12 Famous Actors Who Had Top Ten Pop Hits

One interesting aspect of being famous is that sometimes, celebrities figure that since they're good enough at something to make them famous, they would probably be good at other stuff that has made other people famous. This is how you get basketball great Shaquille O'Neal rapping, or rap impresario Master P playing basketball, both of which are things that actually happened. Most of the cross-pollination, though, seems to happen between the worlds of acting and music — musicians and actors tend to be egotistical sorts, and hey, if the fans love seeing you belt out tunes onstage, they'll also love you up on the silver screen, or vice-versa. Right?

Well, as it turns out, sometimes that actually is right. There have definitely been a few talented musicians who carved out enviable second careers in acting; Will Smith and David Bowie come to mind. When actors try to pick up the mic, it can certainly be argued that it tends to go pear-shaped, creatively speaking — but that hasn't stopped a surprising number of thespians from selling boatloads of records. Here are a dozen who not only scored hit songs, but cracked the top ten — and, in some cases, went all the way to the top of the chart.

Richard Harris, MacArthur Park

The late, great Irish actor Richard Harris is an absolute legend of the silver screen. A two-time Academy Award nominee, Harris began his career way back in the '50s, and was active right up until his death in 2002; he played King Arthur in 1967's "Camelot," English Bob in 1992's "Unforgiven," Marcus Aurelius in 2000's "Gladiator," and Albus Dumbledore in the first two "Harry Potter" movies, to name just a few of his iconic roles. He was a man of contradictions, too — not only was he truly cultured, he was also a shameless hedonist. Also, he was an actor whose singing voice was quite pleasant, and whose sole top ten hit wasn't terrible.

That tune: 1968's "MacArthur Park," a sentimental ballad with a lovely melody, complemented by Harris' great vocal, but some pretty iffy lyrics: "Someone left the cake out in the rain / I don't think that I can take it' / Cause it took so long to bake it / And I'll never have that recipe again." The tune cracked the top ten in several countries, peaked at No. 2 in the U.S., and was later covered by the likes of Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, Glen Campbell, and Waylon Jennings (who scored a Grammy for his version). 

Oh, and it was also parodied by the great "Weird Al" Yankovic, whose version was titled (what else?) "Jurassic Park."

David Naughton, Makin' It

In the late '70s and early '80s, fresh-faced actor David Naughton was looking like the next It Dude in Hollywood. For four years, he graced the small screen as the center of an advertising campaign by Dr Pepper, for which he also sang the jingle; the campaign was popular enough that Naughton even toured around the country doing in-person appearances for the soft drink. 

It was during one of those tours that his agent informed him of a werewolf movie that was in the works from director John Landis, who was known for his comedies "The Blues Brothers" and "Animal House." Naughton landed a sit-down with Landis, and in an interview with The SF Site, he recalled that Landis was actually "an avid Pepper drinker. He was familiar with those commercials and he responded to having the interview with me." 

This is the unlikely route by which he landed the lead in the classic "An American Werewolf in London," and became the centerpiece in the single greatest practical effects sequence to have been accomplished to that time. A couple of years prior, though, Hollywood had tried to make Naughton happen on the small screen with "Makin' It," a disco-themed sitcom about a working-class dude inspired by "Saturday Night Fever." The series only lasted nine episodes, but its theme song — a godawful piece of work sung by Naughton — had far more staying power, riding the charts for months and peaking at No. 5. 

Bruce Willis, Respect Yourself

Long before country superstar Garth Brooks' infamous Chris Gaines phase, beloved actor Bruce Willis pulled the "pop star alter ego" trick while in the middle of the five-season run of "Moonlighting," the TV series that made him a star. In 1987, he released an album consisting mostly of R&B covers entitled "The Return of Bruno," which was framed as the comeback record for the legendary, totally fictional crooner Bruno Radolini. The platter was accompanied by a mockumentary on his legendary career, and Willis even somehow to a slew of actual rock superstars to participate, with the likes of Ringo Starr, Elton John, and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson all gushing over Bruno's influence on their music.

The record was surprisingly successful, peaking at No. 14 on the album chart — and its lead single, a cover of the Staple Singers' hit "Respect Yourself," which featured June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, climbed all the way to No. 5. A pair of follow-up singles, "Young Blood" and "Under the Boardwalk" stalled out in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, but that doesn't make Willis' achievement any less impressive. Come on — the dude visited the top ten in between holding down a smash hit TV series and starring in the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

Patrick Swayze, She's Like the Wind

Given the late, great Patrick Swayze's swaggering charisma, hunky image, and action bonafides, one could be forgiven for thinking that his foray onto the pop music scene was carefully calibrated to capitalize on his movie fame. This, however, was not exactly the case. Swayze earnestly loved music, and though he never seemed to really have any aspirations to prove his musical mettle, he wrote and sang tunes apparently just because he wanted to. 

