MOTW: The Life and Career of Judd Nelson

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Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
September 5th, 2013

MOTW: The Life and Career of Judd Nelson

On November 28, 1959, in Portland, Maine, Judd Asher Nelson was born to corporate lawyer Leonard and court mediator Merle. The happy family, which included sisters Eve and Julie, stayed in the New England area, where Judd attended Waynflete School before finally leaving home to move to Pennsylvania for college. He was enrolled in Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia for two years and dropped out after his sophomore year to pursue acting.

The trajectory of Judd's long acting career began when he moved to New York City, where he was accepted into the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting in Manhattan. Adler was an actress herself who was just as famous for her screen roles as she was for training young actors. Judd succeeded there and soon felt ready to tackle auditions. He moved to Los Angeles and soon landed small roles in films like "Making the Grade" and "Fandango" opposite future superstar Kevin Costner. These were not lead roles, but Judd did such a good job playing them that he got noticed by casting directors and was tapped to play the part of rebel John Bender in the 1980s classic "The Breakfast Club," starring Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, and Emilio Estevez.

"The Breakfast Club" was one of several teen movies to come out in the 1980s, but it stood far apart from others because it wasn't the usual screwball comedy that marked most teem films during that era. Instead, it was a heartfelt, emotional drama that didn't trivialize teenagers in any way, and Judd was fantastic in it. The film essentially made him a star and a teenage idol. The same year, he appeared in "St. Elmo's Fire," which starred Sheedy, Rob Lowe, and Demi Moore. The one-two punch of these two very different hit movies showed the range of Judd's acting abilities, which didn't go unnoticed by casting directors.

Judd and some of his costars from "The Breakfast Club" were the subject of a lengthy feature story in "New York" magazine that dubbed them the "Brat Pack," a play on the term "Rat Pack," which was used to describe a string of 1950s actor/singers, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Though most of the "Brat Pack" crew were said to have disliked the term, it caught on like wildfire, and to this day, Judd is occasionally still described as a charter member of the group. Even if he disliked the moniker, there is no denying that the attention Judd received as a member of the "Brat Pack" helped his career.

After a super successful movie run in 1985, Judd followed up with "Blue City," teaming up with Sheedy for a third time in just two years. After making a few television appearances and playing the lead in the TV movie "Billionaire Boys Club," he returned to the big screen playing the role of a serial killer in the film "Relentless." In 1991, he landed a role in the critically-acclaimed film "New Jack City," further showing that he had the ability to play a tough character, which helped shed the squeaky-clean image many "Brat Pack" members had. He continued taking roles in movies until the mid-1990s, when television beckoned. The show "Suddenly Susan," starring Brooke Shields, cast him as a series regular, which meant Judd could only make one or two movies a year while the show was on hiatus.

Judd has always been very secretive about his private life, but he did manage to romance a few ladies while he was achieving television stardom. He was once engaged to actress Shannen Doherty, though they never did make it down the aisle. In fact, the famously private actor has never made it down the aisle or had any children, and details about his life outside of his work are very scarce. Any new actors having trouble keeping their private life quiet could probably learn a lesson or two from Judd.

After leaving "Suddenly Susan" in 1999, Judd continued acting in small independent movies and appearing in television cameos while quietly pursuing writing as a side project. He has two short films to his credit, "Every Breath" and "The Spin Room: Super Tuesday." Despite his writing, acting is still what he is best known for, and he continues to work steadily. He made a whopping eight films in 2001 alone. In 2013, he has three films scheduled for release in the summer and fall, including "Road to the Open" and "Last Chance Holiday." In 2014, Judd will star in "Bigfoot Wars" and "Buds," though at the rate he is taking on films, there is a good chance he will appear in several more films in 2014 and beyond.