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The 50 most famous people born in Reno, Nevada

Jena Malone
Jena Malone is famous and from Reno!(Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Samsung)

It wasn't until Dawn Wells, the actress who portrayed Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, died on Dec. 30 at age 82 that I learned she was born in Reno. That got me thinking: What other famous people were born in Reno? So I started to put a list together, and there aren't as many famous people born in Reno as I thought there would be. Yes, a lot of famous people have called Reno home. But I'm talking about people actually born in the city, inside the walls of Saint Mary's or Renown (or Washoe Med, as it used to be called). It took a lot of digging, but I finished the list. Here are the 50 most famous people born in Reno. I listed everybody in alphabetical order, so not to give preference to one over another.

* Mädchen Amick: Born in Reno and raised in Sparks, Amick has become a successful actress with her most recognizable role coming in the cult television series Twin Peaks. She also starred in The CW's drama TV series Riverdale and has appeared in more than 20 films in addition to an extensive list of roles on television.

* Ryan Bader: A standout football player and wrestler for McQueen High, Bader won two state titles in each sport for the Lancers. He was a two-time wrestling All-American at Arizona State where he won three Pac-10 titles. He debuted in MMA in 2007 and headlined three UFC cards. He is 27-6 in his MMA career and is one of the best light heavyweights ever.

* Shannon Bahrke: Born in Reno and raised in Tahoe City, Bahrke was a world-class freestyle skier in moguls. She earned her first World Cup podium at age 18 and earned 24 medals, including seven golds, on the circuit. Bahrke made three Olympic teams and won a silver medal in the 2002 Salt Lake Games and a bronze in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

* Don Carano: One of the most influential figures in Reno's history, Carano was born in Reno in 1931 and revolutionized the local gaming and resort industry; was a partner at one of the state’s most powerful law firms; and built one of California’s top-selling wineries. He opened the Eldorado Hotel and Casino in 1973, which has blossomed into one of the world's top hotel and casino entertainment companies, including the recent acquisition of Caesars Entertainment.

* Chris Carr: Perhaps the best high school football player in Northern Nevada history, Carr was all-state on offense and defense before starring at Boise State, where he was an all-conference defensive back. Despite going undrafted, Carr played nine NFL seasons for five teams, appearing in 125 games before retiring in 2013.

* Adam Cates: A multi-dimensional entertainer, Cates has worked as a director, choreographer, playwright, best-selling author, creative consultant and dance and theatre educator. He works in New York City as an educator and has directed musicals and operas across one some of the world's top stages, including working on Tony-winning shows on Broadway.

* Jake Dalton: A Spanish Spring High graduate, Dalton is one of the best American gymnasts this century. Dalton won four NCAA individual titles at Oklahoma and was a 13-time All-American who won eight conference championships. He also won eight U.S. championships, two world championship medals and competed in two Olympics (2012, 2016).

* Gabriel Damon: One of a handful of actors on this list, Damon has worked on more than 50 films, mostly as a voice actor during his childhood. Damon played Littlefoot in the The Land Before Time, and if you're on a movie that awesome, you make this list. He also had roles on ER, Call to Glory, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Baywatch.

* Ben Erway: One of two people on this list born in the 1800s, Erway was born in April 1892 and was a television actor in The Bishop's Wife, The Twilight Zone and Mountain Rhythm in the 1940s and 1950s. He was married to actress Gladys George, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1936 for her role in Valiant is the Name for Carrie.

* John Etchemendy: Born in 1952, Etchemendy earned his bachelor's degree from UNR before getting a Masters at Stanford University before eventually becoming that school's 12th Provost. His wife, Nancy Elise Howell Etchemendy, also could qualify for this list as she is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror, including four children's novels.

* Chris Fogel: A Grammy- and Emmy-winning recording engineer, Fogel has recorded and mixed the scores/soundtracks to more than 180 films and TV shows, including the Oscar-winning score to Black Panther and the Emmy-winning score to The Mandalorian. He has four Grammy nominations and has worked on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, TENET, Tropic Thunder, The Greatest Showman and Superbad and with artists Alanis Morissette, Justin Timberlake, U2, Childish Gambino, Nine Inch Nails, Sheryl Crow and Aerosmith.

