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Parks And Rec: The Untold Truth Of Ron Swanson

When describing Ron Swanson to someone who's never seen NBC's Parks and Recreation, you might get a response like, "That guy sounds like the worst." Even Ron Swanson actor Nick Offerman answered a Quora question that asked if anyone is like Ron Swanson in real life. The actor said, "Probably not. He's a brilliant fictional creation of some really smart comedy writers. He wouldn't be that appetizing of a person. He'd have high points, but generally would be pretty boring and pedantic." So while the two may have striking similarities, they're certainly not carbon copies.

On paper, Ron seems like a bit of a butt-face, but he's actually a snarly teddy bear with a heart of gold (coated with a sheen of Lagavulin and meat on his wiry mustache). Sure, Ron Ulysses Swanson prides himself on three things — the truth, his name, and most of all, his privacy. And yeah, his hatred of government spurs his (nefarious?) plan to destroy it from within. However, during the show, Ron produces some of the best character development in TV history, often showing his softer side for his Parks coworkers (even Jerry sometimes). 

So, in that vein, we're here to bring you the untold truth of Ron Swanson, with behind-the-scenes facts about Parks and Recreation and actor Nick Offerman that prove he and Ron are almost the same person, with a few key differences.

Ron Swanson and the Tammy Situation

Freud would have a field day with Ron Swanson, as both of his ex-wives are named Tammy. (And yeah, his mom's name is Tamara ... but she goes by Tammy). Unaffectionately called Tammy 1, Ron's first wife helped deliver Ron in the hospital. She was also his math teacher, his Sunday School teacher, and she schooled him in the art of Kama Sutra, if you get the drift. And whenever she's around, Ron becomes a yes-man with a childlike demeanor that defies everything he stands for.

Tammy 2, on the other hand, is an unhinged librarian who continually stalks Ron and his lovers throughout the show, trying to win him back and/or destroy him. She succeeds in a bizarre courthouse wedding ceremony that's closely followed by a stint in jail and a subsequent divorce. So technically, she's Tammy 2 and Tammy 3, and she has the power to turn him into a wild sex fiend.

To make matters funnier, Nick Offerman is happily married to Tammy 2 — actress Megan Mullally — in real life, making their hypersexualized and moderately disturbing relationship on the show that much funnier. In an interview with WBUR, Offerman said of Mullally, "She is not only my wife and my best friend, but she's my teacher in a lot of ways. She's also just a comedy legend."

How a Libertarian got a government job

When creating Ron Swanson, showrunner Michael Schur thought it would be hilarious to have a Libertarian working for the government. However, according to an A.V. Club interview, he worried the character might be too "jokey," but that changed when he met an actual Libertarian working in a local government position.

As a result, Schur and company decided to move forward with the gag, creating a character whose political beliefs are at odds with his livelihood. In fact, Ron Swanson makes it abundantly clear that he hates government in his first mockumentary monologue, declaring, "I don't believe in government. I think that all government is a waste of taxpayer money. My dream is to have the park system privatized and run entirely for profit by corporations." 

Ron's entire reason for his government work is to dismantle it from within. Still, his soft spot for Leslie Knope leaves room for him to help her park goals and political campaign. While Leslie and Ron are polar opposites, he admits that he'd rather work with someone who speaks her mind than a "militant yes-man."

But even though Ron and Offerman have some similarities, the actor told GQ, "While I admire the philosophy of the Libertarian mindset, I think it's proven to be ineffectual in actual governance. So no, I'm not [a Libertarian]. I'm a free-thinking American." Offerman has no plans to enter into politics himself, noting in the same interview, "I don't think a blowhard performer from NBC should ever consider running for office." That hasn't stopped him from rallying for candidates he believes in, though. He's known for supporting Democratic candidates, especially during the 2020 election

Both Ron Swanson and Nick Offerman have surprising saxophone skills

Some of Ron's most iconic character traits were just kismet, including his secret identity as jazz musician extraordinaire, Duke Silver. During a Paley Center interview, Offerman revealed that the writers were planning to give Ron a clandestine jazz arc before finding out that he could actually play an instrument. When they pitched the idea to Offerman, he said, "Perfect. I play the saxophone." The actor joked to a fan on Quora that while he does, in fact, play the sax, he doesn't play "nearly as well as Duke Silver."

Offerman explained that he started playing in fifth grade as a tenor sax player, and he was first chair in his high school jazz band, even winning the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award. While he noted that high school was the peak of his jazz career, we think Duke Silver and his harem of lady admirers might have something to say about that egregious declaration. Only the coolest musicians have secret identities.

