Rhode Island may be a small state but it’s home to many famous people. In addition to numerous theater, TV, and movie celebrities, the state is also home to historical figures, sports figures, politicians, musicians, and authors.
Here’s our list of 37 famous people from Rhode Island:
Theater, TV, and Movie Celebrities
Soon after Viola Davis was born in South Carolina, her parents and Davis’ two older siblings moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island. Davis is an actress and producer and one of the few recipients of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. She’s most well-known for her roles in Doubt, How to Get Away With Murder, Black Bottom, and The Help.
Although born in Brooklyn, NY, actress Debra Messing moved to East Greenwich when she was three years old. She’s most well-known for her role as Grace Adler, on the sitcom Will & Grace for which she received seven Golden Globe awards and one Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Mena Suvari is an actress, producer, fashion designer, and model. Her credits include American Beauty, American Pie, Six Feet Under, Chicago Fire, and American Horror Story, among many others. She was born and raised in Newport with five brothers and a sister.
Meredith Vieira was born in Providence and was raised in East Providence as the youngest of four children. Vieira is best known as the original moderator of the daytime talk show The View, the original host of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and as co-host of the NBC morning news program The Today Show.
Although now retired, Elisabeth Hasselbeck rose to prominence in 2001 as a contestant on the second season of Survivor and then shortly thereafter joined the TV show The View. She then had a two-year stint on Fox & Friends. Hasselbeck was born in Cranston, R.I.
Damien Chazelle was born in Providence to a French father and an English-American mother. He is a film director, screenwriter, and producer and is best known for directing the films Whiplash, La La Land, First Man, and Babylon.
Nicholas Colasanto was an American actor and television director best known for his role as “Coach” Ernie Pantusso in the American television sitcom Cheers. He was born in Providence.
Brian Thomas Helgeland is a screenwriter, film producer, and director. He is most known for writing the screenplays for the films L.A. Confidential and Mystic River. He was born in Providence and was raised in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Michaela McManus was born in Warwick and is an American actress, known for her roles as Lindsey Strauss on One Tree Hill, A.D.A. Kim Greylek on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Grace Karn in the drama Aquarius.
Born in Cranston, Olivia Frances Culpo is an American model, fashion influencer, social media personality, and actress. She won the Miss Rhode Island USA competition and she went on to be crowned Miss USA, and then Miss Universe in 2012. Culpo had roles in the films The Other Woman, I Feel Pretty, Reprisal, and was the female lead in Venus as a Boy.
Although he wasn’t born in Rhode Island, James Woods grew up in Warwick. He’s an actor who received three Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards as well as nominations for two Academy Awards. He’s known for his roles in Nixon, Chaplin, Casino, and Any Given Sunday.
Actor Christopher Stanley appeared in the Ben Affleck-directed film Argo and in Zero Dark Thirty. His most notable TV role was as politician Henry Francis, the second husband of Betty Francis on Mad Men. He was born in Providence.
Born in Providence, Claudia Jordan is known for appearing as a model on the U.S. version of Deal or No Deal and The Price Is Right, and for competing on seasons 2 and 6 of Celebrity Apprentice.
Harry Anderson was an actor, comedian, and magician born in Newport. He’s best known for his role as Judge Harry Stone on the T.V. series Night Court. He later starred in the sitcom Dave’s World from 1993 to 1997.
DJ Pauly D
Paul Michael DelVecchio Jr., known as Pauly D and DJ Pauly D, is known for being a cast member on MTV’s reality show Jersey Shore. He’s also a DJ and in 2011, he made a three-album deal with 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records and G-Note Records. He was born in Providence.
Shanna Moakler appeared as a regular for two seasons in the T.V. series Pacific Blue and starred as herself on the reality T.V. series Meet the Barkers. Although she was born in Providence, she spent part of her childhood in Barrington.
Robert B. Capron Jr. was born in Providence and is best known for starring as Rowley Jefferson in the first three installments of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film series.
