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The untold truth of Steven Seagal

In 1992, Steven Seagal starred in Under Siege, an action flick that grossed over $150 million worldwide. In 2003, he played in The Foreigner, a movie with a 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But the ups and downs of Seagal's profile at your neighborhood cineplex only tell one part of his stranger-than-fiction story. If you've followed him at all over the years, you know there's a lot to talk about — basically, this guy has come a long way, much of it down, since the 1990s. In addition to some of the messes surrounding his still-prolific movie career, Seagal has been involved in a long string of scandals featuring the likes of Sean Connery and Vladimir Putin (yes, that Vladimir Putin). He's taken a stab at reality TV, real-life law enforcement, various licensed products, and a recording career. The guy has even gone up against the mob and the FBI. While his career is often derided by critics, there's no denying Seagal lives one wild life.

He's incredibly difficult to work with

According to multiple actors, Steven Seagal is an incredibly difficult coworker, something John Leguizamo discovered the hard way. While filming Executive Decision, Seagal got angry with his costar and allegedly shoved Leguizamo against a wall. Maybe he'd just watched Super Mario Brothers?

Seagal also made life hard for the Saturday Night Live cast. While hosting the show in 1991, he was "very critical of the cast and writing staff." According to Tim Meadows, Seagal "didn't realize that you can't tell somebody they're stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday." David Spade, meanwhile, said that in his six years on the show, Seagal was the absolute worst host, which probably had a lot to do with the aikido king's taste in comedy. According to Julia Sweeney, Seagal wanted to perform a sketch where he played a therapist who wants to sleep with a rape survivor. Ha ha? Evidently, Seagal was so frustrating, he was banned from ever hosting again.

Stephen Tobolowsky also learned firsthand about Seagal's petulant ways. In The Glimmer Man, Tobolowsky played a serial killer — naturally, Seagal was supposed to blow the bad guy away. But then Seagal decided it was "bad for his karma" to keep killing people onscreen. Now, he wanted Tobolowsky to survive. Thinking on his feet, Tobolowsky explained that his character was trapped in his own private Hell. By killing the villain, Seagal would be allowing the bad guy to reincarnate as a more peaceful being. Seagal agreed, and the scene went on as scripted. Unfortunately, Seagal later ad-libbed the line, "Thank God I didn't kill that guy…" Tobolowsky then had to record a few lines to make it seem like his obviously dead character had actually survived, like a bad horror movie monster. According to IMDb, however, those lines didn't make the final cut.

Reincarnation controversy

Hollywood is home to several famous Buddhists, like Richard Gere or Keanu Reeves. But the most powerful celebrity Buddhist practices aikido and sports a ponytail. As it turns out, Steven Seagal is pretty high up on the spiritual ladder, but his rise to the top has drawn some criticism from his religious peers.

In 1997, Penor Rinpoche, the Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, announced that Seagal was a tulku. In layman's terms, a tulku is a reincarnated Buddhist master who has "vowed to take rebirth to help all beings attain enlightenment." Rinpoche believed that, back in the 17th century, Seagal was actually Terton Chungdrag Dorie, a renowned translator who opened his own monastery and found several powerful relics. Thanks to this spiritual "history," Seagal was declared a lama (a venerated teacher in Tibetan Buddhism). According to The Guardian, that means "he is just a notch down from the Dalai Lama himself." During his inauguration, Seagal pledged to help ease suffering across the globe, and since then, he's given seminars on compassion at New Age retreat centers.

However, several people are skeptical of Seagal's spiritual status. Since he's been accused of sexual harassment, some have questioned whether or not he has the moral character to be a lama. Even Richard Gere expressed some doubt, saying, "If someone's a tulku, that's great. But no one knows if [Seagal's claim] is true." Others allege that, before he was pronounced a tulku, Seagal had donated quite a bit of cash to Rinpoche's school, which might explain his conveniently glorious past life. It's all especially weird considering these reincarnated teachers are generally discovered as children.

Steven Seagal is not a child.

His weird relationship with the UFC

In February 2011, UFC fans prepared to watch middleweight champion Anderson Silva face off against Vitor Belfort. At the time, Silva was widely considered the greatest mixed martial artist on the planet, and in round one, he knocked Belfort out with a front kick to the face. It was one of the most iconic moments in UFC history … and days later, Seagal was taking all the credit.