Pawnee's woodworking finest

Most fans know that woodworking expert Ron Swanson spends more time in his woodshop than he does his office, but they might be surprised to learn that Ron's woodshop is actually Offerman's real-life woodshop. The actor even filmed his portion of the 2020 Parks and Rec reunion in the LA-based shop. Offerman revealed in a Paley Center interview that writers knew he was a woodworker because, during early talks for the role, he would tell them, "Hold on, I have to turn off my table saw." They eventually came to visit the shop and said, "You sir, are a nerd," and that maybe they could "milk some comedy out of it."

Offerman also salvaged wood from the set to make paddleboards for his Parks family, similar to Ron saving the wood from Ann's door to make Leslie a picture frame. The actor even made the wooden keepsake box that Ron gives to Chris in the show. Additionally, Offerman started the crafting show, Making It, with Amy Poehler, and he appeared in an episode of The Good Place where he taught the character of Tahani how to build the perfect chair. While the credits confirm that Offerman was playing himself since the actor and Ron are fairly similar, fans can make their own choice as to whether that's Nick Offerman or Ron Swanson hanging out in Heaven.

He's actually a softy

Ron Swanson claims that the best friend he ever had was a silent coworker whose name he never learned. And according to Swanson, they "still never talk sometimes." Yet despite his apparent aversion towards human interaction, Ron continually shows that he cares when he makes gestures like building Mark a canoe, giving Andy a college scholarship, and trying to get Tom Haverford, aka Tommy Fresh, to detox from the internet.

In spite of his intense hatred towards Leslie's politics, Ron works harder than almost anyone to get her elected. He even walks her down the aisle at her wedding and punches Jeremy Jamm for ruining the ceremony. And once Ron settles down with his family, as Donna notices, he becomes a better, more empathetic person, and he stops trying to hide that part of himself (for the most part).

That development is what makes his season 7 feud with Leslie hard to watch, but ultimately, it strengthens and bonds the two friends — yes, friends — even more in the process. He may be allergic to cowardice and weak-willed men, but would season 1 Ron Swanson really be King Sparkle of Cupcake Forest? Probably not, but the glitter (and loving family) suits him.

He's somehow healthy

If Ron doesn't have an alcoholic beverage in his hands or crumbs in his beard, is he even in an episode of Parks? The no-nonsense tough guy drinks one shelf of liquor a week, according to his strep throat hospital visit with Ann in season 5. Even with his alarming alcohol consumption, he rarely gets drunk — except when he drinks Snake Juice. But let's be real. Snake Juice is probably just arsenic in a pretty package.

Despite Ron's significant diet of meat and his habit of ordering "all of the bacon and eggs" any restaurant has at any given moment, Ann declares that he's incredibly healthy, except for his potassium levels. The revelation isn't exactly a surprise, as his distaste for fruit (besides kiwis) is a well-known quirk. Ann tells him, "Not sure how this is possible, but your cholesterol is 120, which is the lowest I've ever seen." Ron's response? "What's cholesterol?" Oh, Ronald. However, Ron isn't exactly the kind of guy to let serious health concerns affect how he lives.

He declares, "I live the way I live, I eat the things I eat, and I'll die the way I'll die." As Ann notes, it's an oddly beautiful sentiment ... but also stupid, and she guilts him into eating a banana for his family. Ron shoves it into a colossal Paunch Burger to stomach the horrors. Hey, whatever works, right? But despite his good health, according to Ron, there are mental health issues in his family, as his uncle does yoga. So obviously, it's not all perfect.

Ron Swanson, a champion for women's rights

Ron may hate non-woodworking awards, but he's just as annoyed as Leslie when the Indiana Organization of Women tries to give him the Woman of the Year honor instead of the woman who actually deserves it — Leslie. Sure, he's all too happy to tease her about it, taking languid photo ops and driving her wild, but at his core, Ron Swanson is a feminist — whether he wants to attach the label or not.

Andy's women's studies professor brings it up first, saying, "According to Andy, you're quite the feminist." Ron fires back that he doesn't consider himself an "anything-ist," but powerful women have shaped his life. He recalls, "My father once told my mother that woman was made from the rib of Adam, and my mom broke his jaw." After getting a glimpse at his mom during the season 4 episode "Ron and Tammys," the story isn't surprising at all. She could probably even beat up Ron if she wanted to. And like his character, Offerman himself takes women's rights seriously, too. The actor attended the 2017 Park City, Utah Women's March.

