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World Famous Expat Celebrities

18 August, 2012 11:03  Erin Erin

Red Carpet © sunnymars - Fotolia.comThere are certain people that everyone knows...or they think they know. We compiled a list of some of most famous celebrity expats. Where are they from, where did they go, and how did they end up there? Discover these celebrity's international backgrounds.

Julia Child

Country of Origin: USA
Country of Residence: France

Julia Child, called "America's Most Famous Expat Housewife" was an American chef, author, and television personality. Child joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) after finding that she was too tall to enlist in the Women's Army Corps (WACs) or in the U.S. Navy's WAVES. This eventually took her to a post in China where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. She eventually met Paul Cushing Child though OSS and the two were married, followed by a move to Paris. Child recalled her first meal in Rouen as a culinary revelation, describing it as "an opening up of the soul and spirit for me". In 1951, Child began to teach cooking to American women in her Paris kitchen. The informal school L'école des trois gourmandes (The School of the Three Food Lovers), revealed the wonder of French food to the United States. Her legacy as a personality and a chef continues to grow on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pamela Anderson

Country of Origin: Canada
Country of Residence: USA

This All-American beach bombshell actually hails from Canada. Born in Ladysmith, British Columbia, she moved to LA to pursue a career as an actress and model. She made it big as a Playboy centerfold, appearing in the magazine several times in the 1990s and 2000s before putting on the red swimsuit for internationally famous as C.J on "Baywatch". Anderson still maintains dual American and Canadian citizenship.

Terry Gilliam

Country of Origin: USA
Country of Residence: UK

Monty Python may be the pinnacle of British humor, but one of the members - Gilliam - was originally an American. The only "Python" not born in Britain, Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He created a photographic strip called "Help!" that eventually folded, leading to his move to England to work on the children's series "Do Not Adjust Your Set" which featured Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Monty Python first aired on the BBC on October 5th, 1969 with Gilliam as an original cast member. His cartoons linked the show's sketches together in his own unique style.

Gilliam took British citizenship in 1968. He has now expanded into directing, including notable films Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). In 2006, he formally renounced his American citizenship.

Joaquin Phoenix

Country of Origin: Puerto Rico (USA)
Country of Residence: USA

Actually not officially an expat as Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Many thanks to Tony Paschall who corrected our mistake in comments :-).

The quirky Phoenix acting family has many surprises, including the site of Joaquin's birth. American nationals, the family spent several years in the Children of God religious cult traveling around Latin America. It was during these travels that Joaquin was born in Puerto Rico in 1974. Once the family left the sect, they returned to the Los Angeles area in 1978. Joaquin and several of his siblings, most notably River, have found success in the acting arena after performing as children on the streets and at various talent contests.

Audrey Hepburn

Country of Origin: UK / Belgium
Country of Residence: USA / Switzerland

American film sweetheart Audrey Hepburn was actually not an American - far from it. Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Hepburn was officially a British citizen with a father born in Úzice, Bohemia and a Dutch aristocrat mother. Her British heritage came from her father's British citizenship. Hepburn's multinational background allowed her to be fluent in English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian.

Hepburn's childhood was interrupted by the German-occupation of Arnhem during the Second World War. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra as it was more "English sounding". Her uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum was executed in retaliation for a sabotage by the resistance movement and her half-brother Jan was deported to Berlin to work in a German labor camp. Hepburn suffered from malnutrition, developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema. Hepburn later remarked, "I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child." Offers for her to play Anne Frank were declared too personal and she never played that dramatic role. Hepburn's war-time experiences sparked her interest in UNICEF and she was a life-long humanitarian, in addition to an actor.

Hepburn moved to London after the war and continued to train as a ballerina. As Hepburn's father had abandoned the family, Hepburn needed to find employment to support the family. She began to work as a London chorus girl and was eventually picked to play "Gigi" in the USA. This debut on Broadway earned Hepburn a Theatre World Award and started her illustrious film career in the USA and abroad. Hepburn was ranked as the third greatest female screen legend in the history of American cinema and a place in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.

Hepburn lived in Switzerland periodically, and in late September 1992 when she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer her family returned to Switzerland. In Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland on the evening of January 20th, 1993, Hepburn died in her sleep of appendiceal cancer. Hepburn was interred at the Tolochenaz Cemetery where fans still visit today.

Keanu Reeves

Country of Origin: Lebanon
Country of Residence: Canada / USA

Unbeknownst to many of his American fans, Reeves was actually born in Beirut. He is the son of an English mother and a Hawaiian-born American father. After his father abandoned the family, Reeves's mother became a performer and costume designer as she moved the family to Australia, New York City, and finally Toronto.

Keanu drove to Los Angeles in his 1969 Volvo to continue a career in acting. He found success with the help of his ex-stepfather, Paul Aaron, a stage and television director, who found him the agent Erwin Stoff. Reeves hit it big with the movie "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure", "Speed", and "The Matrix" series. He is a U.S. citizen through his American father, and also holds Canadian citizenship by naturalization. He is also entitled to British citizenship through his English mother.

