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The untold truth of Norman Reedus

Though many of his film roles are lesser-known, actor Norman Reedus has developed immense popularity playing Daryl Dixon, a character created solely for the television adaptation of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard's horror comic sensation, The Walking Dead. Reedus didn't join as a regular cast member until the show's second season, but there is something about his portrayal of the slow-to-trust redneck survivalist that's thrown him so far into the spotlight that he is season nine's main protagonist. 

Reedus himself might be something of a mystery to casual viewers, but he has certainly led an interesting life up to this point. With his storied past, it is difficult to pin down Reedus' path from childhood to TV star. An itinerant artist who fell into acting rather by accident, Reedus has proven that sometimes going with the flow will lead you right to where you were meant to be all along.

He's lived all over the world

Unlike Daryl Dixon, Reedus has had the benefit of exposure to many different countries and cultures throughout his life. He was appropriately born in Hollywood, Florida — a city that doesn't have the celebrity draw of its Californian counterpart, but is known for being similarly warm and full of laid-back beach activities. His parents divorced when he was quite young, and Reedus' mother Marianne, a former Playboy Bunny who sold coffins, was often moving around from place to place while working as a teacher. 

For a while, Reedus played competitive youth tennis, later joining his mother in Japan, where he lived with her until he finished high school. This foreshadowed a later twist in his career — The Walking Dead has proven so popular in Japan that Reedus and co-star Andrew Lincoln have filmed a few truly delightful and strange Japan-only commercials for the series. After finishing high school, Reedus relocated to London with friends, then to Spain on his own, and eventually to Los Angeles chasing after a lady. He currently splits his time between New York City and Georgia, where The Walking Dead is filmed.

He got his start acting in plays

Acting doesn't seem to have been on Reedus' radar initially. During his time in LA, he was attending a party where he was asked if he wanted to be in a play, after he caused a drunken scene. The play was Maps For Drowners, a comedy about the AIDS crisis. An acting agent was in the audience at the time, and soon after he found himself taking roles in weird, dark films — which makes sense, given the subject matter he had started out with. 

The Boondock Saints would be his most popular role until he was picked up for The Walking Dead about a decade later. Even so, he has been acting steadily since that first lucky and unlikely stage performance, making guest appearances on well-known TV dramas like Charmed and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Many actors get their film careers jump-started by a stint on stage, though usually after having been educated at an acting institute, rather than being spotted at a raucous party.

A reluctant modeling career

In the 90s, Reedus was dating model Helena Christensen, with whom he had his first child, Mingus. While working on the set of the film Six Ways to Sunday, Reedus was photographed by the famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, which helped jump-start Reedus' own modeling career. He has done model work for the likes of Prada (who he claims hadn't even heard of before he started working for them), as well as Gap, H&M, D'Urban, and Levi's. 

While the Prada gig was a direct result of Leibovitz's Six Ways shoot, the later work was likely the result of help from Christensen, though it seems she is glad to support their son in his decision to not do modelling work himself. Reedus certainly wears the rough-and-tumble redneck look well on The Walking Dead, but he also looks very charming in a suit. His model work is just another part of the strange and unlikely patchwork of his life.

Music video appearances

MTV may have long since lost their focus on music videos, but artists are still out there making them. Usually those videos center on the singer or band, but every now and then there is an actor involved to heighten the drama. Reedus has appeared in several such videos, both before and after his Walking Dead fame. In the '90s, he worked with Keith Richards on "Wicked as it Seems," Bjork on "Violently Happy," R.E.M. on "Strange Currencies," and Radiohead on "Fake Plastic Trees." Each of these artists certainly seem to compliment his artsy lifestyle at the time. 

Since rising in popularity, he's had two more music video appearances: in Lady Gaga's "Judas," where he has the distinction of portraying the Biblical bad boy, and in Jihae's "It Just Feels," written by the late Leonard Cohen. These more recent videos both prominently feature motorcycles, which makes a lot of sense in the context of his current acting work. They also show that he has a deep commitment to working on projects with a sound and meaningful artistic base.

