Steven Seagal’s colorful life would make for a compelling biopic, but audiences would have little appetite for the third act.
Seagal’s rise to ‘80s stardom, complementing the era’s muscle-bound duo of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave way to one baffling chapter after another.
Serving with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana. Playing blues guitar on at least two albums. Becoming a reality show star. Cozying up to dictators.
It all led to Seagal’s chummy embrace of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, the biggest head-scratcher of the star’s 71 years on planet Earth.
Parts of his life remain shrouded in mystery, but certain details appear etched in stone.
The Michigan native studied martial arts, including aikido, at an early age and relocated to Japan at 17. He earned several black belts and studied Eastern philosophy during his days abroad. His fighting skills caught Hollywood’s attention, landing him work as a fight choreographer for superstars like Sean Connery (1983’s “Never Say Never Again”).
He eventually moved back to the States, starting an L.A. martial arts academy and catching Hollywood’s attention once more. This time, it meant dating and marrying model-turned-actress Kelly LeBrock and snagging his first starring role.
Creative Artists Agency head Michael Ovitz, who studied martial arts under Seagal, connected the future star to Warner Bros. representatives for an aikido demonstration that catapulted him to stardom.
Roger Ebert came away impressed by his 1988 big-screen debut, “Above the Law.”
“Is he indeed Hollywood’s hottest new action star? Who knows. But he has the stuff,” Ebert wrote.
Seagal was no Schwarzenegger, but he worked for the next decade on both hits (“Under Siege,” his highest-grossing vehicle) and misses (“On Deadly Ground,” an eco-activist screed that doubled as his directorial debut).
Seagal’s off-screen choices proved more dubious. In 2013 he joined Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov at an event celebrating the 195th anniversary of the republic’s capital, Grozny.
The actor called Kadyrov a “great leader,” despite press reports connecting him to a series of atrocities.
Under “President” Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule, Chechnya has become, in the word of Freedom House’s Arch Puddington, “one of the world’s largest Potemkin villages,” in which extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, rape and the torture and murder of journalists and human rights activists has become de rigueur.
Years later, Seagal expanded his international outreach to include Mother Russia. The actor’s unthinkable ties to Putin have grown over the years, including an Order of Friendship medal from Putin.
He now describes himself as “1 million percent Russian.”
“[Putin] is one of the greatest world leaders and one the greatest presidents in the world,” Seagal said earlier this year, adding that the American media is lying about Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Seagal became Russia’s special envoy to the U.S. in 2018 and has both Russian and Serbian citizenship. He now teaches martial arts to Russian Military Recruits via a newly opened center.
In between, Seagal launched an energy drink,“Lightning Bolt,” claimed to be the target of the U.S. Mafia, allegedly trained CIA agents and engaged in other escapades both incredible and potentially false. Even his parents have contradicted his stated biographical details.
Many don’t realize Seagal never stopped acting even after a brief second wave of fame via 2001’s “Exit Wounds” alongside rapper-turned-actor DMX. His work now goes straight to streaming/VOD services, with generic titles like “General Commander” (2019), “China Salesman” (2017), and “Cartels” (2016).
Most movie critics ignore his more recent films, while his dwindling fan base bemoan their lesser quality. He may be hoping the latter changes with “Above the Law 2,” a belated sequel to his first hit teased on his IMDB.com page.
Those recent films feature lesser-known stars surrounding Seagal, and that could be on purpose. He’s made some professional enemies over the years, including John Leguizamo. The two worked together on 1996’s “Executive Decision,” and the comedian hasn’t stopped spouting off on Seagal since then.
He claims Seagal physically attacked him on their first day on set and inspired his fading movie star character from 2022’s “The Menu.”
Director Anthony Hickox called the star a “nightmare” who coaxed him to give up action films for the horror genre.
“He’s impossible; he doesn’t turn up, he refuses to say any line that’s written, it’s just ridiculous. I sat back when I was making it and said, ‘I’m a better director than this,’ so I went back to what I like to do, which is write and direct horror,” Hickox said.
Several women suggest his negative antics went beyond standard-issue Hollywood ego. Jenny McCarthy said Seagal asked her to take off her dress while auditioning for “Under Siege 2.”
Blair Robinson, Ray Charles’ granddaughter, also accused Seagal of inappropriate behavior during her very short span as his assistant.
“It became clear to me that he wanted and expected sexual favors as part of my job duties,” she said.
Seagal denied the charges.
Seagal’s recent, disquieting ties belie his early days and embrace of Eastern philosophies. Consider comments he made during the 1990s to PBS’s “Frontline” about his Buddhist beliefs.
“My philosophy is that the most important aspect of any religion should be human kindness. And to try to ease the suffering of others. To try to bring light and love into the lives of mankind.”
Seagal’s Putin love, not to mention other accusations against him, suggest he’s discarded at least some of those principles since the dawn of his film career.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.