Today’s post is about a group of people whose roots are traced back to Croatia, as they are throughout the rest of Europe. In fact, the majority of these people don’t even know that they are of Croatian origin. This post lists 50 famous people who have Croatian roots. There are many more, but they are not all famous, so I had to be selective in my choices.
It’s true; Croatia has a lot of celebrities with Croatian heritage, who have left their mark in different fields of art, science, culture and sports. Some of the greatest Yugoslavian musicians of all time have Croatian roots, like Josip Broz Tito, Mira Furlan, Goran Bregovic and many more. Other winners of Olympic medals, like Maksim Mrvica (silver in the men’s basketball), Marija Gavrilovic (gold, first woman to win Olympic medal in judo), Ivica Kostelić (silver in the triple jump) and more.
There are more than 20 million Croatian people living in Croatia today, which makes up more than half of the total population. However, there are over 200 million world citizens with Croatian heritage. The Croatian language is spoken by over 45 million people in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Croatia was once home to the world’s most powerful nation: the Byzantine Empire.
Outside of Croatia, there are thought to be more individuals who claim Croatian ancestry than there are in Croatia, which has a population of over 4 million. The bulk of them, about half, live in the United States.
Croatians have made an influence and continue to do so in a variety of areas, with many second, third, and fourth generation Croatians becoming well-known.
Here are 50 individuals of Croatian ancestry who rose to fame in cinema, television, sports, and music after being born and nurtured in the United States.
FILM & TV
1. John Malkovich is a well-known actor
John Malkovich is an American actor and filmmaker who has featured in over 70 films and has received many Academy Award nominations.
Empire of the Sun, The Killing Fields, Con Air, Of Mice and Men, Rounders, Ripley’s Game, Being John Malkovich, RED, Mulholland Falls, Dangerous Liaisons, and Warm Bodies were among his many cinematic roles. Malkovich was born in the town of Christopher in the state of Illinois. His paternal grandparents were from Ozalj, a small town north of Karlovac in Croatia.
2. Eric Bana
Eric Bana, an Australian-born actor, rose to prominence in Hollywood thanks to his performances in Black Hawk Down and Hulk. After WWII, his father, Ivan Banadinovi, moved to Australia from Croatia.
3. Joe Manganiello is a well-known actor
Joe Manganiello is an American actor who has been in a number of films and television programs. He has been in the Spider-Man trilogy, ER, How I Met Your Mother, One Tree Hill, and True Blood, among other films. He’ll play Batman in Ben Affleck’s forthcoming 2018 flick. In 2015, he married actress Sofia Vergara.
Manganiello was born in the city of Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania. His mother is of Croatian ancestry (Braanov), whereas his father is Italian.
4. Jenna Elfman is a model and actress
Jenna Elfman is an American television and film actress, best known for her role as Dharma on the 1997–2002 American hit television sitcom Dharma & Greg.
On her father’s side, Jennifer Mary Butala is of Croatian descent. In the mid-nineteenth century, her grandpa came to America from the Karlovac area in central Croatia.
5. Friedlander, Judah
Judah Friedlander is an actor and comedian from the United States who is best known for his portrayal as writer Frank Rossitano on the NBC comedy 30 Rock. He is well recognized for his performance in the film American Splendor as Toby Radloff. Judah’s father is of Russian Jewish ancestry, while his mother is Croatian-American and a native of Pittsburgh.
6. Rachel Leskovac is a writer
Rachel is an English actress and singer best known for her roles as serial killer nurse Kelly Yorke in the BBC medical drama Holby City and hairdresser Natasha Blakeman on Coronation Street. Hollyoaks was another show in which she appeared.
She was born in the English city of Bradford. Her mother is an Englishwoman, while her father is Croatian.
7. Werner Herzog is a filmmaker who is well-known for his
Werner Herzog is regarded as one of Germany’s finest filmmakers. In 2009, Time magazine recognized the screenwriter, film director, novelist, actor, and opera director as one of the world’s 100 most important people.
In Herzog’s films, heroes with unattainable goals, people with exceptional skills in esoteric areas, or people in confrontation with nature often appear. Werner Stipeti was born in Munich, Germany, to Elizabeth Stipeti, an Austrian of Croatian ancestry, and Dietrich Herzog, a German.
8. Patrick Muldoon is a well-known Irish actor
Patrick Muldoon appeared in the famous adolescent television programs Saved by the Bell and Melrose Place and portrayed Austin Reed on Days of Our Lives.
On his father’s side, he is of Irish ancestry, while on his mother’s side, he is of Croatian descent.