* Justin Francis: One of the most well known music video directors in the world, Francis has worked with Eminem, 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani, The Black Eyed Peas, The Roots, Kelly Clarkson, Weezer, Young the Giant, Demi Lovato, Timbaland, Mariah Carey and Busta Rhymes, among others. His work with Alicia Keys has won an NAACP Image Award and MVPA Award.

* Matt Gallagher: A Bishop Manogue graduate, Gallagher graduated from Wake Forest before enrolling in U.S. Army, rising to the rank of captain. He started a popular blog "Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal" before beginning a successful writing career. He's authored four books, including the novel Youngblood, a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for fiction.

* Chris Gann: Born in Reno where he was raised on a goat farm, Gann was a world-class jet ski racer before getting into acting and stunt work. His big break came in "xXx" in 2002. He's been on more than 25 television shows, 30 movies and 50 commercials and earned a screen actors guild nomination for his stunt work in Transformers Dark Side of the Moon.

* Kevin Geer: A respected stage actor, Geer was born in Reno in 1952 and raised by his mom, who moved the family to L.A.. He moved to New York and appeared in A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, Flyovers and Twelve Angry Men. He also was on TV series Oz, Law & Order,, M*A*S*H and MacGyver and films The Pelican Brief and American Gangster.

* Curtis Hanson: Born in Reno in 1945, Hanson was a successful Hollywood director whose works included The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and 8 Mile. He directed 14 films and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in 1997 for L.A. Confidential, which also earned a nomination that year for Best Picture.

* Jennifer Harman: Born in Reno and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Harman is one of the most well known and successful female poker players. She has won two World Series of Poker events and has 12 WSOP final table appearances with 32 money finishes. She was recently ranked as the eighth-best women's poker player ever.

* Dylan Hundley: An actress, singer and visual artist, Hundley was born in Reno before being raised in The Bahamas, New Jersey and Manhattan. She is best known for playing Sally Fowler in the 1990 Academy Award-nominated film Metropolitan, among other film appearances. She also is the lead singer of the New York post-punk band Lulu Lewis.

* Velma Bronn Johnston: Better known as Wild Horse Annie, Johnston was born in Reno in 1912 and successfully campaigned to stop the eradication of mustangs and burros from public land after following a truck overcrowded with horses to a slaughterhouse. She spearheaded the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 signed into law by Richard Nixon.

* Paul Laxalt: The most influential politician born in Reno, Laxalt was Nevada's Governor from 1967-71 and a U.S. Senator from 1974-87. He's the only Silver State Governor born in Reno and one of only two Senators born here. He briefly ran for president in 1988 and was one of Ronald Reagan's closest friends in politics, often referred to as "The First Friend."

* Warren Lerude: Born in Reno in 1938, Lerude is the most accomplished journalist born here. Lerude, an inductee into the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame, shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for a series of editorials that attacked brothel owner Joe Conforte. He was the editor/publisher of the Reno and was a long-time professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

* Lorie Line: A child prodigy at piano, she won many annual statewide competitions after beginning to play at age 5. Classically trained, she graduated from UNR and has recorded more than 60 CDs and has published more than 50 books of music. She has sold more than 6 million albums and has produced two television specials for PBS.

* Jena Malone: Malone was born in Reno and grew up in Northern Nevada. The well-known actress has been nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Golden Globe and two Saturn Awards (she won for her role in Contact). Malone's most recognizable films are The Hunger Games series. She's also been in Batman v Superman, Pride & Prejudice and Donnie Darko.

* Julia Mancuso: Born in Reno, Mancuso grew up in Lake Tahoe and reached the World Cup ski circuit by age 15. She made the U.S. Olympic team at age 17 and won four Olympic medals, the most of any American alpine skier, in four appearances. Her haul included a gold, two silvers and a bronze. She's also a five-time medalist in the world championships.

* Pat McCarran: McCarran was born in 1876, 10 years after Reno was founded. He is one of two people born in the Reno to become a U.S. Senator, serving from 1933-54. He was a lawyer and judge before becoming a politician and was one of the few Democrats to vote against the New Deal. A big aviation supporter, the Las Vegas airport is named after him.

* Tony Medellin: One of the country's top tattoo artists, Medellin won the 2018 reality television show Ink Master, which came with a $100,000 prize. Medellin works for Lasting Dose Tattoo in Midtown. "I love this city," he told the RGJ in 2018. "You could call it Reno patriotism. I'll be the first tattooer on the show from this badass city."