According to Seagal, he was the man who taught Anderson Silva how to use that particular kick. In fact, Seagal even claimed that he'd invented that kick. While many assumed Seagal was lying, the actor had indeed escorted Silva to the ring that fateful night. And a few events later, Lyoto Machida knocked out the legendary Randy Couture with a Karate Kid-style crane kick. Once again, Seagal took credit for the movie, this time while on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

While Silva seemed to enjoy the joke at first, the champ eventually decided to speak up, explaining how he'd been practicing the front kick long before he met Seagal. In his famous broken English, Silva admitted, "Seagal is a good man. No coach. No train me. Is a good man. Is a good person. That's it."

Other athletes are far less polite. When Seagal tried to go backstage at UFC 135 to advise light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, the fighter turned him away. Ronda Rousey once claimed she could "beat the crap" out of the actor. Seagal even challenged two-time ex-champion Randy Couture to a fight … so long as there weren't any witnesses around. When asked about the matchup, Couture said he wasn't surprised that Seagal wanted to fight "in a private, remote location where nobody could see it happen."

Steven Seagal versus James Bond

In addition to acting, Steven Seagal has done quite a bit of fight choreography. According to IMDb, most of the films he's choreographed are his own, but in the early '80s, Seagal worked on the James Bond film Never Say Never Again, having been brought onboard to teach Sean Connery about martial arts. Now, Connery was already well-versed in karate. While preparing for 1967's You Only Live Twice, the actor was awarded an honorary third-degree black belt. But for his seventh outing as Bond, Connery needed to learn a little aikido, so Steven was hired to teach Sean how to throw opponents and manipulate joints.

At first, the lessons seemed to be going well … too well, in fact. As Connery put it, "I got a little cocky because I thought I knew what I was doing," and then an irritated Seagal allegedly grabbed Connery's arm and broke the actor's wrist. While he was undoubtedly in pain, Connery kept on training. In fact, he didn't realize that Seagal had actually snapped his wrist until the late '90s. That must've been one slow-healing injury.

Of course, Seagal can take a bit of pain as well. While working on his breakout film, Above the Law, actor Henry Silva broke Seagal's nose with an overzealous punch. Knowing the show must go on, Seagal stayed up late that night, icing his battered schnoz so he could keep on shooting the next day.

Steven Seagal versus the Dirty Dozen

In his heyday, Steven Seagal was the biggest martial arts star in Hollywood. But that doesn't mean he could fight in real life – in fact, he very well can't. Seagal is a legit seventh dan in aikido, a martial art that relies on joint locks and the redirection of momentum. In fact, Seagal was the first American to teach aikido in Japan. But honestly, aikido is pretty worthless when it comes to self-defense. According to fight analyst Jack Slack, aikido only works if your "opponent is running straight at you," something most smart fighters never do. And as UFC commentator Joe Rogan explained, aikido "would never work against a trained fighter, never, not in a million years." Watch the video above and you'll see why.

Nevertheless, Seagal claimed he could beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. Even worse, Seagal made some controversial comments about Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and the sport of full-contact karate. This didn't sit well with Bob Wall. An actor and high-ranking black belt with plenty of tournament experience, Wall was friends with Norris, had worked with Lee, and absolutely didn't care for Seagal's attitude. Wanting to teach the actor a lesson, Wall assembled the "Dirty Dozen," a group of angry kickboxing and karate champions like Benny Urquidez, Bill Wallace, and Howard Jackson. Some wanted to show Seagal was a fake, others were upset at his forementioned comments, while others wanted to avenge a group of stuntmen whom Seagal had allegedly injured.

Wanting to get the actor's attention, the Dozen appeared in magazines like Prevue and Black Belt, but despite their efforts, there was never any showdown. Instead, when Seagal finally met Wall, the movie star supposedly apologized for what he'd said. And if you need more definitive proof that Steven Seagal sucks as an actual fighter …

The time Steven Seagal got choked out

While Seagal never faced off with Bob Wall, many people claim he did square off with "Judo" Gene LeBell. A martial arts pioneer, LeBell has studied almost every fighting style imaginable, from taekwondo to boxing otka rate. But LeBell was particularly fond of grappling, excelling at both judo and jujitsu. The man was a two-time national heavyweight judo champion, taught Bruce Lee how to grapple, and currently serves as a mentor to UFC megastar Ronda Rousey. LeBell also competed in the first televised MMA fight in American history, when he used his ground game against boxer Milo Savage in 1963. So, he's tough for real.

