The Untold Truth Of Johnny Knoxville

Johnny Knoxville truly lives the phrase “no pain, no gain.” The actor and stuntman became the face of the “Jackass” franchise, an MTV series known for its wild stunts and gag humor. The show lasted three seasons before Knoxville and the team decided to put an end to it. “We have done enough,” Knoxville told the Knoxville News-Sentinel (via New York Post). But the guys were just getting started. Knoxville went on to appear in several movies and TV shows, with limited success, per The New York Times. And while his acting career went through ups and downs, he consistently struck gold with the “Jackass” format: As The Hollywood Reporter noted in 2014, the film franchise has raked in over $300 million. On top of that, Knoxville’s film “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” took in over $150 million worldwide. Then, most of the guys reunited for the fourth “Jackass” film in 2021.

Knoxville’s story is full of box office victories, unique opportunities, and crazy stories, as well as a fair share of hardships. From close friends in trouble, to difficult personal relationships, Knoxville’s real life is filled with tough times — and that’s not even counting all of the physical injuries from the wide-range of tricks he performed for the sake of entertainment.

No stunts are required in the untold truth of Johnny Knoxville.

Inside Johnny Knoxville's childhood

Born Philip John “PJ” Clapp, Johnny Knoxville grew up in Tennessee. (His stage name is a nod to his hometown.) His father owned a tire company and was a homemaker, according to The Washington Times. While in grade school, Knoxville excelled in his coursework, with The New York Times noting that the young man earned “straight A’s until high school.”

Chatting with Entertainment Weekly about her superstar son, Lemoyne Clapp said Knoxville’s daredevil streak started early. “At 9 months old, he could climb up on his playpen and throw himself out on the floor,” she recalled. “Luckily, we had carpet back then. But he never cried, even when he would get hurt.” She also told the outlet that as he got older, his antics involved jumping out of windows into pools. 

“But he’s got a heart of gold,” she said. “He’s a sweetheart. I never heard him say a bad word till I saw it on TV.” The content of “Jackass” not only surprised Knoxville’s mother, but the people in their hometown. After the premiere, she admitted, “I didn’t go out of the house for a week, and my friends didn’t call me back.” Well, until “they called wanting autographs for their grandchildren,” that is. 

Johnny Knoxville reveals his sophisticated side

Some may consider the work of “Jackass” as low-brow comedy, but there’s more than meets the eye for its star Johnny Knoxville. The actor is well-versed in the fine arts. He told The Washington Times that two of his favorite novelists are Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, Knoxville gives the impression that he loves to read. In an interview for The New York Times, he mentioned he thinks Ernest Hemingway’s writing is “too macho.” Instead, he enjoys the Southern Gothic style of Flannery O’Connor. Knoxville also enjoys classic films like “Cinema Paradiso” and 1957’s “A Face in the Crowd,” and he studied philosophy at a community college.

When he is not goofing around with his buddies, Knoxville feeds his wanderlust and checks out artwork. As she shared with NYT, when he visited Paris, he enjoyed visiting the Rodin Museum to admire the famous sculptures. And when he traveled to Amsterdam, he admired art in the Van Gogh museum instead of getting “dizzy” off of marijuana.

Johnny Knoxville's first aspiration

As a young man, Johnny Knoxville had stars in his eyes. Before he became a stuntman, he was an aspiring actor who moved to Los Angeles to try his luck in the entertainment industry. He was so dedicated to making his dream happen that he enrolled in the Pasadena School of Dramatic Arts — a stint that lasted only a few weeks, according to The New York Times.

As he explained to The Washington Times, he had a feeling from an early age that he was made to be on screen. According to Knoxville, when he was around 13 years old, he believed acting “sounded like a job with the least amount of work involved,” so, that is the career path he set his sights on. Ironically enough, he has ended up putting in a lot of hard work into his show business career. His IMDb page shows he’s been a writer, producer, and actor across dozens of projects in the entertainment industry.

The Jackass origin story

While he was living in Los Angeles, Johnny Knoxville worked as a part-time scribe as he pursued an acting career. According to The New York Times, he wrote for a skateboard magazine called “Big Brother.” Then one day, Knoxville pitched a bold idea — involving himself. In 1998, he “proposed a story for which he would test self-defense equipment, like pepper spray and stun guns, on himself.” Jeff Tremaine, one of the magazine’s editors, suggested Knoxville film the experiments. This began Knoxville’s masochism to the delight of others. His videos began “circulating on VHS tape” thanks to Knoxville’s “compulsively watchable reactions.” Knoxville, Tremaine, and future award-winning director Spike Jonze decided to expand the content’s reach, and it was not long before “Jackass” was on the small screen and the show was one of the biggest things on MTV.