* April Meservy: A graduate of Westergard Elementary, Billinghurst Middle and McQueen High, Meservy is a singer whose version of U2's "With or Without You" was played during the 2018 Olympic figure skating short program of two-time world-champion pairs team Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel (they won bronze at the Olympics). She's released two albums.

* Jessica Nigri: I largely stayed away from YouTube, TikTok and Instagram "influencers" on this list, but Nigri is one of the world's most famous cosplayers (truly, I have no idea what that is). Nigri was born in Reno and raised in New Zealand. She has more than 4 million followers on Instagram and Facebook and 1.23 million YouTube subscribers. That's pretty famous.

* Sunny Ozell: Born in Reno in 1978, Ozell is a classically trained vocalist and jazz singer. Her debut album, Take It with Me, was released in 2015, and Ozell works the New York City club scene. In 2013, she married actor Patrick Stewart, who is 38 years her elder (they were married at Lake Tahoe with actor Ian McKellen officiating the ceremony).

* David Padgett: The first McDonald's All-American basketball player in Reno's history, Padgett is the son of former Nevada star Pete Padgett. David was a five-star recruit who played for Kansas and Louisville before a brief professional career. He served as Louisville's interim head coach in 2017-18 after Rick Pitino, his college coach, was fired by the Cardinals.

* Ed Pine: Born in Reno in 1940, Pine was the first person born in Reno to reach the NFL. He was a star at Reno High before becoming a Hall of Fame player at Utah. He was a college All-American who was invited to the East-West Shrine Game. He was drafted into the NFL in 1962 as the No. 22 overall pick and played four seasons with the 49ers and Steelers.

* Kristoffer Polaha: The 43-year-old actor recently had a role in Wonder Woman 1984, serving as the reincarnated version of Chris Pine. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but the movie wasn't good, so you don't have to watch it. But Polaha was excellent! He's also been on the TV shows North Shore, Life Unexpected and Ringer and will be the new Jurassic World movie.

* Chuck Ruff: Reno doesn't have an extensive history of churning out successful musicians, but Ruff was an rock drummer best known for his work with The Edgar Winter Group on the instrumental Frankenstein, which reached No. 1 on the charts, and Free Ride. Ruff also worked with Sammy Hagar and Kenny Rogers, among others.

* Eric Sanders: A Wooster High graduate who starred for Nevada (after briefly quitting football), Sanders was a fifth-round pick in the 1981 NFL draft before playing 12 seasons on the offensive line for the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. Sanders' 158 games played in the NFL are the most of anybody born in Reno. Forty-two of those games were starts.

* John Savage: A member of Reno's famed Savage family, John was a record-setting pitcher for Reno High who was a sixth-round draft pick by the Yankees out of high school. He played college ball before a three-year minor-league career. He then become a hugely successful college coach and led UCLA to a national championship in 2013 with a runner-up finish in 2010.

* Lane Spina: A Wooster High alum, Spina is the first Reno-born person to win an Olympic medal. Spina competed in the now-defunct ski ballet event when it was an Olympic demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Games. He earned a silver and a bronze medal and was a five-time national champion who earned four world championship medals.

* Patrick Stewart: An Army solider, Stewart died in combat in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in 2005. A practicing Wiccan, the Department of Veterans Affairs refused to imprint a Wiccan pentacle on his grave, drawing massive criticism and international headlines. After a lawsuit, the VA added the pentacle to the list of emblems nearly two years later, allowing it in national cemeteries on VA-issued headstones. President George W. Bush called Stewart's wife to apologize for the initial reluctance.

* Kevin Stadler: Stadler's father, Craig, is a little more famous, but he wasn't born in Reno. Kevin was. Both are PGA Tour golfers, with Kevin winning 10 pro events, including one on the PGA Tour. He peaked at No. 52 in the world and placed eighth in the 2014 Masters. Craig, who was born in San Diego and is affectionally known as The Walrus, won 13 PGA Tour events.

* Franz Szony: The most famous artist born in Reno is Szony, who began studying art at age 6 and had his first solo gallery exhibit at 12. Szony attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco and studied fashion, illustration and photography and specializes in fine art, fashion and photography while splitting time between Los Angeles and Northern Nevada.

* David Taylor: One of the greatest wrestlers of his generation, Taylor was born in Reno before moving to Wyoming and then Ohio, where he was a four-time state champion. At Penn State, he reached four NCAA titles matches, winning two. Taylor is a two-time world champion and won a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Games in a thrilling victory in the final seconds.