9. Rossovich, Rick
Rick Rossovich is best known for his role as Ron “Slider” Kerner in the 1986 blockbuster picture Top Gun. He has featured in over 30 films.
He also featured in The Terminator (as Matt), Roxanne (as Chris McConnell), Navy SEALs (as Leary), and ER and Sons and Daughters, among other films. He is of Croatian and Italian ancestry, and his paternal great-great-grandfather was born in Moscenicka Draga.
10. Tony Robbins is a motivational speaker
Tony Robbins is a well-known author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and life coach from the United States. Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within are two of Robbins’ best-known infomercials, seminars, and self-help books.
Robbins is the creator of numerous businesses with yearly revenues of about $6 billion. He was included to the Worth Magazine Power 100 list in 2015 and 2016. He’s also a philanthropist who works with charities like Feeding America.
A Croatian immigrant’s son. Robbins was born Anthony J. Mahavoric, but when his mother remarried, he adopted his stepfather’s surname.
11. Novoselic, Krist
Krist Novoselic, a member of the famous grunge band Nirvana and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, was the band’s bassist and co-founder. Novoselic, who was born in California to Croatian parents, attended school in Zadar on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast in the 1980s.
He met Kurt Cobain via his brother, and the two realized they had similar musical tastes, so they decided to create Nirvana. After that, the rest is history.
12. Butala, Tony
Tony Butala was the lead vocalist of The Lettermen, a vocal group with two Top 10 singles, 16 Top 10 Adult Contemporary songs (including one #1), 32 consecutive Billboard Magazine chart albums, 11 gold records, and five Grammy nominations.
Butala is of Croatian ancestry and was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania.
Lorde, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, rose to prominence as a youngster due to her blockbuster song “Royals” a few years ago. That song topped the Billboard Hot 100 list for nine weeks and earned her two Grammy Awards.
Lorde, who resides in Auckland, New Zealand, has Croatian ancestors on her mother’s side.
14. Guy Mitchell is a character in the film Guy Mitchell
Guy Mitchell was a popular singer and actor in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom and Australia. He sold 44 million albums, with six million-seller singles among them.
“My Heart Cries for You” was his first hit (1951). He dabbled with rock with songs like “Heartaches by the Number,” “Rock-a-Billy,” “The Same Old Me,” and “Singing the Blues,” which topped the charts for ten weeks in 1956.
He was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Croatian immigrants.
15. Ivana & Tomo Miličević
Ivana is an American actress and model best known for her role in the Cinemax original series Banshee as Anastasia Rabitov/Carrie Hopewell.
Ivan was born in Croatia to Croatian parents and migrated to the United States when he was five years old. He was reared in Detroit, Michigan. Tomo, her brother, is the guitarist for Thirty Seconds to Mars, a rock band that includes Jared Leto.
16. Johnny Mercer is a well-known singer and songwriter.
Johnny Mercer was a composer, vocalist, and lyricist. He was also a co-founder of Capitol Records and a record company executive.
Many of the songs Mercer composed and sang were among the most successful successes of the period, from the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s. He penned the lyrics for almost 1500 songs, including soundtracks for movies and Broadway musicals. He was nominated for nineteen Academy Awards and won four for Best Original Song.
His mother’s father was born in the Croatian town of Lastovo in 1834.
17. Mikan, George
George, also known as Mr. Basketball, is regarded as one of the first professional basketball players. Mikan had a great professional basketball career, winning seven NBL, BAA, and NBA championships, as well as an NBA All-Star Game MVP award and three scoring crowns. He was a part of the first six All-BAA and All-NBA teams, as well as the first four NBA All-Star games. Mikan was so dominating in the NBA that he was responsible for many rule changes, including the goaltending rule, the expansion of the foul lane (dubbed the “Mikan Rule”), and the establishment of the shot clock.
Mikan was one of the founders of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and served as the league’s commissioner after his playing career. He also had a key role in the formation of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In 1959, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he was named to the NBA’s 25th and 35th Anniversary Teams in 1970 and 1980, respectively. In 1996, he was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players Ever. A statue of Mikan shooting his signature hook jumper has graced the entryway of the Timberwolves’ Target Center since April 2001.
George Mikan is an American of Croatian ancestry who was born in Joliet, Illinois.
18. Rudy Tomjanovich is a character in the film Rudy Tomjanovich
Rudy Tomjanovich was a legendary NBA basketball player and coach who led the Houston Rockets to two championships in a row. During his playing career, he was a five-time NBA All-Star with the Houston Rockets (1974–1977, 1979). Currently, he works as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tomjanovich was born into a Croatian household in Hamtramck, Michigan.
