50 Famous People with Croatian Heritage
- by croatiaweek
- in News
There are believed to be more people who claim Croatian heritage living outside of Croatia than there are in Croatia – which has a population of over 4 million. A large majority, around half, are in the United States.
Croatians have and continue to make an impact in a number of fields, with a lot of the second, third and fourth generation Croatians becoming famous.
Here are 50 people with Croatian heritage, born and raised abroad, who reached stardom in film, television, sport, and music.
FILM & TV
American actor and director John Malkovich has appeared in more than 70 films, receiving a number of Academy Award nominations.
He appeared in films such as Empire of the Sun, The Killing Fields, Con Air, Of Mice and Men, Rounders, Ripley’s Game, Being John Malkovich, RED, Mulholland Falls, Dangerous Liaisons, and Warm Bodies. Malkovich was born in Christopher, Illinois. His paternal grandparents were Croatian, hailing from Ozalj just north of Karlovac.
Australian-born actor Eric Bana gained Hollywood’s attention for his roles in Black Hawk Down and Hulk.
His father Ivan Banadinović emigrated to Australia from Croatia after World War II.
American actor Joe Manganiello has starred in a number of films and TV shows. He acted in the Spider-Man trilogy, ER, How I Met Your Mother, One Tree Hill, and True Blood. He is set to star in Ben Affleck’s upcoming 2018 Batman film. He married actress Sofia Vergara in 2015.
Manganiello was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother has Croatian roots (Bračanov) whilst his father is of Italian descent.
Jenna Elfman is an American television and film actress, best known for her role as Dharma on the 1997–2002 American hit television sitcom Dharma & Greg.
Born Jennifer Mary Butala, she is of Croatian ancestry on her father’s side. Her grandfather emigrated to America in the middle of the 1900s from around the Karlovac region in central Croatia.
Judah Friedlander is an American actor and comedian, known for playing the role of writer Frank Rossitano on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock. He is also known for his role as Toby Radloff in the film American Splendor.
Judah’s father was of Russian Jewish descent and his mother, a native of Pittsburgh, is Croatian-American.
Rachel is an English actress and singer known for playing serial killer nurse Kelly Yorke in the BBC medical drama Holby City, and hairdresser Natasha Blakeman in the famous UK soap opera Coronation Street. She also starred in Hollyoaks.
She was born in Bradford, England. Her mother is English and her father is of Croatian descent.
Werner Herzog is one of the greatest figures in German cinema. The screenwriter, film director, author, actor, and opera director was named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine in 2009.
Herzog’s films often feature heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature. Herzog was born Werner Stipetić in Munich, to Elizabeth Stipetić, an Austrian of Croatian descent, and Dietrich Herzog, who was German.
Actor Patrick Muldoon played the role of Austin Reed on Days of Our Lives and also starred in the popular teen television series Saved by the Bell and Melrose Place.
He is of Irish descent on his father’s side and of Croatian descent on his mother’s side.
Rick Rossovich has appeared in over 30 films and is best known as Ron “Slider” Kerner in the 1986 hit film Top Gun.
He also appeared in The Terminator (as Matt), Roxanne (as Chris McConnell), Navy SEALs (as Leary) as well as in several TV series such as ER and Sons and Daughters. He is of Croatian and Italian descent with Moscenicka Draga the home of his paternal great-great-grandfather.
Tony Robbins is a famous American author, entrepreneur, philanthropist and life coach. Robbins is best known for his infomercials, seminars, and self-help books including Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within.
Robbins is the founder of several companies that earn approximately $6 billion in annual sales. In 2015 and 2016 he was listed on the Worth Magazine Power 100 list. He is also a philanthropist, partnering with organizations such as Feeding America.
The son of Croatian immigrants. Robbins was born Anthony J. Mahavoric but took the surname of his step-father after his mother re-married.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Krist Novoselic was the bassist and co-founder of the legendary grunge band Nirvana. Born in California to Croatian parents, Novoselic spent time in school in Zadar on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast in the 1980s.
He met Kurt Cobain through his brother and the two discovered they had a similar taste in music and decided to form the band Nirvana. The rest is history.
Tony Butala was the lead singer of the vocal group The Lettermen, who had two Top 10 singles, 16 Top 10 singles on the Adult Contemporary chart (including one #1), 32 consecutive Billboard Magazine chart albums, 11 gold records, and five Grammy nominations.
Butala was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania and is of Croatian descent.
Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, burst onto the music scene as a teenager a few years ago thanks to her smash hit ‘Royals’. That hit spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won her two Grammy Awards.
Lorde has Croatian roots on her mother’s side and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.
Guy Mitchell was an American singer and actor who, successful not only in the US, but also the UK, and Australia. He sold 44 million records, including six million-selling singles.