With songwriter Stacy Widelitz, he co-wrote one of those tunes, "She's Like the Wind," to be considered for the soundtrack of his 1984 feature "Grandview, U.S.A." It didn't make the cut, but this turned out to be a good thing. The song, sung by Swayze with additional vocals by Libewitz's girlfriend Wendy Fraser, eventually turned up on the soundtrack to the ginormous smash hit 1987 flick "Dirty Dancing," which gave it a bit more of a high-profile showcase. On a paltry $6 million budget, the film grossed a staggering $214 million worldwide, blasting Swayze's career into the stratosphere. 

"She's Like the Wind" rocketed all the way to No. 3 on the Hot 100, and reached the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. It wasn't the last time Swayze would pen tunes for his movies, but it was definitely the most notable — and it's tough to deny that his singing voice is not half bad, and the tune is actually pretty darned great.

Mark Wahlberg, Good Vibrations and Wildside

It can be easy to forget that Very Famous Actor Mark Wahlberg is the kid brother of Donnie Wahlberg, one of those New Kids On the Block and a darned fine actor in his own right. It can be even easier to forget, or perhaps we just really want to, that his first foray into fame wasn't on the silver screen — it was as bare-chested, backwards ball cap-wearing, dance-y rap guy Marky Mark, the fearless leader of the Funky Bunch, a bunch of guys whose job description was apparently standing behind Marky Mark ... funkily. 

Wahlberg's breakthrough single "Good Vibrations" soared straight to No. 1 in 1991, and the follow-up — the shamelessly Lou Reed-jacking "Wildside" — made it to No. 10. Given the lightweight nature of Marky's funky rap tunes, it can certainly be argued that the fact that he was related to a New Kid and had a hunky bod had more than a little to do with his success. Indeed, he initially parlayed the exposure (of his hunky bod) into a gig as a Calvin Klein underwear model. 

But then, a funny thing happened — he turned up in a few movies and acquitted himself well, earning critical accolades for his role in "The Basketball Diaries," before appearing as the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 masterpiece "Boogie Nights." A quarter-century, two Oscar nominations, and a distinguished Hollywood career later, Marky Mark is all but forgotten — except by those of us who still feel the vibrations.

Leighton Meester, Good Girls Go Bad

For a few years in the early 2010s, the EDM-tinged rock outfit Cobra Starship was all over the radio, releasing four albums and scoring a pair of top ten singles. The first of those, 2009's "Good Girls Gone Bad," featured a female vocalist with a distinctive tone that seemed perhaps a bit out of place on the ultra-peppy track, and fans could be forgiven for doing a double-take when she showed up in the video: it was none other than Leighton Meester, whose hit TV series "Gossip Girl" was right in the middle of its six-season run.

The tune peaked at No. 7, which has to be a little bittersweet for Meester. As it turns out, she's quite a talented singer and songwriter — and when it came time to take a stab at a music career of her own, the result was about as far away from the bubblegum rock of Cobra Starship as one could get. She released her solo album, "Heartstrings," a folk-rock record influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, in 2014 — and it failed to even make a single dent in the pop chart, which is an absolute crime, because it is actually freaking incredible.

Don Johnson, Heartbeat

There are unconventional paths to rock stardom, and then there is the one taken by Don Johnson, the man who made pastel shirts and five o'clock shadow fashionable as one of the leads of the iconic '80s TV series "Miami Vice." As a young man in the '70s, he was an actor paying his dues in TV movies, but aspired to be a rock star; he hung out with the likes of Frank Zappa, the Doors, and the Allman Brothers Band, and even co-wrote a tune, "Can't Take It With You," for that outfit's 1979 platter "Enlightened Rogues."

In 1984, he landed the role of Sonny Crockett on "Miami Vice," and suddenly found himself super-famous. Then, at a party, he bumped into CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff, and got into his ear about his musical aspirations. Yetnikoff listened, nodded, and signed Johnson, then 36 years old, to a record deal right then and there.

Johnson dropped his album, "Heartbeat," in 1986 — and, stacked as it was with contributions from the likes of Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, it did pretty well, despite the stigma associated with actors who tried to rock. (It helped that Johnson was a pretty decent singer.) The title track went all the way to No. 5, but after his second LP, 1989's "Let It Roll," failed to make an impression, Johnson quit the music game while he was ahead.

Anna Kendrick, Cups

The 2012 musical comedy "Pitch Perfect," which concerns the relationships between the members of an all-female college acapella group as they strive for tournament glory, was a surprising hit. It grossed $115 million globally and raised the profile of the talented Anna Kendrick, who led its ensemble cast. The film's box office legs were thanks in large part to its soundtrack, which went to No. 3 on the album chart — and the album's success was due in no small part to "Cups (When I'm Gone)," which Kendrick briefly performed in the film.