19. Havlicek, John
John won eight NBA titles over his 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics, four of which came in his first four seasons.
On his father’s side, he is of Czech ancestry, while on his mother’s side, he is of Croatian descent (Turkalj).
20. Kevin McHale is a well-known actor
Kevin was a member of the Boston Celtics in the NBA. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and is considered one of the greatest power forwards of all time. In 1996, he was selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team as well as the official list of the league’s top 50 players.
McHale contributes to NBA TV and Turner Sports’ famous NBA on TNT studio program as an on-air commentator.
On his mother’s side, he is of Croatian ancestry (Starcevic).
21. Vranes, Danny
From 1981 to 1988, Danny Vranes was a basketball player with the Seattle SuperSonics and the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.
Vranes appeared in 510 games in the NBA and scored a total of 2,613 points. His greatest season as a player came with the SuperSonics in 1983–84, when he played in 80 games and averaged 8.4 points per game.
He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team during the 1984–85 season.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a kind of martial arts that
22. Stipe Mioic
Stipe Mioic is the current Heavyweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). In 2016, he was nominated for MMA Fighter of the Year.
Despite being born in America, Mioic has Croatian ancestors on both sides of his family, with his mother hailing from Karlovac and his father hailing from the Zadar region. Mioic is a frequent traveler to Croatia and takes pride in his heritage.
23. Pat Miletich is a writer and a musician
Pat is a former mixed martial artist best remembered for his bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, when he won the UFC 16 Welterweight Tournament and became the inaugural UFC Welterweight Champion.
Miletich, who created Miletich Fighting Systems, is also a very accomplished trainer and coach. This camp has produced many world champions and is regarded one of the most successful in MMA history. In 2014, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Football in the United States
24. Bill Belichick is the coach of the New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is the head coach of the New England Patriots of the National Football League in the United States (NFL). He has won five Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI).
Ivan Bilii and Marija Barkovi, Belichick’s paternal grandparents, moved from Karlovac, Croatia, to the United States in 1897, settling near Pittsburgh.
Steve Belichick (born Stephen Bilii) played for the Detroit Lions and spent 33 years as an assistant coach and scout for the US Naval Academy football team.
25. Carroll, Pete
Pete Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks’ head coach and executive vice president, is also a successful American football coach. He is one of only three football coaches to have won both a Super Bowl and a college football national title. He was the head coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.
Carroll, on the other hand, had Croatian mother grandparents and Irish paternal great-grandparents.
26. Diehl, David
David Diehl is a player with the New York Giants. He was the starting left guard for the Giants on two Super Bowl victory teams, both of which defeated the New England Patriots.
On his mother’s side, he is of Croatian ancestry, and he has the Croatian coat of arms tattooed on his left arm, as well as the Croatian term “neunitiv,” which means “indestructible.”
27. Grbac, Elvis
Elvis was a quarterback in the National Football League. He was a starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens throughout his career.
Grbac was a member of one Super Bowl-winning squad with the 49ers and one AFC West championship club with the Chiefs in 1997. With the Chiefs, he still owns six all-time marks, including the most touchdown passes in consecutive games (15), the lowest percentage of intercepted passes (3.04), and the most yards gained in a single game (5).
Grbac was born to Ivan and Cecilija Grbac in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was born in Lanie, Croatia, near Buzet, while his mother was from Istra. In 1967, his parents left Croatia.
28. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a Serbian footballer
Zlatan Ibrahimovi is a Swedish striker who was born and reared in Sweden to a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, Jurka Gravi, who moved to Sweden from the hamlet of Prkos near kabrnja near Zadar.
In a previous interview, the pony-tailed scoring machine added, “My mother is from Croatia and my father is from Bosnia, but I am 100 percent Swedish and extremely proud of it.”
29. Bosnich, Mark
Mark Bosnich, an Australian goalkeeper, represented his country and played for Chelsea and Manchester United in the English Premier League.
Bosnich is of Croatian descent, with his family originally hailing from Blato on the island of Korula.
30. Viduka, Mark
Mark Viduka is another Croatian-born Australian player who has established a name for himself on the international stage.
Viduka played for a number of English Premier League teams, including Leeds United, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle, in addition to captaining Australia in the World Cup.
31. Bobi Fredi
Fredi Bobi, a former German footballer who played for VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund, had a distinguished career in Germany. He also played for Bolton Wanderers in England.
