On this date in 1951, James George Janos, later known as Jesse "The Body" Ventura, was born in Minneapolis to George and Bernice Janos. After graduating high school in 1969, Janos joined the U.S. Navy, spent time in the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1973. He attended North Hennepin Community College in Minneapolis but dropped out after one year and spent the next several years in various places and jobs. (He was briefly a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones, and spent nine months in a motorcycle club in San Diego.) Janos developed a rigorous workout routine, and his newly muscular physique attracted the attention of famous Midwest wrestling promoter Bob Geigel. He began wrestling professionally in the mid-1970s and changed his name to the one that made him famous, Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Playing a loud, aggressive villain became Ventura's trademark as a wrestler for the World Wrestling Federation. He continued wrestling in the national spotlight until 1984, when emergency hospitalization due to blood clots in his lungs made him miss a title match against Hulk Hogan, and ended his professional wrestling career. He spent the next five years as a wrestling commentator for various television and radio programs. He acted in a handful of films, including several Arnold Schwarzenegger movies: "Predator" (1987), "The Running Man" (1987) and "Batman & Robin" (1997). In 1990, Ventura ran against and defeated the 18-year incumbent mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., serving until 1995. He campaigned for governor as a third-party candidate, and was one of the pioneering politicians who reached out to new voters via the Internet. He was elected as Minnesota governor in 1998, and proved to be a progressive politician, strongly backing gay rights, abortion rights, funding higher education, third-party politics, mass transit, property tax reform and opening trade relations with Cuba. Deciding not to run for reelection because he wanted his family to regain their privacy, Ventura and his family (including wife Terry, whom he married in 1975) currently live in Mexico.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded the former governor the 1999 "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" for his "plain speaking" on religion and, as governor, for rejecting proposals to entangle state and church, including refusing to proclaim for Minnesota a "Day of Prayer." As governor, Ventura vetoed a bill that would have required students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Ventura, on refusing to sign a National Day of Prayer in 1999, said: "I believe in the separation of church and state. We all have our own religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don't believe at all. They are all citizens of Minnesota and I have to respect that" (Minnesota Independent, "Despite court decision, National Day of Prayer will endure in Minnesota," by Andy Birkey, April 20, 2010). In his 2009 book Don't Start the Revolution Without Me! (co-authored with Dick Russell), Ventura writes: "I was the only governor of all fifty who would not declare a National Day of Prayer. I took a lot of heat for that, and my response was very simple: Why do people need the government to tell them to pray? Pray all you want! Pray fifty times a day if you desire, it's not my business! . . . If I declare National Day of Prayer, then I've got to declare National No-Prayer Day for the atheists. They are American citizens too" (p. 58). "For me, the lines between church and state seem to become more blurred by the day. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, thought — and religion. Nowhere is it mandated that we're the Christian States of America. . . . That's made us, I think, a stronger and more democratic nation. . . . It's abundantly clear that our Founding Fathers wanted to prevent our government from establishing a 'national church' " (p. 59).