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Steven Frederic Seagal (born April 10, 1952) is an actor, producer, screenwriter, director, martial artist, and musician who holds American, Russian, and Serbian citizenship.
A 7th-dan black belt in aikido, Seagal began his adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan; becoming the first foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in the country. He later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a martial arts instructor. In 1988, Seagal made his acting debut in Above the Law. By 1991, he had starred in four successful films. In 1992, he played Navy SEALs counter-terrorist expert Casey Ryback in Under Siege. During the latter half of the 1990s, Seagal starred in three more theatrical films and the direct-to-video film The Patriot. Since then, his career has shifted almost entirely to direct-to-video productions. He has since appeared in films and reality shows, including Steven Seagal: Lawman, which depicted Seagal performing his duties as a reserve deputy sheriff.
Seagal is a guitarist and has released two studio albums (Songs from the Crystal Cave and Mojo Priest), and performed on a number of film scores. He has worked with Stevie Wonder and Tony Rebel, who both performed on his debut album. He has also been involved in a line of “therapeutic oil” products and energy drinks.
In addition, Seagal is known as an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, and as a supporter of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He is also known for his outspoken political views and for his friendship with Vladimir Putin. Seagal once referred to Putin as “one of the great living world leaders”.
1 Early life and education
2 Martial arts
3 Hollywood career
3.1 1980s – 1990s
3.2 Direct-to-video work
3.3 Recent television and commercial work
4 Themes and motifs
5 Other ventures
5.2 Law enforcement work
5.3 Business ventures
6 Personal life
6.3 Relationships and family
7 Allegations and lawsuits
7.1 Sexual harassment and domestic violence
7.2 Early 1990s
7.3 1995 lawsuit
7.4 2010 lawsuit
7.5 2011 lawsuit
8 Political views and activism
11 Awards and nominations
Early Life and Education
Seagal was born in Lansing, Michigan. His mother, Patricia (1930–2003), was a medical technician, and his father, Samuel Seagal (1928–1991), was a high school math teacher. His mother was of English, German and Dutch ancestry. His father was the son of Russian Jews who moved to the U.S. When Seagal was five years old, his parents relocated to Fullerton, California. He attended Buena Park High School in Buena Park, California, and, between 1970 and 1971, Fullerton College.
Seagal moved to Japan at some point between the ages of 19 and 21 with his father who was visiting for military purposes, and met karate masters and decided to remain in Japan. He received his 1st dan degree (shodan) under the direction of Koichi Tohei. He continued to train in aikido as a student of Seiseki Abe, Tohei (whose aikido organization, Ki Society, Seagal refused to join in favor of staying with the Aikikai), Kisaburo Osawa, Hiroshi Isoyama and the second Dōshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. He attained a 7th dan degree and Shihan in aikido, he also holds black belts in Karate, Judo and Kendo and became the first foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in Japan.
After returning to California in 1974, Seagal met Miyako Fujitani, an aikido instructor teaching in Los Angeles. He returned with her to her native Japan in 1975 where they married.
Seagal initially returned to Taos, New Mexico, with his student (and later film stuntman) Craig Dunn, where they opened a dojo, although Seagal spent much of his time pursuing other ventures. After another period in Japan, Seagal returned to the U.S. in 1983 with senior student Haruo Matsuoka. They opened an aikido dojo, initially in North Hollywood, California, but later moved it to the city of West Hollywood. Seagal left Matsuoka in charge of the dojo, which he ran until the two parted ways in 1997.
He has helped train Brazilian Mixed Martial Artists Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Silva, who is the former UFC Middleweight Champion, went on to knock out Vitor Belfort with a kick, in their fight at UFC 126 in February 2011, and Machida also credited him for helping him perfect the front kick that he used to knock out Randy Couture at UFC 129 in May 2011]
1980s – 1990s
In 1987, Seagal began work on his first film, Above the Law (titled Nico in Europe), with director Andrew Davis and reportedly as a favor to a former aikido student, the agent Michael Ovitz. Ovitz took Seagal to Warner Brothers to put on an aikido demonstration and the executives were impressed by him and offered him several scripts; Seagal turned them down but agreed to write what would become Above the Law. Following its success, Seagal’s subsequent movies were Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, and Out for Justice, all box office hits, making him an action hero. Later, he achieved wider, mainstream success in 1992 with the release of Under Siege (1992). That film reunited Seagal with director Andrew Davis, and was a blockbuster in the U.S. and abroad, grossing $156.4 million worldwide.