Fredi was a member of the UEFA Euro 1996 winning team and earned 37 caps for Germany. He also competed in the UEFA Euro 2004 tournament. For Germany, he scored ten goals. Fredi was born in Maribor, Slovenia, to a Croatian father and a Slovene mother.
32. Daniel Bilo (Daniel Bilo)
Daniel Bilo was an Argentine footballer who represented his country at the international level. Banfield, Boca Juniors, and Saint-Etienne were among his previous clubs.
He has Croatian ancestors on his father’s side, and he was courted by the Croatian Football Federation to play for them in the 2006 World Cup, but he refused because he wanted to earn the right to represent his home nation.
33. Diego Maradona was a footballer who played for Argentina.
Former Argentina great Diego Maradona, one of the most renowned players in the world, is said to be of Croatian descent.
Mateo Karioli, his mother’s grandpa, is said to have moved from the Croatian island of Korula to Argentina. When asked about it, Maradona replied he didn’t know much about the family history, but if it’s true, it’d be fantastic since he might have property there.
34. Christian Pulisic is a Croatian footballer.
Christian Mate Pulisic is a 19-year-old attacking midfielder for Borussia Dortmund in Germany and the United States national team. He is considered as one of Europe’s best young players.
At 17 years, 349 days, he became the youngest foreigner to score in the Bundesliga and the youngest American player to score in World Cup qualification history two seasons ago.
Christian Pulisic’s grandpa, Mate, was born on the Croatian island of Olib, and he is a Croatian citizen.
35. Roger Maris is a baseball player from the United States.
From 1957 through 1968, Roger Maris was an American professional baseball player who appeared in 12 seasons for four different Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs.
During the 1961 season, Maris hit 61 home runs, surpassing Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs established in 1927. Maris was an All-Star in the American League (AL) from 1959 through 1962, as well as the AL MVP in 1960 and 1961 and the AL Gold Glove Award winner in 1960. Maris had seven World Series appearances, five with the Yankees and two with the Cardinals.
Roger Maras was born in Croatia to Croatian-born parents Rudolph Maras and Corrine (née Perkovich). Later on, he changed his name to Maris.
36. Mickey Lolich is a character in the film Mickey Lolich
From 1962 through 1979, Michael was a pitcher in Major League Baseball, most notably with the Detroit Tigers. He is most remembered for his three complete-game wins in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, including a victory against Bob Gibson in the deciding Game 7.
37. Chuvalo, George
George Chuvalo, a five-time Canadian heavyweight champion and two-time world heavyweight championship contender, is a legendary former boxer. Many believe Chuvalo has one of, if not the greatest, chins in boxing history.
He never lost a fight and was rated #4 on ESPN’s list of the best chins in boxing history.
Chuvalo was defeated by Hall of Famers Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, but he was praised for his bravery. He competed for the world championship twice, losing to Ernie Terrell in a disputed decision and Ali in his first bout.
Both times he faced Muhammad Ali, he went the distance only to lose on decisions. The Ontario Sports Hall of Fame honored George Chuvalo in 1995.
Chuvalo was born in Toronto to Croatian parents, Stipan and Katica (née Kordi) uvalo, both from settlements near Ljubuki in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
38. Zivic, Fritzie
In the early 1940s, boxer Fritzie Zivic was known as “The Croat Comet” and won the world welterweight title. In 1993, he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Hockey on ice
39. Frank & Peter Mahovlich
Frank was a famous ice hockey player in the National Hockey League. He was a member of six Stanley Cup-winning teams and is a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. Mahovlich was selected one of the first set of players to be recognized one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players” in history on January 1, 2017, at a ceremony held prior to the Centennial Classic.
Peter, his brother, was also a professional ice hockey player in the NHL. Mahovlich was known as “Little M” during his playing days, while his elder brother Frank was known as “Big M.” He played for a number of teams, notably the Montreal Canadiens, where he played with his brother and was a part of four Stanley Cup winning teams.
40. Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic was a professional ice hockey player from Quebec, Canada, who spent his entire 21-year NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche. Sakic is widely considered as one of the league’s finest captains.
Sakic was chosen to the NHL First All-Star Team three times and led the Avalanche to Stanley Cup victories in 1996 and 2001. He appeared in 13 NHL All-Star Games and was named to the NHL First All-Star Team 13 times.
Sakic was named the tournament’s most valuable player after helping Canada win its first ice hockey gold medal in 50 years at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He also competed in the Winter Olympics in 1998 and 2006. Marijan and Slavica aki, Sakic’s parents, immigrated to Canada from Croatia.