Kendrick told David Letterman on his late-night talk show, that because she "was a huge loser," she had been inspired to mimic the performance of the song released by British band Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009. This was an adaptation of a folk tune from the '30s, and garnered attention on YouTube due to its unique accompaniment — rhythmic tapping, slapping, and drumming on cups, hence the title. Kendrick taught herself to do it so well that the producers of "Pitch Perfect" insisted she perform it in the film. 

When a shortened version started taking off on the digital charts, Kendrick recorded a full version, complete with an innovative video — and after a slow but steady climb up the charts lasting 28 weeks, "Cups" peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Eddie Murphy, Party All the Time

When you're known for being one of the funniest people on Earth, people can be unsure of what to think when you drop your schtick and do literally anything with a straight face. This was certainly the case with the lone top ten hit by Eddie Murphy, who in the '80s could simply walk into a room and induce belly laughs. His Rick James-produced dance pop tune, 1985's "Party All The Time," was certainly serviceable enough. The song sounded like anything you might hear by, say, one of the seemingly dozens of artists whom Prince sponsored during the period. But as soon as you knew it was Murphy, you were waiting for a punchline that never came; that's what happens when you're naturally hilarious, and your previous musical foray was the 1982 novelty rap classic "Boogie In Your Butt."

As it turned out, Prince actually did sit in on a few sessions for what became Eddie's debut LP as a straight pop artist, "How Could It Be," before his onetime rival James swooped in — accompanied by ultra-heavy hitters like Stevie Wonder and Nile Rodgers, who also produced tracks. While "Party" went all the way to No. 2, the second single — the unfortunately hilariously-titled "Put Your Mouth On Me" — went nowhere, and his pair of follow-up LPs (yes, he released two more albums) barely registered a blip on the radar.

Bradley Cooper, Shallow

Before the 2018 edition of "A Star Is Born" — of which there have been three previous film iterations — it's safe to say that not many people knew that Bradley Cooper could sing and play guitar. Cooper was known mostly for starring in comedies, both of the romantic and non-romantic variety, and for being the voice of everyone's favorite gun-toting, prosthetic limb-obsessed raccoon, Rocket, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But with "A Star is Born," Cooper surprised a lot of folks; making his directorial debut, he starred as Jackson Maine, a washed-up country artist who discovers Lady Gaga's singer-songwriter Ally in a drag bar and mentors her to stardom. Cooper held his own musically with Gaga, and the flick's signature song — the melodramatic ballad "Shallow" — became a smash hit.

In fact, the tune went to No. 1 and scored Gaga an Oscar for Best Original Song — and its pop culture profile was raised further by Cooper and Gaga's performance at the Academy Awards, which was so intimate as to cause widespread speculation as to whether they might be a real-life item. Cooper shot that speculation down, though, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, explaining that his decision to essentially perform in character was to help ease his stage fright. "They kind of fall in love in that scene in the film," he said. "It would have been so weird if we were both on stools facing the audience."

Vicki Lawrence, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

One can hardly mention comedy legend Carol Burnett without mentioning her faithful sidekick, Vicki Lawrence, who appeared early and often throughout the entire eleven-season run of "The Carol Burnett Show" from 1967 to 1978. Lawrence created a metric ton of characters over the course of the show, one of which — Thelma Harper, or simply "Mama" — was popular enough to spin off into her own sitcom, "Mama's Family," which ran for six seasons in the '80s. Lawrence could be seen as Burnett's comedy soulmate, but in 1973 — right in the middle of her run on her friend's series — she surprised everybody by dropping one of the weirdest No. 1 hit singles of all time.

That tune was "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," penned by songwriter Bobby Russell. The song is a countrified ballad about a man wrongly convicted of murdering a man — with whom his wife had been having an affair. Russell himself wasn't a big fan of the song, but he happened to be married to Lawrence at the time, and she was. Her recording debuted at No. 100 before rising slowly but surely all the way to the top; a 1991 version by Reba McEntire went to No. 12 on the country chart, and the tune even served as the (very loose) inspiration for a 1981 film of the same name.

David Soul, Don't Give Up On Us

David Soul is best known for starring opposite Paul Michael Glaser in the beloved '70s action series "Starsky and Hutch," but his first ambition was to become a musician — and his first stab at this was very odd, indeed. After a demo tape of folk songs got him signed to the legendary William Morris Agency in 1965, he donned a ski mask and, calling himself "The Covered Man" (because he wanted to be known only for his music, you see), began making appearances on "The Merv Griffin Show" to promote his tunes. That schtick wore thin pretty quickly, and — evidently deciding he should probably take advantage of that handsome face, after all — he got into television acting in the late '60s.

After "Starsky and Hutch" became a cultural phenomenon, Soul was able to parlay his newfound super-fame into a recording contract, releasing two albums during the series' run — and, lo and behold, the dude could actually sing quite well. His debut single, the tender ballad "Don't Give Up On Us," went to No. 1 in 1977 — and while subsequent singles stalled out around the middle of the Hot 100, he would go on to record three more LPs, setting a standard for actors who are truly serious about their music.