“We were on the air, and ratings exploded, and I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone,” Knoxville recalled to GQ in 2021. “It just happened in an instant.”

The franchise’s creators’ lives changed over the years, but their connection to “Jackass” remains intact: Tremaine has acted as director on all of the feature films, and Jonze is one of the producers. 

Johnny Knoxville turned down a major offer

Early in his career, Johnny Knoxville was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. According to the actor, “Saturday Night Live” approached him to become a cast member of the long-running sketch comedy series. With famous alumni like the multi-talented Tina Fey and the legendary comedian Chris Rock, this could have been a huge opportunity for Knoxville. But, he decided to turn down the offer. In an interview with The Washington Times, the “Jackass” star got into why he decided to pursue a different path outside of live comedy. “It was at the point where I either say yes to my friends, where we had all the control, or yes to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ where none of my friends were really going to be there and I had no control,” he said. “I just thought I made the right decision.”

On a 2018 episode of “The Howard Stern Show,” Knoxville explained how he was given the opportunity to “do what I do” every week on “SNL” for “three or five minutes.” However, he happened to be working on the pilot episode for MTV that turned into “Jackass” at that time. “I would have to leave that to do ‘Saturday Night Live,'” he said. Knoxville ultimately chose filming with his friends over 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and as you might’ve gleaned, that choice panned out. 

Then in 2005, in the 30th season of “SNL,” Knoxville had his chance to join the cast after all when he acted as a host. 

Roles you may have missed with Johnny Knoxville

You know Johnny Knoxville from the “Jackass” franchise, but you may have missed his smaller roles that cover a wide range of styles. For example, he played a part in the independent film, ”Grand Theft Parsons,” according to The New York Times. In this indie role, Knoxville portrayed “Phil Kaufman, the gonzo road manager of the 1960s rock star Gram Parsons.” He also appeared as a “college guy” in “Coyote Ugly” just “months before an MTV show called ‘Jackass’ proved that there is a massive audience for watching disturbingly reckless dudes injure themselves,” according to E! News.

Knoxville has lent his voice to several cartoon characters, too. According to his IMDb page, the actor played Leonardo in the 2014 film version of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He portrayed two different roles on the animated series “King of the Hill,” and for kids, he voiced the character Johnny Krill on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” In an interview with MTV News, Knoxville said he loved his work on the kiddie cartoon. “They loaded me up with a bunch of schwag! Every toy they ever made — skateboards, wristbands, all kinds of great stuff,” he remembered. And in addition to all the free gifts, Knoxville said, “I got to do a photo shoot with SpongeBob.”

He went on to quip that he did all of his character’s “stunts for this episode.” Hey, if there’s anyone who can figure out how to bring physical tricks to a voice acting gig on a two-dimensional cartoon series, it’s Knoxville. 

Johnny Knoxville is a family man

Johnny Knoxville developed an on-screen family with the cast and crew of “Jackass.” But when the cameras weren’t rolling, he also was growing another family. Knoxville and his wife Melanie Cates welcomed a daughter named Madison in 1996. After around a dozen years of marriage, Knoxville and Cates divorced. Following the dissolution of his relationship with Cates, the stuntman walked down the aisle again. In 2010, he married Naomi Nelson, and the couple share two children, Rocko and Arlo. 

If Knoxville has his way, his three offspring will not be following in his exact footsteps. “Pranks are fine, no stunts,” he told Access in 2010. “I don’t want Rocco or Madison doing any stunts.” Despite being known for his sometimes reckless behavior on screen, Knoxville is the opposite when it comes to taking care of others. “He is notably attentive to the physical safety of his children,” GQ wrote. Leave the anaconda pits and motorcycle flips to Pops.

Johnny Knoxville and those Jessica Simpson rumors

After the success of 2002’s “Jackass: The Movie,” studios felt Johnny Knoxville could delight moviegoing audiences as an actor. He landed a role in “Dukes of Hazzard,” a feature film based on the TV series of the same name, opposite pop singer Jessica Simpson. At the time, Simpson was married to Nick Lachey and Knoxville to Melanie Cates — but that did not slow down the gossip mill. Tabloids claimed Knoxville and Simpson struck up a romance while working together — and while they denied anything was afoot. Around this time, “Jackass” cast member Bam Margera alleged on “The Howard Stern Show” (via MTV News) that he hooked up with Simpson. She shut this claim down.