His near-death car accident in Germany

In 2005, Reedus was set to attend the Berlin Film Festival and accept a Rising Star award. While in Berlin, he was invited by R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe to a concert the band was playing. Afterward, Reedus borrowed Stipe's car, and upon pulling out onto a street, he was slammed by an 18-wheeler with no warning. He flew through the windshield and severely injured his face, resulting in extreme reconstruction. He has a titanium eye socket and four screws in the bridge of his nose. He was very lucky to get out alive, but serious props have to go to his surgeons, who did an incredible job of reconstructing his face. No doubt knowing how traumatic a car accident can be, Reedus and Walking Dead co-star Steven Yeun raced to the scene of an accident near where they were filming in 2016 to provide assistance.

He runs his own production company

Though filming The Walking Dead surely keeps Reedus busy, he also runs his own production company, Big Bald Head. Through this company, he produces and hosts Ride With Norman Reedus on AMC, in which he travels from place to place, exploring biker culture in various cities across the United States. Each episode features a different guest tagging along to explore bike shops, tattoo parlors, and other such locales of motorcycle madness. 

Reedus has also directed three short films: "The Rub," "A Filthy Little Fruit," and "Thought of You." In these projects, he explores failure, anonymous sex, and the inner life of jazz musician Miles Davis, respectively. The first film, "The Rub," claims a directorial and cinematic style reminiscent of German director Wim Wenders and Twin Peaks writer-director David Lynch, further underscoring Reedus' keen interest in obscure and artful films. Reedus also co-owns a restaurant, called Nic & Norman's, alongside The Walking Dead special effects make-up artist Greg Nicotero.

He is an accomplished photographer

As though acting, filmmaking, and running a restaurant were not enough for this man of many interests, Reedus is also still very dedicated to photography. He has exhibited his work in cities all over the world, including Berlin, Hamburg, New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. His interest is in "making the disturbing beautiful," which can be seen through his expert framing of strange and terrifying subjects. He says that he's been involved in photography since high school, and having had a couple decades of experience really shines through in his work, leading the viewer to think long and hard about what he's trying to convey. He has a great artistic sensitivity for a man who is best known for killing zombies on TV — and perhaps that is part of why he chooses to combine beauty and fear, as an extension of his own bizarre mythology.

He's published a couple books

It's hard to avoid a celebrity's ghost-written biography these days, but Reedus' forays into publishing have been a little different. The first of his books, The Sun's Coming Up… Like A Big Bald Head is a collection of his photography, and the title explains the name of all his "Big Bald Head" branding (it's even his Twitter handle). The second book, Thanks For All the Niceness, is an interesting little piece, compiling the tributary works of fans from all over the world. Reedus allegedly selected each of the more than 100 works that grace the pages of this tome, really reinforcing his assertions that he thinks very highly of his fans. 

With all the other projects that Reedus dips his hands into, perhaps it's only a matter of time before he actually sits down and writes his own book of prose, whether it be an autobiography or something fictional. He's going to have to do something with his time if he ever gets killed off on The Walking Dead.

Video game appearances

It goes without saying that Reedus has portrayed Daryl Dixon in the two video game adaptations of The Walking Dead, subtitled Survival Instinct and No Man's Land. But he's also been working with Japanese video game director/designer/writer/producer Hideo Kojima on a project called Death Stranding. The game was originally announced at E3 in 2016, but its production has been shrouded in mystery. In early 2019, Kojima admitted that the team was falling behind schedule a bit, but fans are still hopeful that it will come out soon. 

This will be the second time Reedus has collaborated with Kojima, after the two worked on the now-cancelled Silent Hills project. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (an ever-rising star known for everything from Hannibal to Star Wars to James Bond) also appears in the game as its main antagonist opposite Reedus, and the internet loves Mikkelsen's bromance with director Kojima. Nobody seems to know quite what Death Stranding is about yet, but with all the time and effort that's going into it, it'll hopefully be a resounding success.

He's an animal lover and activist

Reedus has established himself very firmly as an edgy, artsy, badass guy who portrays gritty, hard-edged characters. So perhaps it is most surprising that in the eclectic fabric of his life, he is also a proponent of animal rights. In 2013, Reedus joined up with Cruelty Free International to promote a ban on animal testing in the cosmetics industry. In the campaign photos he poses with a beautiful cat called Lola, and Reedus is no stranger to feline companionship. He has a sweet black kitty named Eye in the Dark, with whom he posed for a photoshoot with People Magazine for their 2013 "Sexiest Man Alive" feature. Apparently when Reedus' son Mingus was still very young, he felt a strong need for a little black cat, and Eye in the Dark was there to answer the call. Who knew that years later, this little foundling would be part of the family of one of the most recognizable television celebrities of the time?