JD Vance is joining a distinctive club of conservatives who parlayed their celebrity into a GOP seat

Former GOP Rep. Fred Grandy portraying his "Gopher" character from "The Love Boat"; Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio; former GOP Rep. Sonny Bono in a shot from his pre-congressional comedy series.
Former GOP Rep. Fred Grandy portraying his "Gopher" character from "The Love Boat" Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio; former GOP Rep. Sonny Bono in a shot from his pre-congressional comedy series.Getty Images
  • Incoming Sen. JD Vance continues a tradition of celebrities who broke into Republican politics.

  • Some of his predecessors on Capitol Hill include actor Fred Thompson and singer Sonny Bono.

  • Their pre-congressional careers include stints on Broadway and reality TV, and in blockbuster movies.

Newly minted Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio won't just be replacing retiring Sen. Rob Portman in the 118th Congress. He'll be joining the cadre of right-leaning actors, singers, and reality TV personalities who traded on their celebrity to secure a spot on Capitol Hill.

Vance, who defeated Democratic challenger Rep. Tim Ryan in one of the wildest and priciest Senate races of the 2022 midterms, originally rose to fame as author of the controversial ode to Appalachia, "Hillbilly Elegy." His 2016 memoir became a Netflix movie in 2020, cementing the entertainer bona fides of the aspiring venture capitalist and nonprofit founder.

While plenty of lawmakers pen tell-all books and pseudo-presidential campaign manifestos throughout their political careers, Vance just happened to get his first page-turner out of the way before arriving in Washington.

But a trailblazer he is not.

Here are five other cultural figures, listed by when they joined Congress, who beat Vance to the punch of becoming Republican lawmakers.

Late Sen. George Murphy

Actors Judy Garland and George Murphy as they appear in Garland's starring picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “Little Nellie Kelly."
Actors Judy Garland and George Murphy as they appear in Garland's starring picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “Little Nellie Kelly."Bettmann/Getty Images

Murphy was a star of the stage and screen before making his way to the nation's capital.

The Connecticut native performed song and dance numbers in various Broadway shows, appeared in nearly four dozen movies over a 30-year career, and was twice elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.

He got involved in California politics in the 1950s, and was elected to the US Senate in 1964.

Murphy lost his bid for reelection in 1970, serving just a single term in office. He died in May 1992.

Former Rep. Fred Grandy

Fred Grandy, clutching a clipboard in his iconic role "The Love Boat" character Burl "Gopher" Smith, guest stars on the ABC television special 'The ABC All-Star Spectacular'.
Fred Grandy, in his iconic role "The Love Boat" character Burl "Gopher" Smith.Erik Hein /American Broadcasting Companies via Getty Images

While he's been acting for nearly 50 years — and continues to do so today — Grandy's most iconic role remains his breakout turn on '70s dramedy "The Love Boat."

Grandy spent over a decade playing cruise ship purser Burl "Gopher" Smith, a sometimes bumbling staffer with a heart of gold. He's popped up on other popular series like "Fantasy Island," "Charlie's Angels," and "The Mindy Project," from time to time, but will forever be associated with the Pacific Princess and all the wackiness that took place on board.

He won one of Iowa's House seats in 1986, serving four terms in Congress — a tour that included a stint on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Grandy tried to unseat incumbent Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in late 1994, but wound up losing by 2 points.

Grandy has been a conservative commentator on talk radio for several years now.

Late Sen. Fred Thompson

Actor Fred Thompson appears opposite sitcom star Roseanne Barr on the “Let’s Call It Quits” episode of her eponymous show “Roseanne.”
Actor Fred Thompson appears opposite sitcom star Roseanne Barr on the “Let’s Call It Quits” episode of her eponymous show “Roseanne.”ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Thompson juggled his two great loves, acting and the law, throughout the course of his star-studded career.

He put the law degree he earned at Vanderbilt University to good use as staff counsel on the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities a.k.a the Watergate Committee that investigated then-President Richard Nixon. He later logged similar stints as special counsel on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

After nearly a decade of digging behind the scenes on Congress's behalf, Thompson stepped into the spotlight in Hollywood. The towering Tennessean started showing up in TV shows and movies including "No Way Out," "Roseanne," "The Hunt for Red October,' "Die Hard 2," and others.

He pivoted back to politics in 1994, running in a special election to fill the Senate vacancy left by Vice President Al Gore. Thompson won that race, and a subsequent full term in office when he was back on the ballot in 1996.

Shortly after leaving Congress, he landed his definitive acting role: District Attorney Arthur Branch on legal drama "Law & Order." He went on to stick with that from 2002 until 2008 — bowing out of the award-winning show to mount an unsuccessful bid for president.

Thompson died in late 2015.

Late Rep. Sonny Bono

Comedian Bob Hope (L) appears dressed in medieval garb for a skit alongside married couple Cher (C) and Sonny Bono (R) on TV variety show “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.”
Comedian Bob Hope (L) appears dressed in medieval garb for a skit alongside Cher (C) and Sonny Bono (R) on TV variety show "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour."CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The singer-songwriter will forever be remembered as half of '70s musical juggernaut Sonny & Cher.

The author of their iconic hit "I Got You Babe," Bono strived to keep them both busy, cranking out popular albums, booking TV and movie roles, and even launching variety shows like the "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour."

Bono broke into politics by serving as mayor of Palm Springs, California. He served two terms in the US House as a congressman from California.

Bono died in office in January 1998. He was succeeded by his fourth wife, Mary Bono, who held the same seat until 2013.

Former Rep. Sean Duffy

Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and his wife, Rachel, address attendees at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and his wife, Rachel, address attendees at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.Ida Mae Astute/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Duffy first splashed onto the scene as a cast member of MTV's long-running reality series, "The Real World."

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He was tapped as the resident conservative for the sixth season of the show, which took place in Boston, being deliberately tossed into the mix by producers who were clearly hoping for fireworks between him and some of his Black and LGBTQ roommates. Tensions occasionally flared over the course of the 23-episode season, but Duffy mostly just went with the flow.

Like many other MTV reality show participants, Duffy wound up appearing on their other shows, including "Road Rules: All Stars" — which is where he met his future wife and "Real World: San Francisco" alumna, Rachel Campos.

Duffy spent several years as a district attorney in Wisconsin before winning his way to the US House in 2010. He spent nearly a decade on Capitol Hill before resigning in 2019 to tend to family issues related to health complications faced by his ninth child.

Duffy and his wife remain fixtures on Fox News.

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