Skip to main content

11 dads of famous juniors

By Ethan Trex, Mental Floss
Actors Cuba Gooding Sr., center, with his sons Cuba Gooding Jr., left, and Omar Gooding.
Actors Cuba Gooding Sr., center, with his sons Cuba Gooding Jr., left, and Omar Gooding.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some famous folks who are junior had some famous fathers
  • Cuba Gooding Sr. sang in the Motown group The Main Ingredient
  • Robert Downey Sr. wrote and directed the cult film "Greaser's Palace"
  • William F. Buckley Sr. was a lawyer and prominent oil developer in Texas

(Mental Floss) -- In honor of Father's Day, let's take a look at some dads who gave famous people a giant gift: their names. You know Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Ken Griffey Sr., but here are some lesser-known seniors behind a slew of celebrity juniors.

1. Martin Luther King Sr. probably didn't know his name would become so famous when he changed it. The civil rights icon's father was born Michael King in 1899, but after he became a successful minister in the 1930s, he changed his name to Martin Luther King.

When Dad changed his name to honor Martin Luther, so did his 5-year-old son Michael King Jr. Like his son, King Sr. was a tireless civil rights advocate; he even led the Atlanta branch of the NAACP.

Mental Floss: 7 lost time capsules

2. Harry Connick Sr. has been known to tickle the ivories and belt out a tune or two in New Orleans' nightclubs, but his main claim to fame is his legal prowess. From 1973 to 2003, Harry Connick Sr. served as the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, a tenure that earned him enshrinement in the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame.

3. William F. Buckley Sr. was a lawyer and prominent oil developer in Texas. Buckley was active in the oil business in Mexico during the early 20th century, and at one point in 1921 he even found himself expelled from the country as the result of his lobbying to ease restrictions on American ownership of oil wells.

4. Mel Kiper Sr. never heard an NFL team call his name on draft day. Instead, the father of the NFL's pre-eminent draft guru worked a vending machine route, sold real estate, and coached college and high school baseball until his death in 1988.

A 1992 Sports Illustrated profile of his son noted that Mel Sr. played a key role in helping get Mel Kiper Enterprises off the ground by helping his son track down subscribers and advertisers for his early NFL draft newsletters.

Mental Floss: 11 famous roommates from the world of sports

5. Cuba Gooding Sr. may have an Oscar-winning son, but he knows a thing or two about showbiz himself. Cuba Sr. sang in the Motown group The Main Ingredient, including lead vocals on the band's hit songs "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely."

6. Freddie Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel, but he changed his name to Freddie Prinze when his comedy career started to take off. Freddie Prinze Jr. fans might know know that his dad was a pretty successful comic, who made appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "The Jack Paar Show".

He's probably best remembered for co-starring in the NBC sitcom "Chico and the Man" for four seasons in the mid-1970s.

7. Al Gore Sr. set a pretty good example for his son when it came to politics. The future vice president's father served as the congressman for Tennessee's 4th district from 1939 until 1953. He then spent 18 years in the Senate.

Given his son's famous concerns about the climate, it's surprising that Al Sr. worked as a lawyer for a petroleum company and later became chairman of Island Creek Coal Company following the end of his political career.

Mental Floss: 22 great photos found in presidential libraries

8. Sammy Davis Sr. had a lot in common with his candy man son. Sammy Sr. was a successful dancer and vaudeville entertainer along with his wife, Elvera Sanchez, during the 1920s.

When the pair split up in 1929, Sammy Sr. took his son on the road as part of a new dance act, and the young future Rat Pack member spent the rest of his life in show business.

Mental Floss: Original flavors of 9 popular candies

9. Larry Mullen Sr. was surely proud of his son's success as the drummer for the up-and-coming band U2 during the early 1980s, but his boy's growing fame led to some sticky situations.

The Irish revenue service apparently had trouble distinguishing the two men, so Dad kept getting hefty tax bills that were meant for his rock-star son. The drummer decided to clear up any confusion by permanently adding the 'Jr." to his stage name.

10. Kurt Vonnegut Sr. didn't write much satirical science fiction, but he had a knack for designing buildings.

As an architect working in Indiana during the mid-20th century, Vonnegut drew up plans for a number of Art Deco-inflected Indiana Bell offices and Hook's Drug Stores shops.

11. Robert Downey Sr. hasn't appeared in any blockbusters like Iron Man, but he's enjoyed a long career as an actor, writer, and filmmaker. In 1972 he wrote and directed the cult film "Greaser's Palace", and he had a small role in William Friedkin's 1985 neo-noir "To Live and Die in L.A."

Mental Floss: 7 stolen movie props

 
Quick Job Search