Seagal hosted the April 20, 1991 episode of the late night variety show Saturday Night Live, which aired as the 18th episode of the 16th season. Cast member David Spade regarded Seagal as the show’s worst host during Spade’s time there. Spade and co-star Tim Meadows cite Seagal’s humorlessness, his ill treatment of the show’s cast and writers, and his refusal to do a “Hans and Franz” sketch because that skit’s title characters stated that they could beat up Seagal. Seagal was never invited back to the show following that episode. Meadows commented, “He didn’t realize that you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday.” The cast and crew’s difficulties with Seagal were later echoed on-air by producer Lorne Michaels during guest host Nicolas Cage’s monologue in the September 26, 1992 Season 18 premiere. When Cage worried that he would do so poorly that the audience would regard him as “the biggest jerk who’s ever been on the show”, Michaels replied, “No, no. That would be Steven Seagal.”
Seagal directed and starred in On Deadly Ground (1994), featuring Michael Caine, R. Lee Ermey and Billy Bob Thornton in minor supporting roles. The film emphasized environmental and spiritual themes, signaling a break with his previous persona as a genre-ready inner-city cop. On Deadly Ground was poorly received by critics, especially denouncing Seagal’s long environmental speech in the film. Regardless, Seagal considers it one of the most important and relevant moments in his career. Seagal filmed a sequel to one of his most successful films, Under Siege, titled Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995), and cop drama The Glimmer Man (1996). In 1996, he had a role in the Kurt Russell film Executive Decision, portraying a special ops soldier who only appears in the film’s first 45 minutes. In another environmentally conscious and commercially unsuccessful film, Fire Down Below (1997), he was an EPA agent fighting industrialists dumping toxic waste in the Kentucky hills. This film ended his original multi-picture contract with Warner Bros.
The next year, Seagal made The Patriot, another environmental thriller which was his first direct-to-video release in the United States (though it was released theatrically in most of the world). Seagal produced this film with his own money, and the film was shot on-location on and near his farm in Montana.
After producing Prince of Central Park, Seagal returned to cinema screens with the release of Exit Wounds in March 2001. The film had fewer martial arts scenes than Seagal’s previous films, but it was a commercial success, taking almost $80 million worldwide. However, he was unable to capitalize on this success and his next two projects were both critical and commercial failures. The movie Ticker, co-starring Tom Sizemore and Dennis Hopper, was filmed in San Francisco before Exit Wounds, and went straight to DVD. Half Past Dead, starring rap star Ja Rule, made less than $20 million worldwide.
Other than his role as a villain in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, all of the films Seagal has made since the latter half of 2001 have been released direct-to-video (DTV) in North America, with some theatrical releases to other countries around the world. Seagal is credited as a producer and sometimes a writer on many of these DTV movies, which include Black Dawn, Belly of the Beast, Out of Reach, Submerged, Kill Switch, Urban Justice, Pistol Whipped, Against the Dark, Driven to Kill, A Dangerous Man, Born to Raise Hell and The Keeper, a movie released in Japan fifteen weeks earlier than the United States. In 2016, Seagal starred in 7 direct-to-video movies.
Recent television and commercial work
In 2009, A&E Network premiered the reality television series; Steven Seagal: Lawman, focusing on Seagal as a deputy in Louisiana. In 2011, he produced and starred in a 13-episode television series entitled True Justice. It was renewed for a second season on ReelzChannel in 2012. In the UK, True Justice has been repackaged as a series of DVD “movies,” with each disc editing together two episodes.
