Jesse Ventura

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 from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and served during the Vietnam War. 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. Janos developed a rigorous workout routine and started wrestling professionally in the mid-1970s, changing his name to the one that made him famous.

Playing a loud, aggressive villain became Ventura's trademark as a wrestler for the World Wrestling Federation. He continued wrestling until 1984, when emergency hospitalization due to blood clots in his lungs made him miss a title match against Hulk Hogan and ended his career. He spent the next five years as a wrestling commentator and 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 governor in 1998 and proved to be a progressive politician, strongly backing gay rights, abortion rights, funding for higher education, 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) moved to Mexico.

He was the recipient in 1999 of FFRF's 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 a state "Day of Prayer."

He said at the time, "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, April 20, 2010.) He also vetoed a bill that would have required students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

Ventura in 1996; Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com (cropped) under CC 2.0.

"Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

—Ventura, Playboy magazine, November 1999

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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