Charlize Theron

Country of Origin: South Africa
Country of Residence: USA

Despite roles as Americans like serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster", Theron is actually South African. She was born in Benoni, in the then-Transvaal Province of South Africa. After spending a year as a model based in Milan, she moved to NYC, then Los Angeles. Theron has since become fluent in English, but her first language is Afrikaans. She began her film career with as an expat, saying "I had barely any knowledge of English and a very heavy South African accent. When I went to auditions, the feedback was always, 'Great, but can you come back and do an American accent?". "Theron" is an Occitan surname, originally spelled Théron, pronounced in Afrikaans as "tron". She changed the pronunciation when she moved to the U.S. to give it a more "American" sound. Theron became a naturalized citizen of the United States in May 2007, while retaining her South African citizenship.

Marlene Dietrich

Country of Origin: Germany
Country of Residence: USA

Marlene Dietrich was a popular actress in Berlin of the 1920s as a stage actress and in silent films. Born in Schöneberg, her performance as Lola-Lola in "The Blue Angel", brought her international fame. This prompted her to move to the US with a contract with Paramount Pictures. Hollywood films "Shanghai Express" and "Desire" made her one of the highest-paid actresses of the era.

Hitler came to power during this time and Dietrich decided not to return home. She even performed for the US troops throughout World War II. "America took me into her bosom when there was no longer a country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German - German in my soul," she once said. Dietrich became a US citizen in 1939.

Sean Connery

Country of Origin: Scotland
Country of Residence: Spain / Bahamas

Known as an international movie star, Connery is probably most well known for his roe as the iconic Brit, James Bond. Born in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, he appeared in 7 Bond films: "Dr. No" (1962), "From Russia with Love" (1963), "Goldfinger" (1964), "Thunderball" (1965), "You Only Live Twice" (1967), "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) and "Never Say Never Again" (1983).

Connery first moved overseas in the 1970's. Initially moving to Spain, he eventually settled in the Bahamas. He also has a home in Kranidi, Greece. Connery says his initial move overseas was driven by political reasons and that he will only return to an independent Scotland. More recently he stated, "I couldn't live in Scotland just now with what they would do to me, frankly, the media and all that, the tabloids".

Anna Paquin

Country of Origin: Canada / New Zealand
Country of Residence: USA

Paquin is well known for being the second youngest winner for the American Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. However, Paquin was actually born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada with mother from Wellington, New Zealand and her father a native French Canadian. Paquin's family moved to New Zealand when she was four. She maintained a fairly normal childhood until 1991 when Paquin's sister decided to go to a group audition for "The Piano". Paquin tagged along and landed the park out of 5,000 candidates.

Her acting career took off almost half a decade later when she appeared in a string of successful films including She's All That, Almost Famous and the X-Men franchise. Paquin now performs as Sookie Stackhouse in the HBO series True Blood in which she has an American Southern accent. This popular show is notable for having a host of expats as it's stars, like Stephen Moyer from England, Ryan Kwanten from Australia, and Alexander Skarsgård from Sweden.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Country of Origin: Austria
Country of Residence: USA

Most people are aware of the former governor of the US state of California's European heritage. From his name to his heavy accent, Schwarzenegger has made his Austrian beginnings work for him. Schwarzenegger served in the Austrian Army in 1965 to fulfill the one year of service required. During this time, he won the Junior Mr. Europe contest. He went AWOL during basic training so he could take part in the competition and spent a week in military prison. He was voted best built man of Europe earning him international fame. From here, he entered the Mr. Universe competition and won. He has said he dreamed of moving to the U.S. since the age of 10, and that "The Mr Universe title was my ticket to America – the land of opportunity, where I could become a star and get rich".

Schwarzenegger succeeded in moving to the United States in September 1968 at the age of 21 with very little English skills. He trained at Gold's Gym in Venice, Los Angeles, California and in 1970 captured the title of Mr. Olympia, winning the title a total of seven times. LA Weekly wrote that Schwarzenegger is the most famous immigrant in America, who "overcame a thick Austrian accent and transcended the unlikely background of bodybuilding to become the biggest movie star in the world in the 1990s". He achieved the status of American superstar, and even married American royalty in wife, Maria Shriver of the Kennedy family (although they are currently in the midst of a divorce). Possibly most surprising, Schwarzenegger won his bid for the Governor of California in 2003. He had wide name recognition, but his win seemed like a surprise to even him. He has said, "The recall happens and people are asking me, ‘What are you going to do?' I thought about it but decided I wasn't going to do it. I told Maria I wasn't running. I told everyone I wasn't running. I wasn't running. I just thought [en route to the Tonight Show], This will freak everyone out. It'll be so funny. Ill announce that I am running. I told Leno I was running. And two months later I was governor. What the f*** is that? All these people are asking me, 'What's your plan? Who's on your staff?' I didn't have a plan. I didn't have a staff. I wasn't running until I went on Jay Leno."

