Johnny Knoxville became both a beloved goofball and a lightning rod for controversy as soon as his signature TV show, Jackass, premiered on MTV in 2000. The show, which featured Knoxville and his friends executing a variety of stupid pranks and dangerous stunts, made an instant star of its hip, easygoing, developmentally arrested host, who was quickly signed on for a variety of film projects. However, its subject matter of foolish bicycle jumps, gross eating feats, and pepper spray testing drew the ire of concerned parents whose children were hurting themselves trying to imitate their hero.
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Knoxville was born Philip John Clapp in Knoxville, TN, on March 11, 1971, son of a used car salesman. At age eight, the asthmatic suffered a simultaneous bout of flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis that nearly killed him. Knoxville would later joke that surviving this period convinced him he was invincible, making possible his future vocation as a performer who would injure himself for laughs. Knoxville had originally planned to go into acting through normal channels, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, CA. However, it was while writing for a skateboarding magazine called Big Brother that Knoxville got his big break. Working on a story about self-defense equipment, Knoxville agreed to let magazine editor Jeff Tremaine film him testing the devices on himself. Hence, Jackass was born, with Tremaine, Knoxville, and director Spike Jonze serving as co-creators. MTV won a bidding war with Comedy Central, and the show became a hit -- one quickly festooned with warning labels not to try this at home.
After a role in the little-seen indie Desert Blues (1995) (credited as Phillip John) and a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance in Coyote Ugly (2000), Knoxville was offered a string of film roles following the success of Jackass, as well as a stint on Saturday Night Live, which he turned down. However, his cinematic coming-out party was delayed when Big Trouble, which featured a nuclear weapon smuggled aboard a commercial airplane, was pushed back indefinitely due to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. In 2001, he was also cast in the smaller films The Tree, The Ranger, and Life Without Dick, in which he plays the title character. As if one Knoxville wasn't enought to keep fans in stitches, the death-defying funnyman turned up as a two-headed alien in Men in Black II before taking his small screen antics to the silver screen, unrestrained by the restrictions of television, in Jackass: The Movie (both 2002).
Though to this point Knoxville's fairly minimal film roles (of course excluding Jackass: The Movie) called for any true acting ability, increasingly prominant roles in such efforts as Grand Theft Parsons (2003) and Walking Tall (2004) found the likeable Jackass successfully developing a notable film career. Following a supporting performance alongside wrestler-turned-actor in Walking Tall, Knoxville landed a role in self-described "Prince of Puke" director John Waters' Baltimore-based comedy A Dirty Shame. In 2005 Knoxville made two big attempts to court the mainstream, though neither struck box office gold. He starred as Luke Duke in the big-screen version of The Dukes of Hazzard, and was the lead in the comedy The Ringer, where he played a man who pretended to be disabled so he could compete in the Special Olympics. He reteamed with the Jackass crew for a second feature film playfully titled Jackass: Number Two.
In the years to follow, Knoxville would do more and more conventional acting, appearing in movies like The Ringer and Nature Calls, as well as writing and producing projects like The Dudesons in America. ~ Derek Armstrong, Rovi