Famous Figures You Didn't Know Were Twins

Twinning is fairly straightforward, occurring either when a fertilized egg splits (identical twins) or when the mother releases two egg cells simultaneously (fraternal twins). And if an article in The Guardian has any say, 2021 is the year of the twin. In fact, never before have twin birth rates been so high across the globe. Why? When left to nature, twinning is fairly rare, perhaps just 2-3% of births, but the advent of In vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility therapies in the 1980s sent twin rates skyrocketing. Today, one in 42 people is a twin.

But however they were conceived, some of those twins are pretty famous. From Hollywood to politics to even religion, twins loom large in the world. But you may be very surprised as to who they are.

St. Thomas and Jesus: A Gnostic Mystery

St. Thomas the Apostle, aka "Doubting Thomas," is famed for being so disbelieving of the resurrection of Christ that he unceremoniously poked Jesus in the side where he got stabbed while crucified. But Thomas also comes with a mystery attached. He had a twin. And it could have been Jesus.

As stated by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the name "Thomas" comes from the Hebrew word ta'am, which literally means "twin." This is an odd name for anyone if they are not a twin, yet the Bible never says who this sibling is. Here is where the Gnostics come in.

A long-lost sect, this branch of mystic Christianity burst onto the world scene again when the Nag Hammadi Library, essentially the Gnostic Bible, was discovered in 1945. Among the findings was the "Book of Thomas the Contender" that contains a passage where Jesus refers to Thomas as "my twin." That put a lot of history into context, ranging from Thomas' sibling to why early church fathers Origen and Tertullian so vigorously declared Gnosticism a heresy. Today, no other branch of Christianity accepts the idea Jesus had a twin, leaving open the question who the twin of St. Thomas was. Again.

Lucilla and Gemellus Lucillae: Fact and Fiction

If you ever watched the film "Gladiator," you've met Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla. Lucilla got a very democratic glow-up: In the movie, she was a stalwart figure whose republican ideals contrast the despotism of her incest-inclined brother, Emperor Commodus. Dreaming of Rome as a republic, she carefully plotted Commodus' assassination and lived to tell. In reality, she was a former empress (not democratic) and was killed (not careful). For his part, her twin Gemellus missed the party, having died as a toddler.

According to Cassius Dio in Book 73 of his "History of Rome," Lucilla was daughter of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and empress until her husband Lucius Verus, co-ruler with her father, died. When Aurelius died in 180 C.E., Commodus took the throne, and power-hungry Lucilla swung into full fratricide mode. No fan of the megalomaniacal Commodus, Dio is equally harsh with Lucilla, recording she "detested her [new] husband, Pompeianus. It was for this reason that she persuaded him to make the attack upon Commodus; and she not only caused his destruction but was herself detected and put out of the way." That is, she was executed. 

The premature death of Gemellus is assumed natural, and somewhat "normal." A 1998 report of yearly infant mortality in the Roman Empire estimates 400 out of 1,000 children died in infancy.

Princesses Marie Louise Élisabeth and Anne Henriette of France: Girl Power

Princesses Marie Louise Élisabeth and her fraternal twin, Henriette, were born in 1727 as the eldest daughters of King Louis XV of France, writes historian Catherine Curzon. Élisabeth was a true alpha, and she dutifully acquiesced to a political marriage with Prince Philip of Spain, which infuriated her (Philip was only third in line to the Spanish throne). As historian Louis Therese Latour noted in "Princesses, Ladies, and Salonnières of the Reign of Louis XV," Élisabeth displayed a "scornful grimace" at a marriage with no prospects.

But instead of sabotaging the union, she used it as a lookout. First Frenchifying Philip, Élisabeth then created a network of allies in Spain and France to inveigle her and her husband a throne for themselves. The politcking worked: After the War of Austrian Succession left a number of Italian duchies up for grabs, the nimble Élisabeth took Parma. Along with Philip, she founded the still-living House of Bourbon-Parma in 1749 and ruled the duchy till her death in 1759.

Henriette, the most well-placed set of eyes and ears for Élisabeth at the French court, was more of a beta. Maturing into a beautiful but melancholic woman, she never married. She died in 1752 from smallpox at age 24.

The Liberace Twins: Rhinestones Squared?

It is a classic case of what could have been: Liberace, the result of a head-on collision of talent, theater, and poofy pink ostrich plumes, had an identical twin brother who died at birth in 1919, reports Vulture. Just imagine the extravaganza to be seen if Liberace had been a duet.

If you look beyond the glitter that would become his trademark, Liberace was one of the 20th century's great musical prodigies, taking up piano at age 4. The Guinness Book of World Records states Liberace was the highest-paid pianist in a single 26-week season, earning more than $2 million, with a high of $138,000 for a single night's performance at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1954. Liberace's identical twin could have been just as musically talented.

The two brothers could have even run interference for each other at a time when being gay was illegal. In her autobiography, "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch," Alison Arngrim, who played devil-child Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie" and whose father managed the showman, noted Liberace's purposely crafted cartoon of a persona was so extreme, it obliterated his sexuality.

"It was genius," she remembers.