LeBell also worked as an actor and a stuntman, appearing in over 1,000 films and TV shows. He was the fight choreographer on Out for Justice, an action movie starring Steven Seagal. During filming, Seagal allegedly said no one in the world could choke him out, claiming he had a special move that prevented anyone from putting him to sleep. Naturally, Gene accepted the challenge, and the two guys went at it. Within seconds, LeBell had Seagal in a rear-naked choke. And that's when the aikido master supposedly pulled out his super-secret, special trick move—a karate strike to LeBell's balls. To be fair, we would definitely break the hold if he did that to us.

Despite the low blow, LeBell held on — soon, Seagal was out like a light. On top of that, the actor reportedly had a bizarre reaction to being choked out. According to LeBell, Seagal must've had a big meal before the match, because the unconscious star suddenly soiled himself. Obviously, Seagal denies the fight ever took place, but according to the "Godfather of Grappling," Seagal was a truly crappy fighter.

Steven Seagal versus the mob

Steven Seagal has battled all sorts of bad guys on the silver screen, from terrorists to the yakuza. But Seagal has also faced some scary villains in real life, namely the Mafia. In the '90s, Seagal teamed up with producer Julius R. Nasso (pictured above). Together, the duo made a string of hits, but their relationship soured in 2000. Eventually, the two had a falling-out, but things took a dark turn when the Gambino crime family got involved.

One day, Seagal was ordered into a car and escorted to a Brooklyn restaurant, where he met an alleged Gambino captain named Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone. According to Seagal, Ciccone ordered him to start working with Nasso again. He also demanded that Seagal fork over $150,000 for every film he made. Evidently, Seagal was so shaken, he gave the gangsters $700,000. The martial artist had every reason to be afraid. As he left the meeting, someone supposedly told Seagal, "If you would have said the wrong thing, they would have killed you."

The scandal came to light in 2003, when the government indicted alleged crime boss Peter Gotti and 16 others for a whole host of crimes. In addition to Seagal's testimony, the government had recordings of several individuals—including Siccone and Nasso—discussing how they would intimidate Seagal. They even laughed about how they'd scared the movie star. Nasso defended himself by saying Seagal had backed out of several movie deals, and owed him $500,000. Regardless, the producer was sentenced to one year in federal prison. But once a crooked mob guy, always a crooked mob guy — Nasso wanted his cash, and sued Seagal for $60 million. After the producer got out of jail, he settled with the actor for an undisclosed amount of money.

Steven Seagal versus the FBI

While never a critical darling, Steven Seagal used to pull in some impressive box office numbers. But these days, his films go straight to DVD / Blu-Ray / Whatever-Else-The-Kids-Use-By-The-Time-You-Read-This. So what happened to Seagal's career? Well, he blames his decline on, of all things, the FBI.

In 2002, Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch was investigating Seagal about Julius Nasso and the whole Mafia mess. But one morning, she found a dead fish, a rose, and a sign that read "Stop!" on her windshield. Plus, there was a brand-new bullet hole, just what her car always wanted. Afraid, Busch informed the FBI, and the feds began investigating Seagal. At first, the FBI thought the actor had hired a detective named Anthony Pellicano to intimidate Busch. They also suspected Seagal of hiring a thug to scare Vanity Fair writer Ned Zeman with a gun.

But after digging deeper, the FBI concluded there was no evidence against Seagal. (The actor even took a polygraph to prove his innocence.) Instead, they focused on Pellicano, the private eye who illegally spied on celebrities. And then, Seagal just fell by the wayside. The FBI never charged him, but they didn't exonerate him either. The actor believes all the notoriety from the Pellicano case majorly harmed his career … and he might have a point. According to one Hollywood publicist, "Steven Seagal was no Harrison Ford when this [scandal] happened. But these accusations certainly hastened his decline." So it only makes sense that Seagal wants an apology from the FBI. As for Pellicano, he was sentenced to prison in 2008, and it looks like he'll be behind bars until 2018.