Themes and Motifs
Many of Seagal’s films share unique elements which have become characteristic of his body of work. His characters often have an elite past affiliation with the CIA, Special Forces or Black Ops (for example, Casey Ryback in Under Siege, a former Navy SEAL, Jack Cole in The Glimmer Man, an ex-CIA police detective, or Jonathan Cold in The Foreigner and Black Dawn, an ex-CIA Black Ops freelancer.) His characters differ from those of other action movie icons by virtue of their near-invulnerability; they almost never face any significant physical threat, easily overpowering any opposition and never facing bodily harm or even temporary defeat. A notable exception is 2010’s Machete, which features Seagal in a rare villainous role.
Seagal’s music appears in some of his films (for example, Into The Sun and Ticker, where he appears as part of a bar band), as does his fluency in other languages (he speaks Japanese in Into the Sun) and religion (Buddhism features prominently in The Glimmer Man and Belly of the Beast). His past as an aikido teacher is also incorporated into several films, for example Above the Law (which opens with a montage of real-life photos from Seagal’s own past) or Shadow Man, where he is seen giving an aikido demonstration. Several of his films also feature prominent political messages, most notably the environmentalism evident in On Deadly Ground, which ends with a lengthy speech in which Seagal (playing ex-CIA firefighter Forrest Taft) accuses big business of rampant environmental degradation:
Big Business is primarily responsible for destroying the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat. They have no care for the world they destroy, only for the money they make in the process… They basically control the legislation, and, in fact, they control the Law… They influence the media so that they can control our minds. They have made it a crime to speak out for ourselves, and if we do so we’re called “conspiracy nuts” and we’re laughed at… We have to force these companies to operate safely and responsibly, and with all our best interests in mind.
In 2008, author and critic Vern (no last name) published Seagalogy, a work which examines Seagal’s filmography using the framework of auteur theory. The book divides Seagal’s filmography into different chronological “eras” with distinct thematic elements. The book was updated in 2012 to include more recent films and Seagal’s work on the reality TV show Steven Seagal: Lawman.
Seagal live in 2007
In addition to acting and aikido, Seagal also plays the guitar. His songs have been featured in several of his movies, including Fire Down Below and Ticker. Among his “extensive” collection include guitars previously owned by “the Kings”; Albert, BB and Freddie, Bo Diddley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix.
In 2005, he released his first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, which has a mix of pop, world, country and blues music. It features duets with Tony Rebel, Lt. Stichie, Lady Saw, and Stevie Wonder. The soundtrack to Seagal’s 2005 film Into the Sun features several songs from the album. One of his album tracks, “Girl It’s Alright”, was also released as a single in parts of the world alongside an accompanying music video created for it. Seagal’s second album, titled Mojo Priest, was released in April 2006. Subsequently, he spent summer 2006 touring the United States and Europe with his band, Thunderbox, in support of the album.
Law enforcement work
Seagal has been a Reserve Deputy Chief in the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana Sheriff’s Office. In the late 1980s after teaching the deputies martial arts, unarmed combat and marksmanship, proving that he is an expert in all of these skills longtime sheriff Harry Lee was so impressed he asked Seagal to join the force. Seagal owns a second home in Louisiana and spends several months there every year. According to the show, Seagal graduated from a police academy in Los Angeles over twenty years ago and has a certificate from Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST), an organization that accredits California police officers. However, POST officials in California and Louisiana have no record of Seagal being certified, and Seagal’s rank in Louisiana is ceremonial.
In November 2008, A&E announced that they had begun taping Steven Seagal: Lawman, which follows his work in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. The series premiered on A&E on December 2, 2009. Seagal stated that “I’ve decided to work with A&E on this series now because I believe it’s important to show the nation all the positive work being accomplished here in Louisiana—to see the passion and commitment that comes from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in this post-Katrina environment.” The series premiere drew 3.6 million viewers, ranking as best season opener for any original A&E series ever.
On April 14, 2010, the series was suspended by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand due to a sexual trafficking lawsuit filed against Seagal. The suit was later dropped. A&E resumed the show for the second season which began on October 6, 2010.