Gisele and Patricia Bündchen: Dreams Do Come True

Here's a male fantasy for the ages: Yes, supermodel Gisele Bündchen does indeed have a twin sister. For that matter, she has five other sisters. Just let that sink in.

Fraternal twins Gisele and Patricia were born in 1980 in Brazil, notes Biography. Making a name for herself in the 1990s, Gisele made history in 2000 when she landed a contract with Victoria's Secret for a jaw-dropping $25 million. Forbes.com can't stop gushing about her: She was the 16th richest woman in the industry in 2007, the world's top model in 2012 (and several other years), and the 89th most powerful woman in media and entertainment as of 2014. But she is not just a pretty face; she designs a line of sandals, launched a water conservation and plant recovery effort in her home country, and serves as an ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. And she has enough acting chops to hold her own in "The Devil Wears Prada." 

Younger (and somewhat shyer) sister Patricia is part of her sister's success behind the scenes. TheThings reports she acts as Gisele's manager and spokesperson and works in Intimates, Gisele's lingerie company.

Ed and Daniel Sullivan: Toast of the Town

That a man so associated with Americana like Ed Sullivan would have unknowns attached seems unlikely, but yes, the man who practically wrote the script for variety and talk shows did indeed have a twin, Daniel. Unfortunately, the other Sullivan twin was born sickly in 1901 — an age when prenatal care was not advanced. Daniel died a few months after his birth, leaving Ed in the spotlight alone. 

Ed, according to Biography, started out in journalism and radio in the 1920s and had originally aimed to be a Hollywood star. Instead, he found fame as a television host. While he did not become a "star" in the stage and screen sense, he certainly had the power to create them. Starting under the name "Toast of the Town" in 1948, "The Ed Sullivan Show" was one of the most influential outlets for disseminating world pop culture ever, introducing Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Supremes (among others) to the airwaves at a time when many of those acts still drew a blank among audiences. Keenly aware of his popularity, Ed used his gravitas to showcase African-American performers, Nat King Cole and Pearl Bailey among them, in spite of the protests from sponsors at the time.

Kofi and Efua Annan: Changing Times

Born in the British colony of the Gold Coast in 1938 and coming of age when independence was declared and the Gold Coast became modern Ghana in 1957, the Annan twins came from one of the most aristocratic and politically connected families in the region (via Biography). Perhaps it was a political prophecy that Kofi Annan became the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations in 1997, according to the United Nations, after an established career in diplomacy with that organization. Gravely aware that his and the U.N.'s lack of action in the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia failed both nations, The Atlantic reported Kofi changed his entire worldview and worked towards what would become the U.N. Security Council's endorsement of the "Responsibility to Protect" in 2005. The resolution enforced three principle responsibilities of the U.N. in conflicts: to prevent, react, and rebuild.

Kofi passed away in 2018. As reported by The Hill, at his memorial it was said that his peace-making tendencies came from being a twin, due to the Ghanaian belief that twins are "naturally accommodating because they have to share a womb." Far less politically inclined than her brother, Efua lived quietly and died in 1991, reports CNN, an event that deeply saddened Kofi. The two shared the same middle name, Atta, which in the Akan language means "twin."

Jim and Charlie Thorpe: Native Pride

Jim Thorpe and twin brother Charlie Thorpe belonged to the Sac and Fox Nation. Unfortunately, they were born in 1887, when white America had a word for all Native Americans: "assimilation." According to Biography, the Thorpe twins were sent to an Indian Residential School to be "civilized." It was also where Charlie died of pneumonia at age 9.

But what no school could teach was Jim's natural physical prowess. A skilled hunter and trapper as a child, Jim — real name Wa-Tho-Huk, meaning "Bright Path" — translated his abilities into athletics, becoming a juggernaut. In fact, he mastered almost every sport he touched. At the 1912 Olympics, Jim took the gold in pentathlon and decathlon. As reported in a retrospective on CNN, King Gustav V of Sweden declared, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."

"Thanks, King," Jim replied. (Jim lost both medals due to violation of the games' amateurs-only rule because of his professional baseball career; the credit was restored posthumously). 

Jim continued in baseball, basketball, and football until his retirement at 41. According to Tulsa World, Jim attributed his strength to his twin. "He told me one time that he thought one of the reasons he had all of his energy is because he was a twin and his twin wasn't as strong as he was. He thought he might have gotten a little extra energy," said Grace Thorpe, one of Jim Thorpe's seven children, to the newspaper in 1992.

Dear Abby and Ann Landers: A Literary Sisterhood

The identical twins born Pauline Esther Friedman and Esther Pauline Friedman would become the American go-to-guides for good advice. Evolving with the times, the two deftly navigated topics as ancient as love and loss to societal hot potatoes, including civil rights, women's liberation, and LGBTQ equality.

Called "the most influential woman in the United States," reports New York Times, Esther, aka Ann Landers, never actually went by "Ann Landers." According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Esther took over the "Ask Ann Landers" column in the Chicago Sun Times from Ruth Crowley in 1955, becoming synonymous with the pseudonym. So much so in fact, that when Esther passed away in 2002 there were calls for the column to end. Instead, there are now two "Ann Landers" – AnnLanders.com (run by Esther's daughter Margo Howard) and Annie's Mailbox, run by Esther's former editors, Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar.

