10 Surprising Celebrities With PhDs

by Linda on September 02, 2010

If you’re considering a PhD program, you’re in good company. A surprising number of celebrities have achieved PhD status, even through honorary degrees, for their work in their careers or through other endeavors. An amazing number of musicians make this list of 10 celebrities with PhDs, which may or may not surprise you…but, it might help you appreciate the music these folks produce that much more. Or, this list might simply inspire you to realize that education can be synonymous with fame.

The following list is in no particular order:

  1. Brian MayBrian May: This English musician is most widely known in his role as guitarist and songwriter for the band, Queen. His music talents are so special that he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005 for his services to the music industry. But, May also earned his PhD in astrophysics in 2007 and currently is Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. His thesis was entitled, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. Asteroid “52665 Brianmay” was named in his honor on 18 June 2008 with the suggestion provided by Sir Patrick Moore.
  2. Greg GraffinGreg Graffin: Graffin is an American punk rock musician and a college professor. He is recognized as the lead vocalist and songwriter for the Los Angeles band, Bad Religion, which he helped create in 1979. Over the years, Graffin obtain his college education, culminating in his PhD from Cornell University. He lectured courses in life sciences and in paleontology at the University of California, Los Angeles. The PhD dissertation was entitled Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist Worldview: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology. He received Harvard Secular Society’s “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism” on April 26, 2008.
  3. Bill CosbyBill Cosby: This well-known American comedian, actor, author, television producer, musician and activist also is an educator. He began graduate work at the University of Massachusetts after The Bill Cosby Show left the air. He qualified for the graduate degree under a special program that allowed for the admission of students who had not completed their bachelor’s degrees, but who had had a significant impact on society and/or their communities through their careers. Cosby wrote a dissertation on one of his own shows, An Integration of the Visual Media Via ‘Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids’ Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning, as partial fulfillment of obtaining his 1976 doctorate in education. Additionally, Cosby has received honorary degrees from more than a dozen colleges and universities, including at least nine doctoral degrees.
  4. Robert VaughnRobert Vaughn: This American actor is noted as one of the Magnificent Seven and as the Man from U.N.C.L.E. He attended North High School and later enrolled in the University of Minnesota as a journalism major. He quit after a year and moved to Los Angeles, California, where he enrolled in Los Angeles City College, then transferred to Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, where he earned a Master’s degree in theater. Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California, in 1970. In 1972, he published his dissertation as the book, Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.
  5. PradaMiuccia Prada: You may recognize Prada as the famous Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur and the youngest granddaughter of Prada founder Mario Prada. But, she also has a PhD in political science, which she followed with five years studying performing mime. She was also a member of the Communist Party, which made her a reluctant heir to her grandfather’s luxury leather goods company. Since she took the helm in 1978, she made the company a success, building a conglomerate that took charge of Fendi, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Azzedine Alaia.
  6. Milo AukermanMilo Aukerman: Aukerman is best known as the lead singer of the early Los Angeles punk rock band, the Descendents. This group was widely considered to be the pioneers of the modern punk rock genre. However, the band suffered from Aukerman’s passion for academic research as he studied for his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He completed his dissertation, Analysis of Opaque-2 Function in Maize, and the band is once again back together, touring in Australia.
  7. Temple GrandinTemple Grandin: Temple is a Doctor of Animal Science and professor at Colorado State University, a best-selling author and a consultant to the livestock industry in animal behavior. She is one of a handful of individuals who have become famous because of their achievements, as Temple suffers from high-functioning autism. HBO recently produced the film, Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes as Grandin. The film, released in 2010, was nominated for 15 Emmy categories. The film received five Emmy awards in August 2010, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Best Actress in a Drama for Danes. Grandin was on stage as the award was accepted, and spoke briefly on the microphone to the audience.
  8. Hunter ThompsonHunter S. Thompson: This American journalist was most famous for his works, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. Although lacking formal education, Thompson received an honorary doctorate from the Universal Life Church in the 1960s, and — from that point forward — preferred to call himself Dr. Thompson, or “doctor of journalism.” Thompson died in 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
  9. Kermit the FrogKermit the Frog: As a puppet from Jim Henson’s most famous Muppet creations, Kermit is a well-known figure in the entertainment field. In honor of his efforts in the field of environmentalism, Kermit was awarded an honorary doctorate of Amphibious Letters from Southampton College, New York (now a campus of SUNY Stony Brook), in 1996. The university noted, “His theme song, ‘It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,’ has become a rallying cry of the environmental movement. Kermit has used his celebrity to spread positive messages in public service announcements for the National Wildlife Federation, National Parks Service, the Better World Society, and others.” Kermit also delivered the commencement for that university that year.
  10. Mayim BialikMayim Bialik: This American actress is best known for her lead role as Blossom Russo in the 1990s NBC sitcom, Blossom. She also had guest appearances on The Facts of Life and in Beauty and the Beast. She appeared in Beaches playing Bette Midler’s character as a young girl. When Blossom ended, she attended UCLA, despite having been accepted at both Harvard and Yale. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 2000 in neuroscience, Hebrew, and Jewish studies, and went on to the PhD. program in neuroscience, completing her PhD in 2008. Her dissertation was an investigation into Prader-Willi Syndrome.

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