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What You Never Knew About Johnny Knoxville

He somehow parlayed a career doing ridiculous stunts and inflicting grievous bodily harm unto himself and his friends on MTV's Jackass and its assorted movies into a varied film career as a leading man and quirky character actor. But before Jackass, Bad Grandpa, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Ringer, Johnny Knoxville was a pretty regular guy, just trying to get by while also trying to get a foothold in the entertainment industry. Here are a few things you didn't know about the early, off-screen, and private life of Philip John Clapp Jr., better known professionally as Johnny Knoxville.

He was a sickly child

As an adult, Knoxville became famous by abusing his body, which already had a pretty hard time of it. His childhood was filled with debilitating medical problems. He describes his childhood as pleasant, but severe asthma meant he couldn't play outside much, and breathing problems would land him in the hospital for week-long stretches. While he certainly cheated death on Jackass, Knoxville really avoided oblivion when he was just 8 years old and had the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma all at the same time. He says it nearly killed him, but he never wanted to feel left out, so he pushed himself to become a three-sport varsity athlete by the time he hit high school.

He was a classically trained actor ... very briefly

Knoxville was something of a late bloomer — when Jackass hit MTV in 2000, he was 29 years old, which is ancient as far as that youth-oriented network is concerned. But when he graduated from high school, it seemed as if immediate fame and success was in sight. Just after graduating from high school, Knoxville moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts. He'd received a full scholarship to participate in the prestigious school's summer acting training program. But he didn't like it, and he dropped out and returned home after just two weeks of classes.

He bummed around Hollywood for 10 years before success

Knoxville moved away from home to Los Angeles in 1990 and got married to his first wife, Melanie Cates in 1995 — at a second-rate quickie Las Vegas wedding chapel because he blew all the wedding money gambling at casinos. When Cates gave birth to their daughter, Madison, not long after, Knoxville knew he had to get his act together. Abandoning the novel that he'd been struggling with writing (and would never finish), he gave acting another try. He found lots of work appearing in TV commercials for products such as Coors Light and Mountain Dew. He played a guy washing a car in a spot for Dentyne Ice, and in another ate nachos in a canoe with the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

His first credit was as a Cure fan

But before he got married, had the kid, and ate nachos on film, Knoxville's first on-screen work as an actor was as a featured extra in two sketches on the short-lived The Ben Stiller Show. The Emmy-winning Fox sketch show introduced Stiller to the general public, as well as Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and Knoxville, who played a rabid fan of the Cure. In the other appearance, a sketch about an Oliver Stone-themed theme park, Knoxville plays a life-size version of a golden Oscar statuette.

His first big comedy was never produced

Less than a month after Jackass debuted on MTV in October 2000, Knoxville had already lined up a major movie role with a huge payday. Variety reported that Knoxville had signed on to star in The Tree, a holiday comedy about a truck driver who has to transport the presidential Christmas tree across the country to Washington, D.C. Unsurprisingly, wackiness ensues along the way. The movie was scheduled to film in 2002, but it was ultimately canceled.

He comes from a very, very close family

Knoxville gets the second half of his stage name from his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. He knew that his family had lived in the South for generations, but in 2013 he hired a genealogist to fully flesh out his family tree. The expert found that, for a very long time, Knoxville's family had kept it in the family. As Knoxville relayed on Conan, the genealogist said that "in these rural mountain regions you come from, no one ever goes into the community and no one ever leaves the community." In short, Knoxville learned that there was "a significant amount" of inbreeding in his family.

He's almost been in a lot of big movies

Knoxville has acted in dozens of movies, both big and small, since breaking through to the mainstream about 15 years ago. Here are some major movies he almost appeared in.

  • When the movie that would become the sad 2005 Christmas family drama The Family Stone was coming together in 2003, it was called Hating Her, and Knoxville was set to star. In one of his first non-comic roles, he was cast as a man who brings home his girlfriend to meet his large, unreceptive family. (Dermot Mulroney ultimately played the role.)
  • Shane Black's cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang marked a major comeback for Robert Downey Jr., but he only got the part of Harry Lockhart after Knoxville dropped out of the movie.
  • Knoxville was also going to deliver a cameo in a cameo-filled 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days. Initially cast as "the San Francisco hobo," Knoxville left the movie and was replaced by Rob Schneider.
  • Before finally hitting theaters in 2012, a Three Stooges movie was in the works for years with various comic actors attached, including rumors about Knoxville in the role of Moe. He reportedly met with filmmakers, but he ultimately didn't sign on.

He got prank-dosed with Ecstasy

Johnny Knoxville is obviously the kind of guy that will try anything — even if he doesn't mean to. In 2013, Knoxville went to a fraternity house in Arizona to film some promotional videos for Bad Grandpa and hold a screening of the movie, in costume and in character as Irving (the bad grandpa). While sitting with a group of college students, enthusiastic fans kept handing him drinks, and Knoxville drank them, only to realize about half an hour into the screening that he "was X-ing right now, someone dosed me." One of those drinks Knoxville had consumed had been secretly laced with the drug Ecstasy. And he didn't mind. "I was so happy because I haven't done X since my 20s. For the rest of the shoot I was just a train wreck, and we got a lot of funny stuff." Included in that funny stuff was Knoxville-as-Irving busting through a table and breaking a tendon in his finger.

He broke his penis

It should come as no surprise that the guy behind Jackass idolizes '70s motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. While doing a stunt for a Knievel tribute in 2007, Knoxville tried to perform a backflip on a motorcycle, as it's something Knievel would have and could have done. But that was apparently Knoxville's limit. Several attempts into the stunt, he slipped off the bike, it flew into the air, and it landed right on his crotch. The handlebars of the motorcycle broke off upon impact, and Knoxville's penis nearly did, too. The diagnosis: a torn urethra. Later comparing his anatomy to "a sock that lost its elasticity," Knoxville was left with a huge scar and had to use a catheter for years. Nevertheless, Knoxville was able to father two children after the accident with his second wife, Naomi Nelson.