There may never be consensus about the world’s biggest or “best” movie star, but there is usually one person always in the discussion: Harrison Ford. The actor, who turns 81 on July 13, has starred in some of the most critically and commercially successful films of the past five decades, including turns as iconic heroes like Star Wars space cowboy Han Solo and Indiana Jones; Rick Deckard in Blade Runner (1982); wrongly convicted doctor Richard Kimble in The Fugitive (1993); and several others. All told, his films have grossed over $9 billion.
While Ford has recently kept busy with small-screen roles on Shrinking and the Yellowstone prequel spin-off 1923, he’s set to return to theaters in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny on Friday, June 30, and appear as a new Marvel Cinematic Universe antagonist in 2024’s Captain America: New World Order. For more on Ford, including the most important bathroom visit of his life, keep reading.
1. Harrison Ford was a philosophy major in college.
Born July 13, 1942, in Chicago, Ford’s family lineage held a strong performative streak. His mother, Dorothy, was a radio actress; his father, Christopher, had dabbled in acting, while his grandfather was a vaudevillian. In high school in Park Ridge, Illinois, Ford appeared on the school’s radio station, WMTH. At Ripon College, he majored in philosophy but seemed to lose interest in school until taking an acting class, which appeared to kindle a possible career direction. After a stint in summer stock—where he learned some carpentry skills that would later support him during leaner years—he ventured out to Hollywood in 1964 in search of voiceover work.
2. Harrison Ford got his big acting break because he had to pee.
By 1966, Ford was under contract to Columbia Pictures, which kept the young actor on standby so he could appear in bit parts on film and in television on series like Gunsmoke and Kung-Fu. In Ford’s telling, the Columbia deal happened as a result of a full bladder.
“I was extraordinarily lucky,” Ford told The Irish Times in 2011. “I had a five-minute interview. ‘How tall are you? Do you speak Spanish? Can you ride a horse? We’ll let you know.’ I went down to get the elevator, realized I had to take a pee and when I came back out the guy’s assistant was gesturing me in. And the guy said, ‘Do you want to be under contract?’ and I said, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘$150 dollars a week.’ It took me a while to register that I wasn’t obliged to pay him $150 a week. So now I was an actor. You can’t be much luckier than that.”
3. Harrison Ford went on tour with The Doors.
Between arriving in Hollywood and building a a more substantial filmography, Ford worked as a carpenter, accepting projects for clients including directors Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, both of whom cast him in their movies. At times, any odd job would do. In 1968, Ford agreed to become a second-unit cameraman for a documentary on The Doors, titled Feast of Friends. He shadowed the band for just over a week, with some of his footage making it into the movie.
According to Ford, it also exposed him to a more hedonistic side of the entertainment business. “I worked on a road tour film of The Doors,” he later said. “We went around for about a week and a half. A concert tour. When it was over, I was one step away from joining a Jesuit monastery. I thought it was cool, I thought it was hip, but I couldn’t keep up with those guys. It was too much.”
You can catch a fleeting glimpse of Ford near front man Jim Morrison in the clip above.
4. Harrison Ford’s scar was acquired in a ‘mundane’ manner.
Film actors often have unique physical characteristics, and Ford is no exception: A scar covers his chin. The actor explained it came in a “mundane” fashion. While working at a drug store in Laguna Beach, California, before bigger films came along, he crashed his car into a telephone pole while searching for his seat belt. The subsequent scar came courtesy of what he described as “inept” surgical attention.
5. Harrison Ford has performed helicopter rescues.
While much has been made of Ford’s aviation mishaps over the years, he’s also been involved in a number of (safe) efforts to render aid. In 2000, Ford retrieved hiker Sarah George after she became ill on Wyoming’s Table Mountain. Ford landed a Bell 407 helicopter and flew her away from the scene. George later said she didn’t initially recognize Ford but grew embarrassed after getting sick in his aircraft. “I can’t believe I barfed in Harrison Ford’s helicopter,” she said.
6. Harrison Ford got a little testy over Titanic.
In 1997, the film industry was very preoccupied with the development of Titanic, James Cameron’s big-budget spectacle chronicling the sinking of the infamous luxury ship. Originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 2 that year, there were rumors it might move to Friday, July 25—the same date Ford’s presidential thriller Air Force One was opening. According to The Los Angeles Times, Ford called Viacom Entertainment Group Chairman Jonathan Dolgen to complain about the new date, citing his history with Titanic co-financier Paramount, which was owned by Viacom. (Air Force One was being released by Sony.) Essentially, Ford claimed the date before any other films and wanted the weekend to himself.
Ford’s manager, Patricia McQueeney, admitted Ford was “definitely irritated” at the prospect of having to take on Titanic. But it was ultimately a moot point: Cameron’s movie wasn’t ready in time and didn’t open until December. Air Force One opened at number one, earning $37 million that weekend. It went on to become one of Ford’s biggest hits.
7. Harrison Ford has played Indiana Jones six times.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny marks the fifth Indiana Jones film, a series that began with 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ford reprised the role in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and now the new feature, in which director James Mangold takes the place of Steven Spielberg.
But Dial of Destiny is actually the 6th time Ford has played Jones. In 1993, Ford agreed to film a bookend sequence for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a primetime ABC series featuring Sean Patrick Flanery as a younger version of the character.
According to Lucas, Ford did it as a favor to him to help draw attention to the series, which was struggling in the ratings. “Harrison was very nervous about the show when I first proposed it to him,” Lucas told The Los Angeles Times. “This is his character—he created the character,
the persona, as an actor. To have other actors play that character and expand on it would make any actor nervous. But since he’s seen the show, he’s been very pleased. If he had not liked the show, he wouldn’t have done this favor for me.” (The series was canceled later that year.)
8. Harrison Ford narrated a Star Wars trailer that fooled George Lucas.
Ford originally went to Hollywood to seek out voiceover work. While that didn’t pan out as expected, he did wind up in front of a microphone. Ford narrated a trailer for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, one in which he sounds significantly more animated than usual.
According to the film’s editor, Paul Hirsch, he cut a trailer that needed a voiceover and convinced Ford to do it in an exaggerated, newsreel-era style as a joke. But when Hirsch sent the footage and audio to Lucas, the filmmaker loved it—and didn’t realize Ford was the narrator. You can hear the very upbeat Ford in the trailer above.