Seagal's insane raid

In addition to his love of blues music and ornate saddles, Steven Seagal is also fascinated with law enforcement. In fact, Seagal actually served as a cop in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for about 20 years. Then, in 2009, Seagal took things to the next level by starring in a reality show called Steven Seagal: Lawman. In the third season, Seagal moved to Arizona and teamed up with the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Arpaio is also known as something of a media hound, so when Seagal showed up with camera in tow, the Maricopa cop decided to put on one crazy show.

In 2011, Arpaio orchestrated a raid against Jesus Llovera, a local suspected of cockfighting. But when the cops showed up, they had a lot more than just a warrant. There were up to 40 SWAT officers, a bomb squad, K-9 units, armored vehicles, and of course, Steven Seagal riding on top of a tank. During the raid, parts of the suspect's house were damaged, and Seagal's tank tore down the gates to Llovera's property.

But after arresting Llovera, Seagal and Maricopa officials found themselves faced with another problem: Llovera owned over 100 roosters. What could they do with all those chickens? Well, they did what any humane law enforcement officer would: they decided to euthanize them all. Even worse, Llovera claimed the police killed his 11-month-old puppy.

Furious, Llovera started a lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and demanded an apology letter from Seagal. But after pleading guilty to cockfighting, the lawsuit was dropped. Fortunately, the insane Arizona raid was never aired on TV.

He's pretty tight with Putin

Most people agree that Vladimir Putin is a bully, a dictator, and a human rights violator. Steven Seagal is … not most people. To the contrary, Seagal thinks Putin is "one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today." He considers the ex-KGB agent "a friend" and "a brother," and he even described Putin's actions toward Ukraine as "very reasonable." While Seagal isn't the only celebrity who supports Putin—there's also Mickey Rourke and Gerard Depardieu—his relationship with the Russian president is really something special.

The two bros first met in 2003 while Seagal was at the Moscow Film Festival, and they quickly hit it off, probably thanks to their shared love of martial arts. (Putin is an eighth-degree black belt in judo, though it's admittedly easy to rise through the ranks when you can have your sensei killed if they fail you) Soon, they were dining together, visiting dojos, and promoting old Soviet exercise programs together. They even visited the Russian judo team as they were preparing for the 2012 Olympics.

This relationship eventually culminated in 2015, when Putin asked President Obama to make Seagal an honorary consul of Russia, in California and Arizona. That way, the actor could serve as a go-between for the two countries. Needless to say, Obama vetoed that idea pretty quick. But while he isn't running messages from the Kremlin to the White House, Seagal visits Russia pretty frequently. He's given aikido demonstrations to Russian crowds, visited the factory that produces Kalashnikov rifles, attended a parade on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi surrender to the USSR, and once played a concert for pro-Russian separatists in the Crimean Peninsula.

In other words, for a guy who supposedly loves American justice, Steven Seagal clearly loves Mother Russia even more.

He's a Russian citizen who's banned from the Ukraine

It's one thing to admire Vladimir Putin, but quite another to love him so much that you move in with the guy. That's (kind of) what Steven Seagal did in November 2016, when he officially received a Russian passport and became a citizen of the Motherland. What's more, Putin himself signed the passport, claiming he hopes that the Under Siege guy being a Russkie will help to promote "gradual normalization of the relations between Russia and the United States." Because when you want normalization, you pick Steven Seagal to lead the charge.

But it appears the brand-new Russian citizen is already grinding other countries' gears, as Ukraine announced in May 2017 that Seagal would be banned for five years. According to the Ukraine Security Service, the ban was implemented "on the basis of Ukrainian national security," likely due to Seagal's admiration for Russia's aggressive tactics in the region. (Think of the Crimean Peninsula, which Ukraine would very much like back.) No word yet on whether Seagal's movies are banned, too. Let's hope his films stay — we wouldn't want an entire nation to have to go without witnessing the magic that is Born To Raise Hell.