His first hit was “My Heart Cries for You” (1951). He ventured into rock with songs including “Heartaches by the Number”, “Rock-a-Billy”, “The Same Old Me”, and his biggest hit, “Singing the Blues”, which was number one for 10 weeks in 1956.
He was the son of Croatian immigrants and was born in Detroit, Michigan.
Ivana & Tomo Miličević
Ivana is an American actress and model and is best known for playing Anastasia Rabitov/Carrie Hopewell on the Cinemax original series Banshee.
Born to Croatian parents, Ivan moved to the United States at the age of 5 and was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her brother is Tomo, guitarist for rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, which features Jared Leto.
Johnny Mercer was a lyricist, songwriter and singer. He was also a record label executive, who co-founded Capitol Records.
From the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s, many of the songs Mercer wrote and performed were among the most popular hits of the time. He wrote the lyrics to more than fifteen hundred songs, including compositions for movies and Broadway shows. He received nineteen Academy Award nominations and won four Best Original Song Oscars.
His mother’s father was born in Lastovo, Croatia in 1834.
George, nicknamed Mr. Basketball, is seen as one of the pioneers of professional basketball. Mikan had a successful playing career, winning seven NBL, BAA, and NBA championships, an NBA All-Star Game MVP trophy, and three scoring titles. He was a member of the first four NBA All-Star games, and the first six All-BAA and All-NBA Teams. Mikan was so dominant that he caused several rule changes in the NBA: among them, the introduction of the goaltending rule, the widening of the foul lane—known as the “Mikan Rule”—and the creation of the shot clock.
After his playing career, Mikan became one of the founders of the American Basketball Association (ABA), serving as commissioner of the league. He was also vital for the forming of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959, made the 25th and 35th NBA Anniversary Teams of 1970 and 1980, and was elected one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players ever in 1996. Since April 2001, a statue of Mikan shooting his trademark hook shot graces the entrance of the Timberwolves’ Target Center.
George Mikan was born in Joliet, Illinois, as an American of Croatian descent.
Rudy Tomjanovich was a top NBA basketball player and coach who coached the Houston Rockets to two consecutive NBA championships. He was an All-Star forward for the Rockets during his playing career and was a 5× NBA All-Star (1974–1977, 1979). He is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tomjanovich was born in Hamtramck, Michigan to a family of Croatian descent.
John played 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning eight NBA championships, four of them coming in his first four seasons.
He is of Czech descent on his father’s side and of Croatian descent on his mother’s (Turkalj).
Kevin played in the NBA for the Boston Celtics. He is a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and is regarded as one of the best power forwards of all time. He was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team, and also to the official list of the NBA’s best 50 players in 1996.
McHale works as an on-air analyst for NBA TV and Turner Sports’s popular NBA on TNT studio show.
He is of Croatian descent on his mother’s side (Starcevic).
Danny Vranes was a basketball player who played in 7 NBA seasons with the SuperSonics and Philadelphia 76ers from 1981 to 1988.
In his NBA career, Vranes played in 510 games and scored a total of 2,613 points. His best year as a professional came during the 1983–84 season as a member of the SuperSonics, appearing in 80 games and averaging 8.4 ppg.
In the 1984–85 season, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
Mixed Martial Arts
Stipe Miočić is currently the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion. He was nominated for the MMA fighter of the year award in 2016.
Whilst being born in America, Miočić has Croatian roots on both sides with his mother coming from Karlovac and father from near Zadar. Miočić is a regular visitor to Croatia and is proud of his roots.
Pat is a retired mixed martial artist and is known for his fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he became the first UFC Welterweight Champion and UFC 16 Welterweight Tournament Winner.
Miletich is also known as a highly successful trainer and coach, having founded Miletich Fighting Systems. This camp is considered one of the most successful in MMA history and has produced several world champions. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2014.
Bill Belichick is an American football coach who is the head coach of the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL). He is a 5× Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI).
Belichick’s paternal grandparents Ivan Biličić and Marija Barković emigrated from Karlovac in Croatia in 1897 and left for the USA, where they settled near Pittsburgh.
His father, Steve Belichick (born Stephen Biličić), played for the Detroit Lions and was an assistant coach and scout with the United States Naval Academy football team for 33 years.
Pete Carroll is also a successful American football coach who is the head coach and executive vice president of the Seattle Seahawks. He is a former head coach of the New York Jets and New England Patriots and is one of only three football coaches who have won both a Super Bowl and a college football national championship.
Carroll though, whose maternal grandparents were Croatian and his paternal great-grandparents Irish immigrants.
David Diehl New York Giants player. He was the Giants starting left guard on two Super Bowl championship teams, beating the New England Patriots in both games.
