Family & Companions
Judd Nelson was an American actor who carved a unique path to fame, starting out as a rebellious bad boy teen heartthrob before transitioning into a quieter life as a well-respected (if slightly prickly and eccentric) character actor. Born on November 28, 1959 in Portland, ME, Nelson was raised in one of Portland's most prominent Jewish families; his mother was a former state legislator turned court mediator, while his father was a corporate lawyer and the first Jewish president of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Nelson attended St. Paul's School, a distinguished boarding school in Concord, NH, before studying at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. However, he dropped out during his sophomore year, and decided to move to Manhattan, where he studied acting under the tutelage of Stella Adler. By the time he was 25, Nelson was starring in films such as "Making the Grade" (1984) and "Fandango" (1985), but it would be a film about a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel, and a recluse all stuck together for Saturday afternoon detention that would make Nelson a bona fide phenomenon. "The Breakfast Club" (1985) was writer/director John Hughes' second feature, an instant addition into the cannon of teen movie classics. Nelson turned in a dark, hilarious, and surprisingly vulnerable performance as John Bender, the cynical, angry burnout from a broken home who becomes an unlikely paramour for Molly Ringwald's preppy prom queen, Claire Standish. The final shot of the film, a freeze frame on Nelson raising his fist in triumph as Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" blared on the soundtrack, was instantly iconic. Then, as if "The Breakfast Club" wasn't enough, four months later, Nelson's next film, "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985) was released, quickly grossing nearly $40 million on a $10 million budget. The tale of a group of friends trying to figure out their post-college lives, "St. Elmo's Fire" showed a different, more mature side of Nelson. Taken together, these two films are perhaps best remembered for introducing the world to a group of actors who would come to be known as the Brat Pack: Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. The press followed their every move with intense scrutiny for most of the 1980s, and Nelson was never shy of professing his hatred for the term Brat Pack, even once saying he wished he had punched out David Blum, the journalist who coined it in an article for New York Magazine. Instead of getting mad, though, Nelson focused on the work of acting. He made his TV debut in 1986 with a cameo on "Moonlighting" (ABC, 1983-89), starred in an acclaimed production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" in L.A., and played a sleazy, fast-talking attorney in Bob Clark's courtroom comedy "From the Hip" (1987). This character type, the slimy yet charming yuppie, would come to define many of Nelson's biggest roles in the nineties, from the crime drama "New Jack City" (1991) to the goofy heavy metal comedy "Airheads" (1994), and even his villainous turn in the superhero flop "Steel" (1997), starring Shaquille O'Neal. Nelson continued to make headway in the world of television as well, turning in a memorable cameo on "Tales From the Crypt" (HBO, 1989-1996), and taking a lead role alongside Brooke Shields on the successful sitcom "Suddenly Susan" (NBC, 1996-1999). Nelson continued to work in the new millennium, most notably turning in a cameo for Brat Pack superfan Kevin Smith in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001) and playing an Italian mob boss in the cult sequel "Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" (2009). He even reprised the role of John Bender, albeit in cartoon form, for a bit in a 2007 episode of "Family Guy" (FOX, 1999-2002, 2005-). Nelson could next be seen playing Billy Beretti on Lee Daniels' hip-hop primetime soap "Empire" (FOX, 2015-).
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Acted with Shoestring Shakespeare Company
Film acting debut in "Making the Grade"
TV debut in variety show "Funny, You Don't Look 200" (ABC)
Screenwriting debut with "Every Breath"; also starred
Became series regular on "Suddenly Susan"
Departed role in NBC sitcom "Suddenly Susan" after three seasons
Signed to star in the NBC biopic "Mr. Rock 'n' Roll: The Alan Freed Story"
Began recurring role as Billy Beretti on "Empire"