In her 2020 memoir “Open Book,” Simpson revealed that she had an “emotional affair” with Knoxville, via People. “He believed in me and made me feel I could do anything,” she wrote, adding that her emotional connection felt even worse than a physical fling with the “Jackass” star. 

“I love the tabloids except for when I’m in ’em,” Knoxville said in The Washington Times in 2005 about the affair rumor. “It’s obviously not true. They write these things and, you know, I’ve got a daughter and a wife, and she’s got a husband, and it affects the families involved.” And according to the actor, his marriage was strong enough to withstand the press. “Luckily, my wife and I have a dialogue. We talk about it,” Knoxville said at the time.

A painful look at Johnny Knoxville's injuries

Being a professional stuntman and all, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Johnny Knoxville has endured years and years of bruises, breaks, and bashings. Though some pain might have been worth it for a laugh, Knoxville has dealt with serious injuries throughout his career. As The New York Times reported, he’s had “broken bones, sustained concussions and torn his urethra in a misbegotten attempt at back-flipping a motorcycle.” And this was a list of as of 2013. Knoxville was also in plans for a surgery on his elbow. In fact, the actor has injured himself so often that he doesn’t even remember a specific incident for almost all of his aches and pains. “It’s the totality of everything,” he said of his many stunts. “Same thing with any part of my body.”

One injury that stayed with him for years was his aforementioned torn urethra. “I think I just showed up that day and someone kind of threw out that I should try and backflip a motorcycle,” he told GQ in 2021. Though the star had little practice on a motorcycle, he attempted the jump with disastrous results. After his fall, Knoxville had to self-administer a catheter for three years. “I feel like the injuries, I share with people,” Knoxville said. “Because, I mean, they kind of happen in a public way.” He may share his injuries with his fans, but his fans sure don’t share the pain that comes with ’em.

Johnny Knoxville reveals his personal struggles

Despite the glamour and good times on screen in “Jackass,” behind the scenes, Johnny Knoxville was losing control. In an interview for The New York Times, the stunt actor remembered what life was like as “Jackass” became more and more popular. After the success of the first film, Knoxville told the outlet he was “all over the place” and he considered this period full of struggles as “pretty much a train wreck.” Though he landed acting roles in several films, his personal life was “fast, faster and disaster. Those were the speeds I ran at.” Around the same time, Knoxville’s relationship with his first wife, Melanie Cates, came to an end. As a result, he decided to start self-improvement to get his life back on track, a process that included going to therapy. From those sessions, he discovered “a lot of bad behavior that cost me my first marriage.”

Analyzing the time period years later, he felt his issues stemmed from a combination of a quick success in the industry, coupled with an unsteady personal mindset to begin with. “I think I was running on two wheels for a long time,” he said in the NYT.

The fashionable side of Johnny Knoxville

Though he’s best known for making audiences laugh, Johnny Knoxville is also known for his charm and unique personal style. The New York Times suggested that the star’s good looks may have helped account for the “Jackass: The Movie” premiere where “34 percent of the opening-weekend audience was female.”

For most of his career, Knoxville sported hairstyles showing off his dark locks. But secretly, the star was hiding his true color: His hair actually started to turn gray in his 20s. “His father had been 19 when his own head turned white, so Knoxville was prepared. And for nearly 20 years, he kept up a faithful coloring regimen that lasted until the pandemic hit,” GQ reported in 2021. After his first haircut without dye, Knoxville was shocked at what he saw. “I knew that I was gray under there … But I didn’t know how gray,” he said. “I really liked it.”

In 2005, GQ declared the “Jackass” star a “style icon,” and not much has changed since then. All these years and hair changes later, and as GQ noted in 2021, Knoxville continues to rock his “punk-inflected uniform,” a casual skater aesthetic that features classic pieces like Chuck Taylors, neckties, button downs, T-shirts, and Ray-Ban Wayfarers. And these never out-of-style staples have “the charming effect of underscoring his advancing age.”

Inside Johnny Knoxville's relationships with his co-stars

The stars of “Jackass” formed an unprecedented bond thanks to their unique set of activities together. And the series spawned several stars in addition to Johnny Knoxville. Steve-O and Chris Pontius went on to star in the spin off series “Wildboyz,” and Bam Margera in “Viva La Bam.” But the group also faced heartbreaks and setbacks along the way. Ryan Dunn, one of the “Jackass” ensemble members, died in a drunk-driving accident in 2011. “It was heartbreaking, losing Ryan. And it was tough when Steve-O was going off the rails,” Knoxville told GQ, referencing Steve-O’s struggle with drug use. 

