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Zelensky, Erap and The Donald: These Presidents Started as Actors

A different kind of spotlight.
by Arianne Merez
15 hours ago
Photo/s: Composite

From starring in a comedy satire series about an unexpected president, Volodymyr Zelensky has risen to the role in real life and in war time at that, becoming the face of Ukrainian resilience with Russia's invasion of his country. 

But Zelensky is far from the first actor-turned-politician. Around the world, people have seen celebrities ride on star power to public office.

READ: Back on Netflix: Ukraine President Zelensky's Star-Making Comedy Satire

Here are some notable world leaders who went from acting to directing a country:

Volodymyr Zelensky

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Zelensky starred in a comedy satire TV show called Servant of the People where he played a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine--his war-time job in real life now.

The 2015 series was a big hit in Ukraine and launched Zelensky's political career. He won the presidency in 2019 with over 70% of the votes.

READ: Why Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is the War's Emerging Hero

Donald Trump

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While Donald Trump is best known as a real estate mogul prior to becoming the 45th president of the U.S., he also hosted television shows and made cameo appearances in several movies.

Trump hosted the reality shows The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice. He also made cameo appearances as himself in films like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Eddie, Zoolander, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Running as a Republican, Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential race even without prior government or military service. He led Washington from 2017 to 2019 and lost to Democrat Joe Biden to become a rare single-term president.

He was also president of the Miss Universe Organization from the mid-90s to 2015, when he stepped into politics.

After his election loss, Trump rallied his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in protest of Biden's victory.  Trump is also the only U.S. president to have been impeached twice.

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Ronald Reagan


Ronald Reagan holds the honor of being America's first celebrity president with his election in 1981.

Unlike Trump who has no government track record prior to becoming president, Reagan was elected POTUS after serving as governor of California.

Reagan started his career in the movies in 1937 with Love is on the Air but became a big hit when he starred in the 1942 film Kings Row. He even became president of the Screen Actors Guild for multiple terms between 1947 and 1960.

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After serving as a two-term president, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and died of pneumonia on June 5, 2004 in his California home.

Joseph 'Erap' Estrada


The Philippines also has its own entry to the list of actor-turned-presidents.

Before his foray into politics, Joseph Estrada popularly known as 'Erap' was a famous action star known for his Asiong Salonga films and starred in over a hundred films for over three decades.

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Estrada leveraged his popularity as an actor to enter politics, serving as mayor of San Juan City, then as senator, and as vice president under President Fidel V. Ramos before running for the highest office in the country.

Estrada won the elections in 1998 to become the 13th president of the Philippines. His presidency however was marred with corruption and was ousted from power in 2001 with People Power II.

He resigned and became the first world leader from Asia to be formally impeached.

READ: Immunity Lost: Philippine Presidents Face Lawsuits When They Step Down

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