Starting the year after her sister, Pauline, aka Dear Abby, did create "Abigail Van Buren," both the column and name (a combination of the biblical Abigail and President Martin Van Buren). As reported by CNN, when Pauline died in 2013, "Dear Abby" was the most widely syndicated newspaper column on Earth, running in 1,400 newspapers and with a whopping 110 million readers. The column lives on, however; daughter Jeanne Phillips took the reins in 2000.

Vin Diesel and Paul Vincent: Night and Day

It is a common anecdote that twins can represent two sides of the same coin — one is an extrovert, the other is retiring, and so on. This describes Vin Diesel (born Mark Vincent) and his fraternal twin Paul Vincent to a T. Whereas one can be counted on to be in at least one summer blockbuster virtually every year, the other is so private as to be something of a mystery. 

Diesel needs no introduction. He is a genuine Hollywood heavyweight. Starring in 54 films (and counting) and producing another 30, he won praise for everything from his physique in "Pitch Black" to his stunts in the "Fast & Furious" franchise to his instantly recognizable voice in "Guardians of the Galaxy." Multiethnic son of an astrologer and father he never met, notes Biography, Diesel first worked as a bouncer while producing indie pics on the side. According to Yahoo Entertainment, it was his work in 1995's "Multi-Facial" (about a multiethnic actor) that got him noticed by Steven Spielberg. The rest is entertainment history.

His brother, on the other hand, is perfectly content not to ride Vin Diesel's coattails, despite a 2015 media frenzy to find "Twin Diesel." While Paul did work as a film editor on "Multi-Facial," Vin's brother lives out of the spotlight and likes it that way.

Elvis and Jesse Presley: Brotherly Love ... And Loss

Elvis Presley would talk often of his identical twin Jesse who died at birth, not an uncommon tragedy in 1935, when medical technology was basic, and among the very poor, which the Presley's were. According to an article on TheThings, by entertainment writer Hannah Wigandt, older brother Jesse was stillborn 35 minutes before Elvis came into the world. Unable to afford any of the accoutrements of a proper funeral (a coffin, cemetery plot, or proper gravestone), the family buried little Jessie in a shoebox in Priceville Memorial Gardens in Tupelo, Mississippi, under an unhewn stone marker, not far from the graves of the twins' uncle and aunt.

For all his stage presence and public confidence, the King of Rock and Roll would, for the rest of his life, suffer a private melancholy that sources frame as a form of survivor's guilt. In fact, there is a depression unique to twins called "twinless twin syndrome." Some surmise The King's drive and flouting of public decency was a delayed reaction to Jesse's death, a way for Elvis to make it out of the external circumstances that at least contributed to the loss of his twin and fill a hole that could never be filled.

Linda and Leslie Hamilton: Terminator Twins

Praised as one of the few sequels to be as good as or even surpass the original movie, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" also earned props for its innovative CGI effects for the T-1000, a time-traveling killing machine made of liquid metal that could mimic objects and even people with pin-point accuracy. What better way to sneak up and kill John Conner, the man destined to save humanity from a future of homicidal robots? But fans will notice that actress Linda Hamilton, who played John's mother, the indomitable Sarah Conner, accomplished some fancy optics herself by appearing in two different places in the same frame at the same time. To pull that off, the special effects team relied not on technology, but biology. They asked Linda's identical twin sister to step in.

Leslie Hamilton appears four times in "Terminator 2": the apocalyptic playground dream sequence, the CPU reprogramming scene (Leslie is the reflection in the mirror), dining outside the Cactus Jack diner, and the action-packed finale when the T-1000 took the form of Sarah in order to lure John to his doom, only to be nearly shot to pieces by the real Sarah. Yes, one Hamilton sister took out the other. A nurse by trade, Leslie sadly passed away in 2020, reports Today.

Heracles and Iphicles: Who's Your Daddy?

Everybody knows Heracles (also Hercules) – he's the semi-divine hero of the Twelve Labors, paragon of the Grecian masculine ideal, and prone to inconvenient fits of murderous rage thanks to the goddess Hera who really had it in for the guy, notes Mythology Source. As for his twin, Iphicles, well, he wouldn't be the first younger brother to be overshadowed by his elder. The poor guy didn't even get any divine by-blow from being in close quarters with a half-god for nine months. At least Hera left him alone.

The historicity of these two is iffy at best (genealogical sources estimate they were born around 1286 B.C.), but somebody had to kick off myth. Moreover, the brothers deserve an honorable mention because they represent an unlikely form of twinning: fraternal twins by different fathers. In the story, Alcmene was "visited" by the god Zeus in the guise of her husband Amphitryon and conceived Heracles (hence the ire of Hera, as she was Zeus' much cheated-upon wife). Some hours later, the real Amphitryon sired Iphicles. 

In reality, this is a documented biological event called heteropaternal superfecundation – the mother releases two egg cells a few days apart, just long enough for two different men to fertilize one of the ovums independently of the other.