Top 37 Famous People From Rhode Island

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

A photo of Viola Davis one of many famous people from Rhode Island
Viola Davis

Viola Davis

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 the 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.

Debra Messing

Although born in Brooklyn, NY, actress Debra Messing moved to East Greenwich when she was three. 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

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

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 co-host of the NBC morning news program The Today Show.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck

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.

A photo of Damien Chazelle, a famous person from Rhode Island
Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle

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

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 Helgeland

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 raised near New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Michaela McManus

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.

Olivia Culpo

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 was crowned Miss USA and then Miss Universe in 2012. Culpo had roles in the movies The Other WomanI Feel PrettyReprisal, and was the female lead in Venus as a Boy.

James Woods

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, and nominations for two Academy Awards. He’s known for his roles in Nixon, Chaplin, Casino, and Any Given Sunday.

Christopher Stanley

Actor Christopher Stanley appeared in the Ben Affleck-directed film Argo and 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.

Actress Claudia Jordan. She is among the famous people from Rhode Island.
Claudia Jordan

Claudia Jordan

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

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

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 Capron

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.

Sports Figures

Will Blackmon

William Blackmon was born in Providence but grew up in Cranston. He played college football for the Boston College Eagles and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

Nap Lajoie

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.

Spike Dudley

Matthew Jonathan Hyson was born in Providence and is a retired professional wrestler best known in World Wrestling Entertainment as Spike Dudley. Before WWE, Hyson performed as Spike Dudley in the 1990s with Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Musicians

Bill Conti

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.

Dr. Luke

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.

Taylor Swift at the 2018 American Music Awards
Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Unlike other famous people from Rhode Island 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 ten original albums, two re-recorded studio albums, four extended plays, three live albums, and nineteen other minor works. She has sold an estimated 114 million album units worldwide.

Wendy Carlos

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, a music album by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog Synthesizer. She also composed scores for A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron.

Bobby Hackett

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.

Authors

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is a writer who has written twelve novels, two plays, five screenplays, and three short stories. 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 wrote 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

A statue of Roger Williams overlooking Providence R.I. He is among the famous people from Rhode Island.
A statue of Roger Williams in Providence

Roger Williams

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 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.

Nathanial Greene

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 moved 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 led the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened Japan to the West.

Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry was an American naval commander 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.

Politicians

John Chafee

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

Lincoln Chafee followed in his father’s footsteps to become the 74th governor of Rhode Island. Before 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 still a junior at Providence College. He later served in the U.S. House of Representatives until 2011.

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Frank Caprio

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

Jack Reed was born in Cranston and serves as a U.S. senator from Rhode Island, an office he was first elected to in 1996. Before serving in the Senate, Reed was a U.S. Representative for Rhode Island from 1991 to 1997.

Food/Restaurant Celebrities

Wylie Dufresne

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.

See related:

What is Rhode Island Known for? (25 Things it’s Famous for)

What Food is Rhode Island Known for?

Top Ten Best Things to Do on Block Island

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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.

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