In February 2011, A&E announced that the series would begin production on Season 3 episodes, with a change of location from Louisiana to Maricopa County, Arizona. Two episodes were scheduled to be aired beginning on January 4, 2012. The episodes were announced by A&E, who created Facebook page for the series and listed in the TV guide. Shortly before the episodes were to be aired, the web and Facebook pages about the series were removed. A&E made no announcements about the sudden suspension of Season 3 or whether there would be a third season.
It was announced on May 16, 2013, that the third season would air on Reelz starting in January 2014. Episodes from the first two seasons began airing on June 6, 2013. Season 3 premiered on January 2, 2014.
In 1997, a company called Young Living Essential Oils announced it was “working closely” with Seagal on a line of “therapeutic oil” products. The company claimed that Seagal had also allowed them to “use his Montana ranch as an additional site to grow [the] plants used to distill Young Living’s Essential Oils…” As of 2015, the company does not mention Seagal or any products co-created with him on its official website.
In 2005, Seagal Enterprises began to market an energy drink known as Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt, but it has since been discontinued.
Seagal has also marketed an aftershave called “Scent of Action,” and a range of knives and weapons.
In 2013, Seagal joined newly formed Russian firearms manufacturer ORSIS, representing the company in both a promotional capacity as well as lobbying for the easement of US import restrictions on Russian sporting firearms. It was also announced he would work with the company to develop a signature long range rifle known provisionally as “ORSIS by Steven Seagal”.
Seagal owns a dude ranch in Colorado and a home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, a wealthy neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Seagal is a Buddhist. In February 1997, Lama Penor Rinpoche from Palyul monastery announced that Seagal was a tulku, and specifically the reincarnation of Chungdrag Dorje, a 17th-century terton (treasure revealer) of the Nyingma, the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Seagal’s recognition aroused controversy in the American Buddhist community, with Helen Tworkov commenting in Tricycle to doubt the extent of Seagal’s “spiritual wisdom” and to suggest that Seagal bought his Buddhahood by donations to Penor’s Kunzang Palyul Choling center. Penor Rinpoche responded to the controversy by saying that Seagal, although acting in violent movies, had not actually killed people, and that Seagal was merely recognized, whereas enthronement as a tulku would require first a “lengthy process of study and practice”.
Other than his American citizenship, Seagal was granted Serbian citizenship on 11 January 2016, following several visits to the country, and has been asked to train aikido to the Serbian Special Forces.
Seagal was granted Russian citizenship on 3 November 2016, according to government spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “He was asking quite insistently and over a lengthy period to be granted citizenship”.
Relationships and Family
Seagal introduces his wife, Elle, to Matthieu Ricard (January 2, 2008).
While in Japan, Seagal married his first wife, Miyako Fujitani, the daughter of an aikido instructor. With Fujitani, he had a son, actor and model Kentaro Seagal, and a daughter, writer and actress Ayako Fujitani. Seagal left Miyako to move back to the United States.
During this time he met actress and model Kelly LeBrock, with whom he began an affair that led to Fujitani granting him a divorce. Seagal was briefly married to actress Adrienne La Russa in 1984, but that marriage was annulled the same year over concerns that his divorce had not yet been finalized. LeBrock gave birth to her and Seagal’s daughter Annaliza in spring 1987. Seagal and LeBrock married in September 1987 and their son Dominic was born in June 1990. Their daughter Arissa was born in 1993. The following year, LeBrock filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences”.
Seagal is married to Erdenetuya Batsukh (Mongolian: Батсүхийн Эрдэнэтуяа), better known as “Elle”. They have one son together, Kunzang. Elle is from Mongolia. From an early age, Elle trained as a dancer at the Children’s Palace in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. After her graduation from high school and the Children’s Palace, she pursued a career as a professional dancer. She won a number of dancing contests and was considered the top female dancer in Mongolia; excelling at ballroom dancing in particular. Elle first met Seagal in 2001, where she worked as his interpreter during his visit to Mongolia.