He is of Croatian descent on his mother’s side and has the Croatian coat of arms as well as “neuništiv”, the Croatian word for indestructible, tattooed on his left arm.
Elvis was a quarterback who played in the NFL. During his career, he was a starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Baltimore Ravens.
During his career, Grbac was on one Super Bowl-winning team with the 49ers, and won one AFC West title in 1997 while quarterbacking the Chiefs. He still holds six all-time records with the Chiefs, including Most touchdown passes in consecutive games (15), Lowest percentage, passes had intercepted (3.04), and most yards gained in a single game (5).
Grbac was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ivan and Cecilija Grbac. His father was born in Lanišće, near Buzet, Istra, Croatia, and his mother was also from Istra. His parents left Croatia in 1967.
One of the greatest strikers to play the game, Zlatan Ibrahimović was born and raised in Sweden to a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, Jurka Gravić, who emigrated to Sweden from the village of Prkos near Škabrnja near Zadar.
“My mother is from Croatia and my father from Bosnia, but I am 100% Swedish and am very proud of that,” the pony-tailed scoring machine said in an earlier interview.
Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich represented Australia and played for some big clubs in the English Premier League, including both Chelsea and Manchester United.
Bosnich has Croatian ancestry with his family moving to Australia from Blato on the island of Korčula.
Mark Viduka is another one of Australia’s footballers with Croatian heritage who made a name for himself internationally.
As well as captaining Australia at the World Cup, Viduka played for a number of clubs in the English Premier League, including Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.
Former German footballer Fredi Bobič had an illustrious career in Germany, most notably playing for VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmand. He also had a stint in England with Bolton.
Fredi won 37 caps for Germany and was part of the UEFA Euro 1996 winning squad. He also played at UEFA Euro 2004. He scored 10 goals for Germany. Fredi was born in Maribor to a Slovene father and a Croatian mother.
Daniel Biloš was an Argentine footballer who played for the Argentina national team. He played at Banfield, Boca Juniors and Saint-Etienne.
He has Croatian heritage on his father’s side and he was chased by the Croatian Football Federation to play at the 2006 World Cup for Croatia but he declined as wanted to earn the chance to play for his country of birth.
One of the most famous footballers in the world, former Argentina legend Diego Maradona, also reportedly has Croatian heritage.
It is claimed that his grandfather on his mother’s side, Mateo Kariolić, emigrated from the Croatian island of Korčula to Argentina. Maradona was recently quizzed about this and said he was not too clued up the family history but if it is correct then that would be great as he could have land there.
Christian Mate Pulisic (19) is an attacking midfielder who plays for German club Borussia Dortmund and the United States national team. He is regarded as one of the top young players in Europe.
He became the youngest foreigner to score a goal in the Bundesliga two seasons ago and the youngest American player to score a goal in World Cup qualifying history at 17 years, 349 days.
Pulisic’s grandfather, Mate, was born in Croatia on the island of Olib and Christian has Croatian citizenship.
Roger Maris was an American professional baseball player who played 12 seasons for 4 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams from 1957 through 1968.
Maris set the MLB record for home runs during the 1961 season with 61, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs in 1927. Maris was an American League (AL) All-Star from 1959 through 1962, an AL Most Valuable Player in 1960 and 1961, and an AL Gold Glove Award winner in 1960. Maris appeared in seven World Series, five as a member of the Yankees and two with the Cardinals.
He was born Roger Maras to parents, Rudolph Maras and Corrine (née Perkovich), who were both of Croatian origin. The later changed his surname to Maris.
Michael played in Major League Baseball as a pitcher from 1962 until 1979, most notably for the Detroit Tigers. He is best known for his performance in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals when he earned three complete-game victories, including a win over Bob Gibson in the climactic Game 7.
Legendary retired boxer George Chuvalo was a five-time Canadian heavyweight champion and two-time world heavyweight title challenger. Chuvalo is considered by many to have one of, if not the best chin in boxing history.
He was never knocked down in his career and was ranked #4 on ESPN’s greatest chin in boxing history list.
Chuvalo lost to Hall of Fame heavyweights such as Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, but was credited for his spirited performances. He fought for the world title twice, losing a controversial decision to Ernie Terrell and another decision in his first fight with Ali.
He went the distance both times against Muhammad Ali only losing on decisions each time. George Chuvalo was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
Chuvalo was born in Toronto, to Croatian parents from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stipan and Katica (née Kordić) Čuvalo, both from villages near Ljubuški.
Boxer Fritzie Zivic was known as “The Croat Comet” and held the world welterweight championship in the early 1940s. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Frank & Peter Mahovlich
Frank was a legendary NHL ice hockey player. He played on six Stanley Cup-winning teams and is an inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame. On January 1, 2017, in a ceremony prior to the Centennial Classic, Mahovlich was part of the first group of players to be named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history.