He loves animals, especially mystical ones

For a guy so famous for breaking bones, spilling blood, and being a pain-in-the-rump to most everyone around him, Steven Seagal is surprisingly gentle and loving toward animals. A vegetarian who prefers "shaming companies into changing," probably by angrily mumbling at them until they agree to use fake fur, Seagal says he sees himself in all God's creatures. As he explained it, "When I walk into a room some people see a dog, some people see a cow. I am all of what they see. It is their perception." (Honestly, this "oh, it's a dog" thing could just be people trying desperately to pretend Steven Seagal isn't in the room.)

He's not just talk, either — in 1999, Seagal worked to force South Africa to stop exporting baby elephants to Japan and received a PETA Humanitarian Award for it. Four years later, he wrote the government of Thailand about getting them to stop torturing baby elephants — according to his website he "singlehandedly" made change happen there. He's also attempted to shame India into being better to cows. Maybe that's why Rob Schneider filmed The Animal, so Seagal would stop being so weird around him.

But his favorite animals of all are the mystical, soothsaying ones. During an interview with PETA, Seagal claimed when he was a young buck just learning Aikido in Japan, a white dog came along and started chilling. After a few days, the dog started barking at the future master of the face-smothering goatee, telepathically warning Seagal that his dojo was on fire. And it was on fire. Seagal put the fire out, and the dog disappeared, never to bark again. PETA, upon hearing this "magical ESP dog" story, gave Seagal an award anyway. We're not sure whether that says more about PETA or Seagal.

He's a guitar-slingin' singer-songwriter who loves the blues

Steven Seagal's hands aren't just for breaking people's bodies — they're also for making sweet, sweet music. Yes, Seagal is a long-time musician who loves him some blues. Whether the blues loves him back is another question entirely.

Seagal has been playing guitar since age 12 and heads the Steven Seagal Blues Band. It wasn't until 2005, however, that Seagal released his first album, Songs From the Crystal Cave. If Bruce Willis's blues career got your mojo running but you need something fresh, you might dig this. (Might.) It's straightforward blues, though not nearly as grimy and soulful as BB King, Buddy Guy, or John Goodman. In fact, SputnikMusic called Crystal Cave "the Plan 9 From Outer Space of records," probably due to the lethal combination of Seagal singing exactly like he speaks (mumbly and half-asleep), six-string noodling that's only slightly more impressive than a tween playing "Louie Louie" at Guitar Center, and Seagal-penned lyrics like "You're like a ghost / The more you eat, the more you're hungry / A hungrier ghost." Ghosts don't need to eat, Steven. You'd think a spiritual guy like you would know that.

But don't take our word for it — just listen to the music. Here's "Music," which we put in quotes because that's the title, not because it barely qualifies as music. Here's "Girl, It's Alright," which sounds like the first song Jack Johnson ever threw in the trash. Finally, enjoy "Jealousy," the hungry ghost song. It's a great high-school-yearbook-quote tune, at the very least.

Maybe dancing is more your thing? Here he is doing a Chechen dance — either that or he was being swarmed by gnats. Whatever he's doing, it's far more entertaining than Into The Sun.

Is that a gun in your couch or are you happy to see me?

In 2018, Emmy-winning star Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) was a guest on The Katie Couric Podcast, where they discussed the #MeToo movement and how actresses are speaking up about gross and creepy encounters they've endured. Margulies remembered a "horrific" hotel room meeting she'd had with Steven Seagal in the early 1990s. 

When a casting director told her Seagal wanted to go over a scene with her in his room, she went, incorrectly assuming that the casting director would also attend. "I walked in and I sat down and I jumped right back up because there was something very uncomfortable and hard in the couch. He laughed and said, 'Oh, sorry, that must have been my gun,'" Margulies recalled. "He lifted up the cushion and he took out his gun." When Margulies grew noticeably nervous, Seagal explained that he casually packed to protect himself from "all the crazies that are out there."

It got weirder. Seagal claimed to be a "healer," and asked to read Margulies's palms. "He told me I had really weak kidneys. At that point, to be honest, as a New York girl, I kind of started laughing inside." Shortly thereafter, Margulies said she "squirmed" out of the room. But then she realized she hadn't received the cab fare she'd been promised, so she went back asked for it. She got the cash, as well as the part in Out for Justice…although she demanded she never be alone with Seagal on set.