* Ron Thomas: Reno has a Karate Kid link in Thomas, who was a member of Cobra Kai in the original films, although he wasn't Johnny and wasn't the guy who said, "Get him in a body bag." But Thomas, born in 1961, has had roles in The Karate Kid (1984), The Big Bet (1985) and Cobra Kai, the sequel series to The Karate Kid that is in its third season.

* Cami Thompson: A renowned jazz vocalist, Thompson has worked festivals in Europe, USO tours throughout East Asia and hit concerts, clubs and theaters across the globe. Thompson has a 4-octave voice, which is exceptionally rare. Thompson splits her time between Reno and San Francisco but is the most accomplished singer born in Northern Nevada.

* JoJo Townsell: One of the first Reno-born people to make it to the NFL, Townsell starred at Hug High before a successful career as a receiver and return man at UCLA. Townsell was a third-round NFL draft pick who played for the New York Jets from 1985-91. He was named the Jets' player of the year in 1989 when he caught 45 passes for 787 yards and five TDs.

* Eva Twardokens: The daughter of a UNR professor, Twardokens was an elite skier who made her World Cup debut at age 17. She competed in two Olympics (1992, 1994) and finished on the podium in three World Cup events. She won bronze in the 1985 world championship. Also a world-class weightlifter, Twardokens is in the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

* Willy Vlautin: Many great writers have called Northern Nevada home, including Mark Twain, Robert Laxalt and Walter Van Tilburg Clark, but none of those guys were born in Reno. Vlautin was. He has authored five novels, his most well known being The Motel Life, which is based in Reno and was turned into a film in 2012. Vlautin also has recorded 14 studio albums.

* David Wise: The Wooster High graduate is the greatest halfpipe skier in history, winning two Olympic gold medals (2014, 2018) and four X Games golds (2012, 2013, 2014, 2018) along with one silver (2019). He was the first athlete to three-peat in the Winter X Games since Tanner Hall from 2006-08. He is one of two people born in Reno to win an Olympic gold.

* Dawn Wells: A Reno High graduate, Wells became the area's most famous actress. She's best known for playing Mary Ann on the CBS sitcom Gilligan's Island. She also starred in The Joey Bishop Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bonanza. Wells was Miss Nevada 1959 and represented her state in the Miss America pageant in 1960.

* Gabby Williams: A McDonald's All-American basketball player in high school, Williams is one of the best athletes ever born in Reno. She led Reed High to a state title and won two national championships at UConn, going 148-3 in her career. She was the No. 4 pick in the 2018 WNBA draft and qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in the high jump at age 15.

* Eric Whitacre: A Grammy Award-winning composer and conductor, Whitacre is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. He pioneered Virtual Choirs that united singers from more than 145 countries, registering more than 60 million views. His debut album as a conductor came on Universal, Light and Gold, which earned him a Grammy for Best Choral Recording. He's been a guest conductor at venues such as Carnegie Hall (New York), Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles) and the Royal Albert Hall and Buckingham Palace (London).

* Jeff Wright: Born in 1960, Wright became an actor, writer and producer for some well know movies. He appeared in The Naked Gun, The Naked Gun 2 1/2, Naked Gun 33 1/3, The Smell of Fear and BASEketball, which also co-wrote. He also producer, wrote and appeared in Subprime, his last film before dying last summer in Los Angeles at age 60.

Others of note: Walk Hopkins (basketball coach); Hillary Schieve (politician); Brianne McGowan (softball player); Jaylen Barron (actress); Austin Corbett (football player); Wilder W. Hartley (politician); Joe Wieland (baseball player); Brady Parks (musician); Rob Richie (baseball player); Randy Messenger (baseball player); Frank Herbert Norcross (judge); Steve Lerud (baseball player); Garrett Hampson (baseball player); J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner (forensic psychologist/television personality); Scott Cousins (baseball player); Mike Crawford (football player); Nate Schierholtz (baseball); Chris Jones (musician); Cade McNamara (football player); Bryce Johnson (actor); Sean Palmer (actor); Jeff Rowe (football player); Reese Larramendy (wrestler); Dustin Ardine (actor); Alex Phillips (golfer); Josh Barrett (football player); Jim Santini (politician)

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