His brother Peter also played professional ice hockey in the NHL. Known in his playing years as “Little M”, as his older brother Frank was the “Big M.”, Mahovlich played with several clubs, including the Montreal Canadiens, where he played with his brother and was a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams.
Joe Sakic was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played his entire 21-year NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise. Sakic is regarded as one of the best leaders in league history.
Sakic led the Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 and was named to play in 13 NHL All-Star Games and selected to the NHL First All-Star Team at centre three times.
Sakic helped lead Canada to its first ice hockey gold medal in 50 years at the 2002 Winter Olympics and was voted as the tournament’s most valuable player. He also played at the 1998 and 2006 Winter Olympics. Sakic’s parents, Marijan and Slavica Šakić, emigrated to Canada from Croatia.
Another big ice hockey star with Croatian roots. Vlasic plays for San Jose Sharks in the NHL. In 2012 the Sharks signed Vlasic to a 5-year, $21 million contract extension that will keep him with the Sharks through the 2017–2018 NHL season.
He has won gold medals for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2016 World Cup.
Matt Pavelich officiated in 1,727 regular NHL season games before retiring in 1979. His career spanned over three decades and was second longest in league history.
Pavelich also officiated in 245 playoff contests, the second highest total at that time, this time, behind John D’Amico. He was named the NHL’s supervisor of officials and in 1987 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Referee/Linesman category.
His father was from Krivi Put and mother was born in Canada, but her parents were from Ledenice.
Matt’s brother Marty was one of the top ice hockey players of his era. He played ten seasons for the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League from 1947 until 1957.
During the 1956-57 season, Matt was often called upon to work games played by the Detroit Red Wings, where his brother played. It was the first time in NHL history that there had been an official/player brother combination.
Pavelich joined the NHL Detroit Red Wings in 1947. He played a total of 634 regular season NHL games, scoring 93 goals and 159 assists for 252 points. His post-season record is 13 goals, 15 assists for 28 points in 93 games. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup four times (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955) during his career and he played in the NHL all-star games for those seasons.
Hockey journalist Stan Fischler ranked him as the 4th best defensive forward of all time in his book Hockey’s 100: A Personal Ranking of the Best Players in Hockey History. Considered one of the best “shadows” of his time, his role was to check other team’s top scorers, including the likes of Maurice “Rocket” Richard.
French handball star Nikola Karabatić has won two Olympic gold medals, four World Championship gold medals and three gold medals in the European Championship and has been one of the world’s best handball players over the last decade.
Nikola’s father was Croatian and his mother was Serbian. His father Branko Karabatić was also a professional handball player and is originally from Vrsine, a village near Trogir on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.
Fred Couples is a former World No. 1 golfer. He has won 57 professional tournaments, most notably the 1992 Masters Tournament and the 1984 and 1996 Players Championship. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.
Fred was born in Seattle, Washington, to Tom and Violet Couples. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Italy and changed the family name from “Coppola” to “Couples” to make it sound less ethnic, and his mother was of Croatian descent (Sobich).
Frank Nobilo was a professional golfer from New Zealand who had a successful playing career, winning 15 pro tournaments around the world. He was at his peak during the mid-1990s when he also produced strong finishes in all four major championships.
His Croatian roots are from Korčula island.
Cricket legend Simon Katich played 56 test matches for Australia and scored 10 test centuries. He is a well-known figure in cricket playing nations and is renowned for his gritty batting at the top of the order.
His grandmother was born in Živogošće on the Dalmatian coast and moved to Australia in 1936. His grandfather was born in Kozica (Vrgorac) and moved to Australia in 1924.
There have been a number of All Black (New Zealand) rugby internationals with Croatian heritage, like Anthony Boric and the Cooper brothers, but the most famous was Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick captained the famous All Blacks from 1992 to 1997 and played in 92 Tests for his country.
Fitzpatrick was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1997 New Year Honours. He remains an icon in New Zealand and is highly respected abroad in rugby playing nations. His mother is of Croatian descent.
Frano Botica was one of the rare people to play for both the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, and the New Zealand nations rugby league team. He played 7 tests in both codes before turning out for the Croatia national team in 1998.
He is of Croatian and Maori descent with his Croatian roots coming from the island of Korčula.
John Kasich is an American politician and former television news host serving currently as the Governor of Ohio.
Kasich first worked for Fox News, hosting Heartland with John Kasich from 2001 to 2007 and was a fill-in host for The O’Reilly Factor. Kasich served nine terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He was a key figure in the passage of both 1996 welfare reform legislation and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Kasich, who has had a 37-year career in American politics, was born in Pennsylvania. His father was of Czech origin, whilst his mother was the child of Croatian immigrants (Vukovich).