“But [Steve-O] has completely, completely turned his life around and is doing just — I mean, he’s doing terrific,” Knoxville continued. “He’s a different, different man.” And Knoxville played a big part in the recovery. As he recounted on Access Hollywood in 2010, he and a few friends went to Steve-O’s house and used tough love to push him towards rehab.

Things didn’t go as well for Margera. As the “Viva La Bam” star claimed to TMZ, he was booted from the fourth “Jackass” movie after he didn’t adhere to the guidelines put in place by Knoxville. When GQ asked Knoxville about Margera “refusing to follow through with Knoxville-mandated rehab,” he replied, “We tried to push that along. I think that’s all I really want to say about it.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Johnny Knoxville's wildest stunts

Looking back over his long career, Johnny Knoxville has plenty of crazy stunts to remember. In a feature for Rolling Stone, Knoxville and Jason “Wee-Man” Acuña talked about the particularly memorable bit called “Anaconda Ball Pit.” As recapped by Wee-Man, the guys went into the pit with “two huge anacondas in there. [Ryan] Dunn gets bit by the first one, lets it go. The anaconda started wrapping itself around Dunn and holding him down.” Oh, and then one of the snakes chomped down on Knoxville. 

Knoxville said he wore a cup during the stunt for protection plus “electric tape around my wrists because I didn’t want the snake to bite through my arteries,” but it sounds like he could’ve used even more protective gear: After they completed the segment, the anaconda handler casually mentioned that one of their charges “took someone’s calf muscle the other day.”

Another stunt landed the “Jackass” star in hot water with the authorities. As the AP (via The Hollywood Reporter) reported in 2009, Los Angeles International Airport security spotted a grenade in Knoxville’s bag and a bomb squad came to investigate. But it wasn’t real. As he explained in a blog post (via People), “a FAKE hand grenade” from his prop collection accidentally ended up in his carry-on after he filmed some TV spots. Knoxville went on to say it all got sorted out with the cops. “Also, they were cool as they could be to me, considering the situation, and it is no one’s fault but my own,” he wrote.

Johnny Knoxville shares his crazy party stories

Just because the cameras stop rolling doesn’t mean the guys from “Jackass” stop their antics. In a video clip for Vice, Johnny Knoxville recalled one of his wilder nights out drinking. He explained that he and his co-stars from “Jackass” were out at a bar, playing with mousetraps. As the men were snapping the devices on their bodies, a fan approached them and asked to try a mousetrap “on his nuts.” According to Knoxville, the guy understandably “screams like hell” after his wish was granted. But this fan wanted more. He asked for the mouse trap again but this time on another part of his anatomy. Then twice more on each body part but with a hammer. Knoxville said a few nights later, he ran into that same fan. The guy told the “Jackass” star his relationship was over before showing him his “withered and beaten” private parts. Knoxville bought him a shot as a consolation.

On another wild night, Knoxville went to a University of Arizona frat house to shoot a promo for his movie “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.” When TMZ spotted Knoxville at an airport days later with a wrapped up hand, and the star explained how he ruptured a tendon at the college party. “Someone dosed me with ecstasy and after that the wheels fell off,” he alleged. “I wasn’t mad at all.” According to The Daily Wildcat, the university “could not find evidence to support the claim.” 

How much is Johnny Knoxville worth?

For slapstick comedy and goofy stunts, Johnny Knoxville earns a lot of money. In 2002, “Jackass: The Movie” — the first after the successful TV series — “went on to sell more than $79 million in tickets globally on a budget of $5 million,” The New York Times reported. He and the team followed up the success with the “Jackass Number Two” sequel in 2006. The film earned $85 million. Then in 2013, Knoxville starred in the spinoff movie, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.” That on top of his other movies, appearances in film and TV, and production credits. With all these experiences, Knoxville gained a healthy net worth to hopefully help ease the pain from all those stunts. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Knoxville was worth a reported $75 million as of 2021.

Some of his money went into real estate deals. In August of 2008, Knoxville sold his home near the Beachwood Canyon area of Los Angeles for $1,816,000, Variety reported. And one year later, the actor listed a second house in Los Angeles for $2,295,000 that he originally acquired in 2005.

Knoxville also shells out dough for less expensive items, such as his impressive collection of eyewear. In a photoshoot for a 2021 GQ article, Knoxville supplied his own Ray-Ban sunglasses for all the pictures.

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