41. Vlasic, Marc-Édouard
Another well-known ice hockey player of Croatian ancestry. Vlasic is a member of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Vlasic signed a 5-year, $21 million contract deal with the Sharks in 2012, which will keep him with the team through the 2017–2018 NHL season.
At the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2016 World Cup, he earned gold medals for Canada.
42. Pavelich, Matt
Before retiring in 1979, Matt Pavelich officiated in 1,727 regular NHL season games. His career was the second-longest in league history, spanning three decades.
Pavelich also officiated in 245 postseason games, the second-highest number behind John D’Amico at the time. In 1987, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the category of Referee/Linesman as the NHL’s Supervisor of Officials.
His father was from Krivi Put, and his mother was from Ledenice, but she was born in Canada.
43. Pavelich, Marty
Marty, Matt’s brother, was a great ice hockey player in his day. From 1947 to 1957, he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League.
During the 1956-57 season, Matt was often called upon to work games involving his brother, who was a member of the Detroit Red Wings. It was the first time in NHL history that an official and a player sibling had teamed up.
In 1947, Pavelich joined the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. He appeared in 634 NHL regular-season games, collecting 93 goals and 159 assists for a total of 252 points. In 93 games, he has 13 goals and 15 assists for a total of 28 points. During his career, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup four times (1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955), and he was a member of the NHL all-star games for each of those seasons.
In his book Hockey’s 100: A Personal Ranking of the Finest Players in Hockey History, hockey writer Stan Fischler rated him as the fourth best defensive forward of all time. His job was to check opposing teams’ top scorers, such as Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and he was considered one of the greatest “shadows” of his time.
44. Nikola Karabatic is a Bulgarian writer.
Nikola Karabati, a French handball player who has won two Olympic gold medals, four World Championship gold medals, and three European Championship gold medals, has been one of the greatest handball players in the world during the past decade.
Nikola was born to a Croatian father and a Serbian mother. Branko Karabati, his father, was a professional handball player from Vrsine, a hamlet near Trogir on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.
45. Couples, Fred
Former World No. 1 golfer Fred Couples. He has won 57 professional events, including the 1992 Masters Tournament and the Players Championship in 1984 and 1996. In 2013, he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Fred Couples was born to Tom and Violet Couples in Seattle, Washington. His paternal grandparents were Italian immigrants who changed their surname from “Coppola” to “Couples” to seem less ethnic, while his mother was Croatian (Sobich).
46. Nobilo, Frank
Frank Nobilo was a professional golfer from New Zealand who won 15 professional events throughout the globe during his career. He was at his best in the mid-1990s, when he finished second or third in each of the four major championships.
His Croatian ancestors came from the island of Korula.
47. Simon Katich is a writer and a musician.
Simon Katich, an Australian cricket hero, played 56 test matches for his country and achieved ten test hundreds. He is a well-known personality in cricket-playing countries, and he is recognized for his tough top-order batting.
His grandmother was born in the Dalmatian town of ivogoe and immigrated to Australia in 1936. In 1924, his grandparents migrated to Australia from Kozica (Vrgorac).
48. Sean Fitzpatrick is a well-known Irish actor.
There have been a few All Black (New Zealand) rugby internationals of Croatian ancestry, including as Anthony Boric and the Cooper brothers, but Fitzpatrick is the most well-known. Fitzpatrick led the legendary All Blacks from 1992 to 1997, playing in 92 Tests for his nation.
In the 1997 New Year Honours, Fitzpatrick was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. He is still regarded as a national hero in New Zealand and is well-liked in rugby-playing countries across the world. His mother has Croatian ancestry.
49. Botica, Frano
Frano Botica was one of the few players to have represented both the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby side, and the Kiwis, the country’s rugby league squad. Before making the Croatian national team in 1998, he participated in seven tests in both sports.
He has Croatian and Maori ancestors, with Croatian ancestors hailing from the island of Korula.
50. Kasich, John
John Kasich is the Governor of Ohio. He is an American politician and former television news presenter.
Kasich began his career at Fox News, where he hosted Heartland with John Kasich from 2001 to 2007 and filled in on The O’Reilly Factor. Kasich was a member of the United States House of Representatives for nine years. He was a driving force behind both the 1996 welfare reform legislation and the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
Kasich was born in Pennsylvania and has worked in American politics for 37 years. His father was a Czech immigrant, and his mother was a Croatian immigrant’s kid (Vukovich).
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the most famous person in Croatia?
The most famous person in Croatia is probably the Croatian president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Is Nick Saban of Croatian descent?
Yes, he is.
Is Tony Robbins a Serbian?
Tony Robbins is an American businessman and motivational speaker. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 20th, 1940.