As our readership continues to expand, one trend is very apparent: Everyone seems to be interested in celebrities and other famous individuals who might be Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As the editor of Ex-JW.com, I receive three or four emails per day requesting more articles about JWs who may have reached some level of fame during their lives. I’ve also received a few suggestions that I might follow up as I have more time, while others (such as the one about Pee-wee Herman’s recent conversion, or that serial killer Ted Bundy studied with the JWs while in a Florida prison) will be written off as simple Internet graffiti. In any case, I’m pleased to see that so many of our readers continue to enjoy these articles about famous and infamous people who have made more than passing contact with our favorite religion.
This group of names includes a couple of entertainers, a pair of athletes, and the wife of one major politician who may have affected the course of world history. If you have any suggestions for other celebrity JWs, please let me know by sending a email to Contact@Ex-JW.com.
Here is our fifth set of five famous individuals who are, or were at one time, associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
- Kid Gavilan (athlete)
- Evelyn Mandela (politician’s wife)
- Dave Meyers (athlete)
- Selena Quintanilla (singer)
- Michelle Rodriguez (actor)
- Kid Gavilan (Gerardo Gonzalez) (1926-2003), one of the few boxers never knocked out in their professional careers. Often seen on TV’s Wednesday and Friday Night Fights during the 1950s, this scrappy little fighter successfully took on champions like Sugar Ray Robinson, Tommy Bell, Bobo Olson, and Carmen Basilio. He started fighting professionally (mostly as a welterweight) in 1943. He had 143 fights with a record of 107 wins, 30 losses and 6 draws, with one “no contest.” Born Gerardo Gonzalez, in Palo Seco, Cuba, he was the World Welterweight Boxing Champion from 1951 to 1954. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1985, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. During the 1960s, he returned to his native Cuba and became a Jehovah’s Witness. Fidel Castro’s Communist government offered little support for any religious beliefs, but had no tolerance for the public preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has been reported that Gavilan was arrested several times while passing out Watchtower literature. After he returned to the United States in 1968, he lacked any direction and as his fame diminished, so did his health and wealth. He was forced to accept low-paying menial jobs, including working as a street vendor selling sausages in Miami. He had long been in poor health, and was finally forced to live in various care facilities. In 1991 he was diagnosed as suffering from progressive dementia. Gavilan died in Miami, Florida of a heart attack at age 77. [Status: Deceased]
- Evelyn Mandela (1922-2004), first wife of South African political leader and civil rights activist, Nelson Mandela. She was also a cousin of the legendary anti-apartheid figure Walter Sisulu. She married Nelson Mandela in 1944, having four of his children, one of whom died in infancy. [Follow photo link to only known published photo of Nelson and Evelyn ©NelsonMandela.org.] Mr. Mandela described himself as an “often distant father,” and that the children grew up largely without him and under the care of Evelyn and his sister, Lieby Piliso (also a Jehovah’s Witness). Born Evelyn Mase, the daughter of a mine worker, she grew up in Mandela’s home province and became a nursing student living in Johannesburg before marrying Mandela. Writing of his first wife in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described her as a “quiet, pretty girl from the countryside.” In the early 1950s, she became a Jehovah’s Witness. In 1955 she gave her husband an ultimatum to choose between her or the African National Congress, the leading African liberation movement. They separated in 1955 and divorced in 1958. Mandela thereafter married his second wife Winnie, a social worker. They divorced in 1996. Although Evelyn divorced Mr. Mandela before his imprisonment, she remained a highly respected lady by the people of her country, including Mr. Mandela. He wrote to her on several occasions expressing his deep appreciation for her integrity and gracious qualities as a godly woman. When Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, Evelyn Mandela broke her silence on her former husband and said, “I doubt very much that we would have voted today if it were not for Nelson Mandela.” Mandela accepted the blame for their divorce. ”I could not give up my life in the struggle, and she could not live with my devotion to something other than herself and her family. I never lost my admiration for her, but in the end we could not make our marriage work.” [Status: Deceased]
- Dave Meyers (1953 -) is a retired American basketball player. Meyers played on the UCLA Bruins basketball teams coached by John Wooden that won the 1973 and 1975 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February, 1975. He is the older brother of Ann Meyers, who also was an outstanding basketball player as well as the only woman to sign a free-agent contract by an NBA team (Indiana Pacers, 1979). Meyers was chosen by the Los Angeles Lakers as the second pick in the first round of the 1975 NBA Draft. He later became part of one of the biggest sports trades in NBA history. Meyers, along with three other top LA Lakers players, was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Meyers played for the Bucks for four seasons. He became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1977, and retired from basketball in 1980. After he left basketball, Meyers devoted much of his time to Witnessing. He worked for Motorola as a salesman and went to school at night studying education. At UCLA he’d earned a degree in sociology. From that time on he reportedly began teaching and spent his time on family and being an active Jehovah’s Witness. He has organized and taught at basketball clinics for children, teaching the game to kids between eight and twelve. He lives in southern California, teaching in an elementary school. He reportedly is still a JW and has served as an elder. [Status: Active]
- Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971 – 1995), best known as “Selena,” was a Mexican American singer who has been called “The Queen of Tejano music.” Her parents, Abraham and Marcella, raised her as a Jehovah’s Witness as a child. She began singing at the age of six. Her father formed a singing group, with her singing the lead, when she was nine. At the age of twelve, Selena released her first album. In 1987, she won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards. Her fame grew throughout the early 1990s. Her fame exploded internationally after she was murdered at the age of 23 by the president of her fan club. In 1997, a popular film was released that was based on her life. Selena was portrayed by Jennifer Lopez, the role that moved Miss Lopez to the top of Hollywood’s “A-list.” Selena’s life was also the basis for the musical “Selena Forever,” starring Veronica Vazquez. Selena was commemorated with a museum and a bronze life-sized statue in Corpus Christi, Texas. Although Selena and her family identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and often referred to Watchtower teachings when it came to birthdays, holidays, and political involvement, they were apparently inactive at the time of her death. Many of her associates indicated that Selena’s inactivity was not due to any negative feelings toward the religion, but rather due to the demands of her profession, the constant travel and heavy scheduling required, and fast life style of the rich and famous that she enjoyed as a result of her success. [Status: Deceased]
- Michelle Rodriguez (1978 -) American film actress, best known for her roles as street-wise tough Chicanas in “The Fast and Furious,” “Girl Fight,” and “Resident Evil.” Born in Texas, she was of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent. Her mother and grandmother were Jehovah’s Witnesses and raised Michelle in the religion. According to her, she became inactive at the age of thirteen because the restrictive lifestyle limited her options to become an actress. She felt that as a Jehovah’s Witness she could not honestly portray women who cursed, were sexy on screen, or had to display partial nudity in connection with a character role. She is best known for playing tough Hispanic women who can fight and stand up to men in almost any situation. She has also been a cast member in 25 episodes of the popular TV show, “Lost.” Rodriguez, playing military pilot Captain Trudy Chacon, starred in the blockbuster sci-fi adventure film “Avatar,” released in 2009. The film became Rodriguez’s most successful film to date.She has been ranked among the “100 Sexiest Women in the World” on several occasions. One critic described her as the “one woman that I would both want to meet, and not want to meet, in a dark alley by myself. She may be one of the toughest and sexiest actresses to ever appear onscreen.” [Status: Disassociated / Inactive]