Mel Gibson

Country of Origin: USA / Australia
Country of Residence: USA

 Gibson is commonly thought of as an Australian export to the United States of America. He was actually born in Peekskill, New York before moving with his family to Sydney, Australia when he was 12 years old. He studied at the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art and became famous for his role in the series Australian dystopic series "Mad Max". From here he transitioned to Hollywood, easily turning his Australian accent on and off at will. Gibson has both achieved fame and notoriety as a public figure in the USA. He maintains both an American and an Irish passport from his mother's side.  

Charlie Chaplin

Country of Origin: UK
Country of Residence: USA / Switzerland

If you only know Charlie Chaplin as a silent film star, you may have no idea that when he opens his mouth the accent is British. Born in Walworth, London, his story is one of rags to riches. Chaplin was sent to a workhouse at seven years old and his mother raised him and a brother on her own, before being committed to a mental asylum. By this time Chaplin had appeared on stage several times and through his father's connections he became a member of The Eight Lancashire Lads clog dancing troupe. He worked with several groups and was picked to perform with a vaudeville group touring in North America. He immediately impressed American reviewers, being described as "one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here".

Chaplin stayed in the US between 1914 and 1953. He entertained the masses, but made an enemy of the powerful J Edgar Hoover who accused him of being a communist. In 1952, while Chaplin was visiting the UK to premier his latest film, Hoover ordered that the actor's reentry permit to be revoked. Commenting on his treatment Chaplin said, "Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States." Chaplin live the rest of his years in Vevey, Switzerland until his death on December 25th, 1977.

Emma Watson

Country of Origin: France
Country of Residence: UK

This Harry Potter star was actually born in the City of Lights - Paris. Her parents are both British-born lawyers who lived for an extended period in the French capitol. The two divorced when she was 5 and she moved to Oxford. Watson has stated that she speaks some French, though "not as well" as she used to. Watson was catapulted to worldwide fame as Hermione Granger in the internationally popular wizarding series.

Mila Kunis

Country of Origin: Ukraine
Country of Residence: USA

Kunis was born in Chernivtsi, in the Ukrainian SSR. Her mother and her father eventually decided to leave the USSR because they saw "no future" there for Kunis and her brother. In 1991, when she was seven years old, her family moved to Los Angeles, California with $250. "That was all we were allowed to take with us. My parents had given up good jobs and degrees, which were not transferable. We arrived in New York on a Wednesday and by Friday morning my brother and I were at school in LA". She said she learned English partly from watching American game shows such as "The Price is Right".

At age nine, Kunis was enrolled by her father in acting classes after school at the Beverly Hills Studios. She found success as an actress as Jackie Burkhart on "That 70s Show", and in movies like "Black Swan".

Freddie Mercury

Country of Origin: Tanzania
Country of Residence: UK

The font man for Queen and musical icon's voice will be forever remembered in songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "We Are the Champions". What you might not remember is that this British singer was actually born as Farrokh Bulsara in the British protectorate of Zanzibar, East Africa (now part of Tanzania). His parents were Parsis from the Gujarat region of the then province of Bombay Presidency in British India. As Parsis, Mercury and his family practised the Zoroastrian religion. The Bulsara family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office.

Mercury actually spent much of his childhood in India taking piano lessons since the age of seven. In 1954, Mercury was sent to study at St. Peter's School, a British-style boarding school for boys in Panchgani near Bombay (now Mumbai), India. He formed a school band, The Hectics, and covered rock and roll artists such as Cliff Richard and Little Richard. He started going by the name Freddie at the school.

At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar for safety reasons due to the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. The family moved into a small house in Feltham, Middlesex, England. In April 1970, Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in the band Mercury named "Queen". At about the same time, he changed his surname, Bulsara, to Mercury. The band reached the height of fame with Mercury placed at number 58 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, as well as Time Asia naming him one of the most influential Asian heroes of the past 60 years. In 2005, a poll organized by Blender and MTV2 saw Mercury voted the greatest male singer of all time.

With so many famous expats, we are sure we missed some. Who is your favorite celebrity expat?


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Joaquin Phoenix [Reply]

Concerning Joaquin, you're mistaken because Puerto Rico is an American territory. It is not a separate country, so being born there, Joaquin is a native born U.S. citizen, like all citizens of Puerto Rico.

  Tony Paschall     19 Aug 2012, 20:49


Many thanks Tony, we have updated the article.

  easyexpat     19 Aug 2012, 21:57


Billy Connolly, although some Scots shout & yell about him being a "sell out" ... how DARE they! lolol

  OkanaganLaddie     21 Aug 2012, 08:27