After kickstarting his career with minor roles on Sisters, Baywatch, and Melrose Place, he made his breakthrough as a regular on the ABC soap opera, One Life to Live. Starring roles in General Hospital and Beggars and Choosers followed, and in 2007, he took on his most famous role to date as Bob Hunter in Desperate Housewives. In addition to his TV work, Watkins has also carved out a successful movie career, starring in The Mummy, The Good Shepherd, and The Boys in the Band.
14. Eric Stonestreet
Growing up in Kansas City, Eric Stonestreet only ever wanted to be one thing: a clown. He even created a clown character named Fizbo – a character he’d later revisit during his award-winning turn as Cameron Tucker on the ABC show, Modern Family. In addition to his work on Modern Family (a hugely profitable experience that, according to Celebrity Net Worth, he’s also proved a hugely popular host, appearing on both the ABC competition series The Toy Box and America’s Got Talent. He can next be seen hosting Domino Masters on Fox, which premieres on March 9, 2022.
13. Jason Sudeikis
Actor, writer, comedian, and KC native Jason Sudeikis started his career in improv comedy before landing a writing gig on Saturday Night Live in 2003. In 2005, he was promoted to a regular cast member and remained with the show until 2013. He’s also known for his roles in movies like Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers, Drinking Buddies, and Sleeping With Other People, together with his voice work on Epic, The Angry Birds Movie, and Next Gen.
12. Walter Cronkite
During the ’60s and ’70s, CBS television journalist and news anchor Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America” thanks to his coverage of major news events like the Vietnam War, Watergate, the moon landings, and the assignation of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Famed for his parting catchphrase “And that’s the way it is,” his reputation and influence were without peer, with USA Today commenting “few TV figures have ever had as much power as Cronkite did at his height.” Cronkite died at the age of 92 on July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City.
11. Paul Rudd
After graduating with a degree in theater from the University of Kansas, Paul Rudd worked a variety of odd jobs before landing his first TV role in Sisters. In 1995, his career hit the big time after he was cast in the cult classic, Clueless. Since then, he’s continued to enjoy massive success with roles in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. In 2015, he was cast as Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, subsequently appearing in several MCU features, including Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Avengers: Endgame.
10. Don Cheadle
Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle was born November 29, 1964, in Kansas City. After beginning his career with minor roles in Hamburger Hill and Rocket, he hit the big time in the mid-’90s with his performance in Devil in Blue Dress, Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault, and Boogie Nights. In 2004, he picked up a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda. A year later, Crash, which he both starred in and co-produced, was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture. Most recently, he’s been wowing audiences with his show-stealing performance as Maurice Monroe in the Showtime series, Black Monday.
9. Dianne Wiest
Oscar-winning actress Dianne Wiest was born in Kansas City on 28 March 1946. She’d originally planned on becoming a ballerina, but after being bitten by the acting bug, she turned her mind to the stage instead. After winning rave reviews for her performance as Desdemona alongside James Earl Jones’ Othello on Broadway, she started picking up film work, landing her breakthrough role in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo in 1985. Since then, she’s continued to win acclaim for her performances in films such as Hannah and Her Sisters (which earned her an Oscar), The Lost Boys, and Parenthood. Her TV career has been equally dazzling, with her performances in Road to Avonlea and In Treatment both winning Emmys.
8. Dee Wallace
KC native Dee Wallace first came to our attention in horror films like The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Cujo, and Critters, all of which helped earn her a cult following as a Scream Queen. She’s also known for her work alongside Steven Spielberg, firstly in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and later in Jurassic Park. In addition to her film work, she’s enjoyed a hugely prolific career on TV, and was most recently seen guest starring in 9-1-1.
7. Chris Cooper
Chris Cooper was born in Kansas City on July 9, 1951. Although he didn’t make his film debut until 1987, he’s been making up for lost time ever since, winning critical acclaim for his roles in films such as American Beauty, The Bourne Identity, Where the Wild Things Are, and Little Women. In 2002, he claimed both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Adaptation.
6. Joan Crawford
Screen icon Joan Crawford may have been born in San Antonio, Texas, but she was raised in Kansas City. After starting her career as a dancer, she made the move to Hollywood, quickly establishing herself as one of the leading ladies of the 1930s. Her initial run of success didn’t last long, and after a series of flops in the late ’30s, she came to be known as box office poison. But you can’t keep a good actress down for long, and after a couple of years’ absence, she returned in 1945 with an Acadamy Award-winning turn in the critically acclaimed film, Mildred Pierce. Crawford died of a heart attack at her home in New York City in May 1977.
5. Burt Bacharach
Legendary songwriter and composer Burt Bacharach was born May 12, 1928, in Kansas City. Best known for his collaborations with lyricist Hal David, he’s written hundreds of songs over his career, including such hugely popular pieces as (They Long to Be) Close to You, That’s What Friends Are For, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), and This Guy’s in Love with You.
4. Robert Altman
Award-winning director Roger Altman was born in Kansas City on February 20, 1925. After getting his start directing TV shows such as Pulse of the City, Maverick, and Route 66, his career went stratospheric in 1970 when he directed MASH, a film that might have been a nightmare to make (both Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland both tried to get Altman fired after taking umbrage with his methods) but which ended up becoming one of the biggest hits of the decade, winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and five Academy Award nominations. Subsequent films include McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, 3 Women, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park.
3. Jean Harlow
Legendary actress and KC native Jean Harlow was only 26 years old when she died of kidney failure, but while her time may have been cut tragically short, she certainly left her mark. A leading sex figure best known for playing the bad girl, Harlow’s bombshell good looks and innate comedic talent turned her into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, outstripping even Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo in terms of popularity. Even today, her status remains undiminished, and in 1999, she was named by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest female screen legends of classical Hollywood cinema.
2. Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City on August 29, 1920. A hugely influential jazz saxophonist and bandleader who helped shape the development of behop, his intellectual, uncompromising attitude to his craft made him a hero to the Beat generation, while his vast and extraordinary body of work continues to be a source of huge inspiration and influence. Despite his iconic status and huge impact on jazz, Parker was only 34 years old when he died on March 12, 1955.
1. Walt Disney
Walt Disney might not have been born in Kansas City, but considering he spent the majority of his childhood and early adulthood there, we’re going to go ahead and count him anyway. According to Wikipedia, the City of Fountains also inspired Walt’s most famous creation, Mickey Mouse – or rather, the tame mouse he kept at his desk at KC’s Laugh-O-Gram Studio did. A cultural icon and central figure in the history of animation, Disney’s vision and creativity continue to influence, inspire and bring joy to countless people across the world to this day.