Seagal has seven children from four relationships, and two grandchildren by his eldest son, Kentaro. In addition to his biological offspring, Seagal is the guardian of Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, the only child of the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet. When she studied in the United States, Seagal was her minder and bodyguard.
Allegations and Lawsuits
Sexual harassment and domestic violence
In May, 1991 (during the filming of Out for Justice), Warner Brothers’ employees Raenne Malone, Nicole Selinger, and Christine Keeve accused Seagal of sexual harassment. In return for remaining silent, Malone and another women reportedly received around $50,000 each in an out of court settlement. Around the same time, at least four actresses claimed that Seagal had made sexual advances, typically during late-night “casting sessions.”
In another incident, Jenny McCarthy claimed that Seagal asked her to undress during an audition for Under Siege 2.
In 1995, Seagal was charged with employment discrimination, sexual harassment and breach of contract. Cheryl Shuman filed a case against Seagal, accusing him of threatening and beating her during the filming of On Deadly Ground. In August, 1995, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki dismissed the case, calling the claims “repetitive and unintelligible”.
On April 12, 2010, 23-year-old Kayden Nguyen filed a lawsuit against Seagal in a Los Angeles County Superior Court, specifying damages in excess of one million dollars. In her suit, Nguyen made a number of allegations against Seagal, including sexual harassment, the illegal trafficking of females for sex, failure to prevent sexual harassment, and wrongful termination. Seagal personally denied the allegations, yet he was forced to suspend his show, Steven Seagal: Lawman, while his attorneys attempted to resolve the case privately. On July 14, 2010, three months after Nguyen made her claims against Seagal, the case was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff without any public explanation.
On August 30, 2011, Jesus Sanchez Llovera filed a lawsuit against Seagal over his part in a Maricopa county police raid with heavy weapons (notably including an Army surplus tank) of Llovera’s residence for suspicion of cockfighting. The incident was taped for Segal’s A&E reality show, Steven Seagal: Lawman. Llovera was seeking $100,000 for damages made during the raid and a letter of apology from Seagal to Llovera’s children for the death of their family pet. Llovera claimed that his 11-month-old puppy was shot and killed during the raid. Llovera failed to file court-ordered paperwork after his attorney withdrew from the case and the lawsuit was dismissed in January 2013.
Political Views and Activism
Seagal lent his voice as a narrator for an activist film project, Medicine Lake Video. The project seeks to protect sacred tribal ground near Seagal’s ranch in Siskiyou County. He also wrote an open letter to the leadership of Thailand in 2003, urging them to enact a law to prevent the torture of baby elephants.
In 1999, Seagal was awarded a PETA Humanitarian Award.
Seagal signing his Russian passport, November 2016
In a March 2014 interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Seagal described Vladimir Putin as “one of the great living world leaders”. He stated that he “would like to consider [Putin] as a brother”, and expressed support for the annexation of Crimea by Russia. In July, 2014, following calls for a boycott, Seagal was dropped from the lineup of the August Blues Festival in Haapsalu, Estonia. Estonian musician Tõnis Mägi, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Paet, and Parliament’s Foreign Affairs chairman, Marko Mihkelson, had all condemned inviting Seagal into the country, with Paet stating, “Steven Seagal has tried to actively participate in politics during the past few months and has done it in a way which is unacceptable to the majority of the world that respects democracy and the rule of law.” In August, 2014, Seagal appeared at a Night Wolves-organized show in Sevastopol, Crimea, supporting the Crimean annexation and depicting Ukraine as a country controlled by fascists. On November 3, Seagal was granted Russian citizenship by president Putin. His views on Ukraine and Russian citizenship caused Ukraine to ban him because he “commit
ted socially dangerous actions”.
Seagal spoke out against the protests during the United States national anthem by professional athletes, stating, “I believe in free speech, I believe that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t agree that they should hold the United States of America or the world hostage by taking a venue where people are tuning in to watch a football game and imposing their political views.” He also expressed skepticism of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.
Awards and Nominations
- 2005: Songs from the Crystal Cave
- 2006: Mojo Priest