William Blackmon was born in Providence but grew up in Cranston. He played college football for the Boston College Eagles and was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Napoléon “Nap” Lajoie, also known as Larry Lajoie and nicknamed “The Frenchman”, played in Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics, and Cleveland Naps between 1896 and 1916. He was born in Woonsocket.
Matthew Jonathan Hyson was born in Providence and is a retired professional wrestler best known in World Wrestling Entertainment as Spike Dudley. Prior to WWE, Hyson performed as Spike Dudley in the 1990s with Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Composer and conductor William Conti was born in Providence and is best known for his film scores, including Rocky, The Karate Kid, For Your Eyes Only, Dynasty, The Big Chill, and The Right Stuff, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, known professionally as Dr. Luke, Tyson Trax, and Made in China, was born in Providence and is a record producer and songwriter. He got his start on Saturday Night Live as its house band’s lead guitarist and came to prominence for producing Kelly Clarkson’s single Since U Been Gone.
Unlike other famous people from Rhode Island who were born in the state, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has only been a resident since 2013 when she purchased a home in Watch Hill. Swift has released 10 original studio albums, 2 re-recorded studio albums, 4 extended plays, 3 live albums, and 19 other minor works. She has sold an estimated 114 million album units worldwide.
Wendy Carlos was born in Pawtucket and is a musician and composer best known for her electronic music and film scores. She is best known for her album Switched-On-Bach, an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog Synthesizer. She also composed scores for A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron.
Robert Hackett was a jazz musician who played trumpet, cornet, and guitar with the bands of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He was born in Providence.
Cormac McCarthy is a writer who has written 12 novels, 2 plays, 5 screenplays, and 3 short stories and his most notable works include Suttree, The Border Trilogy, and No Country for Old Men. He was born in Providence but spent much of his childhood in Tennessee.
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence and was the writer of weird, science, fantasy, and horror fiction in the early 20th century. He is best known for his creation of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Famous Figures in History
Roger Williams is perhaps the most famous person from Rhode Island. He was an English-born minister, theologian, and author who founded Providence Plantations which became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (later changed to just Rhode Island in 2020). He was a staunch advocate for the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and his fair dealings with Native Americans.
Nathanael Greene was a major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He emerged from the war with a reputation as General George Washington’s most talented and dependable officer. He was born in Warwick but later move to Coventry.
Matthew C. Perry
Matthew Calbraith Perry was born in Newport and was a commodore of the U.S. Navy who steered ships in several wars, including the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. He also played a leading role in the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened Japan to the West.
Oliver Hazard Perry
Oliver Hazard Perry was an American naval commander who is most noted for his heroic role in the War of 1812 during the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. He was born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Among the famous people from Rhode Island is John Chafee, the 66th governor of Rhode Island who also served as a U.S. senator. He was born in Providence to a politically active family.
Lincoln Chafee followed in his father’s footsteps to become the 74th governor of Rhode Island. Prior to becoming governor, he was mayor of Warwick from 1993 to 1999 and a U.S. senator from 1999 to 2007. He was born in Providence.
Patrick J. Kennedy
Although born in Brighton, Massachusetts to former Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives at age 21 while he was still a junior at Providence College. He later served in the U.S. House of Representatives until 2011.
Francesco “Frank” Caprio is a jurist and politician who served as the chief municipal judge in Providence and was chairman of the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. His judicial work was televised on the program Caught in Providence.
Jack Reed was born in Cranston and is serving as a U.S. senator from Rhode Island, an office he was first elected to in 1996. Prior to serving in the Senate, Reed was a U.S. Representative for Rhode Island from 1991 to 1997.
Among the famous people from Rhode Island is Wylie Dufresne, the chef, and owner of Du’s Donuts. He is the former chef and owner of the wd~50 and Alder restaurants in Manhattan. Born in Providence, Dufresne is a leading American proponent of molecular gastronomy.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.