He played one of the most iconic ’80s villains, but there’s much more to Dolph Lundgren than Soviet Apollo Creed killer Ivan Drago. He’s fit, he’s handsome, he’s charming, and damn it, he’s our favorite Expendable. He speaks several languages, holds a chemical engineering degree and earned a scholarship to attend MIT. These are10 badass facts about Dolph Lundgren that you most likely don’t know.
He’s highly educated.
Don’t be fooled by the 250 lbs. of muscle he carried around as He-Man in 1987’s Masters of the Universe. Dolph Lundgren is practically a damn genius. The actor, writer, director, and producer was born Hans Lundgren, the son of a language teacher and an engineer for the Swedish government. He graduated from high school with straight As, studied engineering at Washington State University, served his mandatory year in the Swedish Marine Corps, earned a degree in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology, a master’s from the University of Sydney, and a Fulbright Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘though he left M.I.T. after just two weeks in order to pursue a career in the movies.
“I decided I didn’t want to shake test tubes for the rest of my life,” he told Maxim in 2008. “So I quit school and became an unemployed starving actor for a while.”
Don’t expect him to brag about that big brain of his. When asked if it’s true that he has an I.Q. of 160, he answered, “I’m not that smart. I’m smart enough to get a few scholarships. But I’ve gotten hit in the head too many times since then.”
He speaks six languages.
No, Russian isn’t one of them. Lundgren speaks English and his native Swedish fluently, as well as a good amount of German. He can also speak a little bit of Spanish, French, and Japanese – at least enough to order drinks and say thank you.
He’s a karate champion.
He isn’t faking it for the movies. Lundgren started training in karate at age ten. By 19, he was part of the Swedish squad at the world championships in Japan for full-contact karate. “You had to be a brown belt, but I was just a green belt, so my instructor gave me one to fake my way into the fight,” he told Maxim. “I thought I was gong to get killed.” He won his first two fights by knockouts. In the early ’80s, he won two European Championships and the Australian Heavyweight tournament.
Australia, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol.
While studying in Australia, Dolph worked as a bouncer in the Kings Cross nightclub scene. He met pop star Grace Jones while working security for her gig at the Capital Theatre, eventually joining her personal security detail. The pair fell in love and relocated to New York City together. (In 2012, Dolph told Men’s Health that he walked the streets of early 80s NYC strapped with two guns for protection, one of them in an ankle holster.) Jones introduced him to famous friends like Andy Warhol. She played a villain in A View to a Kill, the final James Bond movie to star Roger Moore, and helped Lundgren land his first role, as a henchman, which led to his big breakthrough as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He’s called Sydney “the catalyst.”
He put Stallone in the hospital.
One day while filming in the UK, Sylvester Stallone wanted the fists to fly for real. Dolph punched Sly so hard in the ribs he put his costar in intensive care with a swollen heart. The film’s insurers compared Stallone’s injuries to the types seen in car crashes. “I said, ‘Well, have you seen Dolph Lundgren?” he later recounted to Entertainment Weekly. “That’s a truck. That’s a steering wheel. That’s a head-on collision.” (Luckily, he didn’t ask Dolph to blow him up for real in The Expendables.)
He Managed a U.S. Olympic team.
Dolph played an East German Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1994 movie Pentathlon. After training with U.S. athletes for the role, he served as the team leader for the U.S. modern pentathlon team at the 1996 Summer Olympics. “I got involved to help save the sport, because every year there are new ones coming in and they kick out the old ones,” he told Maxim. “This is one of the oldest Olympic sports, and they thought my name could help. I was just the team manager – the guy who organizes travel.”
He boxed a pro fighter
Lundgren agreed to do an exhibition match against former UFC competitor Oleg Taktarov, on Russian TV, after Mike Tyson said no. Despite being 18 years older than his opponent, Dolph went five solid rounds and only lost by decision. UFC fighter Sage Northcutt expressed an interest in playing Drago’s son in Creed 2, which Men’s Journal agreed would be a great idea. (The role went to a Romanian boxer.)
He’s a Marvel movie OG.
Sure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, more than a decade in, packed with A-listers, critical acclaim, and fan love. But long before that, before the X-Men movies at Fox, before Blade, even, there was Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher. Den Of Geek looked back on the 1989 low-budget action vehicle as “the first true Marvel superhero movie.” IGN writer William Bibbiani wrote an editorial insisting “The Dolph Lundgren Punisher Movie Isn’t as Bad as You Remember.” We’ve loved his turn as Frank Castle for years, even with the cheeseball elements, the reworked backstory, and the fact that he inexplicably isn’t wearing the vigilante’s signature skull. Filmed in Australia and costarring Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., Dolph’s Punisher has some fantastic action sequences, charismatic villains, and some great lines, including a joke about a certain Caped Crusader who had his own movie released the same year. The band Biohazard sampled one of Dolph’s monologues, words that were reportedly polished up on-set by Lundgren himself. Since then the Punisher has been played by Tom Jane, Ray Stevenson, and standout favorite Jon Bernthal, who gets the full benefit of the prestige TV approach. But Dolph Lundgren will always be our Frank Castle OG.
He turned down Gladiator.
Dolph took a lengthy break from acting to raise his kids, but he could’ve returned sooner to be in Gladiator. He said he was offered a part as the undefeated gladiator who comes out of retirement against Maximus. Ridley Scott has said he considered Dolph, but the actor says he’d passed before Scott (or Russell Crowe) was attached.
He scares real life bad guys.
One of our absolute favorite Dolph Lundgren movies is Showdown in Little Tokyo, a buddy cop action movie with its tongue firmly in cheek that was under appreciated. One of the coolest stories about his late costar, Brandon Lee, is about the time he caught a gentleman in his house in the midst of robbing him. “The guy was standing in the bedroom with the VCR in his hands,” Lee explained on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “He ended up taking a knife from the kitchen and we squared off in the living room. I ended up taking the knife away from him and the police came and took him away. After he got out of the hospital, he got two years for breaking and entering and attempted robbery.” Dolph has a similar story, but he didn’t have to fight. He didn’t even have to be there. One night, three robbers broke into his home, tied up his then-wife, and threatened her. In the middle of it, one of them spotted a family photo and realized who her husband was; they immediately fled the scene. As a bonus Badass Fact about Dolph Lundgren, we’ll give the floor to Mr. Lee.