Ron Swanson's Pyramid of Greatness

Debuting in the season 3 premiere, "Go Big or Go Home," Ron unveils what he calls the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. The Parks director bursts with pride when he claims to have spent years perfecting his "perfectly calibrated recipe for maximum personal achievement." He explains the chart to his youth basketball team while he shaves their heads (despite their glum faces and presumably without parent permission), telling the kids, "Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys into men, from men into gladiators, and from gladiators into Swansons."

According to the pyramid, crying is only acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon. Yet upon Li'l Sebastian's death years later, Ron himself admits that he cried when he was run over by a bus as a child. So there are exceptions to every rule. As he preaches throughout the series, honor is the highest value, thus making it to the top of the pyramid, closely followed by America (the only country that matters, according to Ron) and buffets (it's all about quantity over quality).

Also right near the top are three of Ron Swanson's all-time favorite things — weapons, woodworking, and welfare avoidance. Ultimately, Ron's system is a hilarious gag, one probably meant to spoof Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success, which prioritizes things like "poise," "confidence," and "competitive greatness."

Ron needs to be off the map

Ron Swanson is so private that he throws his entire computer away when April shows him the disturbing accuracy of Google Maps. The Parks Director isn't someone who wants to be on any map — let alone one that provides an aerial view of his many secret cabins. 

In fact, Ron takes paranoia to a whole new level, going as far as changing his locks weekly. At one point, when Ann asks for his birth date on a hospital form, he puts "springtime," and he refuses to tell anyone except Baskin-Robbins his birthday (which proves to be a mistake when Leslie harasses an employee into giving it to her). However, Ron does loosen up a tad after starting his family. He later outs himself as jazz genius Duke Silver and agrees to be "on his family's map," even if he's not on the world's map. 

Interestingly, while the show doesn't address its mockumentary setup nearly as blatantly as its sister show, The Office, Ron never seems to have an issue with a film crew presumably documenting his every move. The recluse even appears on local Pawnee TV channels with no qualms. And needless to say, Nick Offerman is nowhere near as reclusive as his iconic character. While Ron describes his sex life as "epic and private," the actor doesn't mind doing epic and public things, like posing nude with his wife.

Double Ron

The Parks director isn't generally the type of person who gets along with anyone immediately (mostly because he refuses to meet new people). Yet when Pawnee and Eagleton merge, Ron starts a fast friendship with his Eagleton Parks Department counterpart, also named Ron ... until the friendship quickly turns sour.

The reason? For one, Eagleton Ron, played by Sam Elliott, is a freegan vegan — meaning he partakes in a whole lot of dumpster diving and foraging for food to prevent waste and unethical practices. Once Ron learns of Eagleton Ron's apparently friendship-ruining ethics, he says, "I no longer like Ron." And thus, a feud is born. Leslie proceeds to fire Eagleton Ron, but the character shows up later in season 6 to take Ben on a journey of drunken self-discovery (no, not that kind of discovery).

While Ron and Ron ultimately didn't click, Offerman and Elliot got along great. The latter invited Offerman to star alongside him in the indie movie The Hero. Offerman revealed to Collider, "We were friends. ... I'm so happy I got to be a part of it because Sam's incredible in it." The actor compared his surprise friendship with Elliott to his marriage, noting, "It doesn't really add up on paper, but there I am, nonetheless."

Ron Swanson, a swan song

We all know that Leslie's has had Ron's eulogy written for years, one titled "Ron Swanson: A Swan Song." But beyond her morbid preparedness, that's all that was said on the matter of Ron's eventual death in the universe of the show. While speculation of Ron's health has come up frequently throughout the series, Parks thankfully ended without killing off anyone but Jerry after a very long life. But even though the show shies away from grim endings for most beloved characters (RIP Li'l Sebastian), Offerman has no problem speculating on Ron Swanson's ultimate demise ... and it's probably not what you might think.

No, it's not Tammy 2's claws or a wild boar that finally does him in. The actor told EW that Ron would probably discover a rare grizzly bear. Befriending the beast, they would grow old together in the most well-kept National Park in history. When they come to the end of their respective lives, they create a murder/suicide pact. As both grizzlies lie dying (man and beast), Ron would tell the bear, "I'll see you on the other side, friend." It's so weird, and it's so Ron. Well done, Offerman.

Speculation aside, the series leaves Ron's story with the gruff government-hating hunter accepting a federal government job at Pawnee National Park, canoeing away to the soothing sounds of "Buddy" by Willie Nelson — Ron's favorite artist throughout the show. Offerman expressed to EW that filming the scene was "a gift," and that, "for Ron, it's the biggest thing that he has had to say in 125 episodes."