Terry Crews is the epitome of the Hollywood dream.
When he and his wife, Rebecca King-Crews, moved to Los Angeles in 1997, Crews had a job sweeping floors at a factory. But they would walk along Hollywood Boulevard, looking at the famous names embedded in stars on the concrete, and still marvel at how far they’d come.
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“We were like, ‘Can you believe it?’” Crews recalls. “When you’re from the Midwest, Hollywood was as far away as Mars. I just knew I was going to be in business somehow — I didn’t know it would be acting — but I knew I was going to be in it.”
Now, Crews is set to truly be a part of it when his own name will be emblazoned on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony at 11:30 a.m. July 30, which also happens to be his 53rd birthday. The star will be at 6201 Hollywood Blvd.
It’s a “surreal” moment for Crews, who will remind you time and again that he is a fan first. It’s the reason he feels passionately about each and every contestant he speaks to on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” the juggernaut competition show he’s hosted since 2019. He also can’t believe he’s been able to enjoy an eight-season run with what he calls “the best ensemble in the business” on that same network’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He is tickled he’s become part of Adam Sandler’s repertory players, having made six movies together. And he still can’t believe he got to stand alongside “the biggest and the best” action heroes, including Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in “The Expendables” movies. He does it all with an energy and openness that has endeared him to millions. Jokes his “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-star Samberg, “There’s nothing about Terry to know that’s not in one of his many books.”
Growing up in Flint, Mich., Crews’ love for the movies began when he was 11 years old and saw “Star Wars.” He adored “The Carol Burnett Show” and meticulously studied the timing of her crack ensemble. (He actually met Burnett a few years ago on the CBS Radford lot and was able to tell her, “You’re the reason I’m here.”) He was artistic from the start, gifted at drawing and playing the flute, but he also excelled at athletics.
After what Crews calls “a not very successful” career in the NFL where he “bounced around on six teams in seven years,” he retired from football. In 1996, he co-wrote and co-produced an indie feature in Detroit titled “Young Boys Incorporated.” It was, by his own admission, garbage. But it only furthered his interest in entertainment, and he made the move to Los Angeles. He landed his first gig playing a “character athlete” on the syndicated game show “Battle Dome,” an “American Gladiators”/WWE hybrid. While it wasn’t a glamorous experience, Crews fell in love with acting.
Proving there are no small parts, Crews began to stand out in a series of roles that led to bigger and bigger scene-stealing moments. Though he made his debut in the 2000 Schwarzenegger action pic “The 6th Day,” Crews actually credits what was essentially an extra role in 2001’s “Training Day” with a major impact. He was just visiting a friend on set when director Antoine Fuqua asked if he wanted to be in the movie. Playing an unnamed gang member, Crews stares down Denzel Washington in the iconic “King Kong ain’t got nothin’ on me” scene. The clip was played at the Oscars and Crews says, “I thought that was going to be the pinnacle of my career!”
Not by a long shot. Crews got to flex his talent for comedy as much as his pectorals. He sang “A Thousand Miles” to Marlon Wayans in “White Chicks” and went full throttle as President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Mike Judge’s eerily prescient “Idiocracy.”
Work begat more work. A role in “The Longest Yard” — his first collaboration with Sandler — not only led to many more films, but also introduced him to Chris Rock, who cast Crews as the TV father in the sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” which lasted four seasons, first on the former UPN network and then on The CW.
“When you’re around the greats, it really helps your career,” Crews notes. “I’ve been blessed to work with the best in business and it only makes you better. When you’re around people like Andy Samberg and Sandler and Chris Rock, you can’t lose. It’s like playing on Michael Jordan’s team — you’re going to get a ring.”
The joy and sweetness Crews exudes might seem at odds with his intimidating appearance — he stands at 6’2” and has been a bodybuilder for years. But that’s often the source of some of his best comedy.
On “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” where he plays Lt. Terry Jeffords, the writers get a kick out of showing him as a family man who is teased mercilessly by his young daughters, Cagney and Lacey.
Samberg, a producer and star of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” had never met Crews before working on the show, but he was already a fan. When the show creators mentioned him for the role, Samberg was not disappointed.
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“You just love him immediately,” Samberg says. “He walks in the room with the biggest, warmest personality and an innate sense of how to make people feel good and comfortable. He brings that energy everywhere he goes; that’s why everyone loves him so.”
And Samberg says that energy hasn’t waned in eight seasons. “Terry’s not just about a great first impression. He’s got that energy down all the way to our last episode.”
Crews is unabashed in his enthusiasm. It’s why he says he would have taken the job on “America’s Got Talent” for free, despite being repeatedly told by others not to say that on the record. Simon Cowell, executive producer and judge on the show, says the moment Crews’ name was mentioned for the
job, “I was absolutely thrilled and beyond excited to be working with him.”
3 Arts Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection
He adds, “Within five seconds of working with Terry, we hit if off and bounced off each other’s energy. He understands why and how the show works, always has lots of suggestions and ideas and always wants the show to be better every year. His energy levels are unbelievable — he gets there hours before us and always has full attention on the acts.”
The excitement was mutual and is still real, according to Crews. “I love each and every act that comes in there simply because they remind me of myself,” he raves. “They get up there and overcome their fear and tell their stories. And I get to be the ringleader. I’m not faking it; I’m there to be your bodyguard.”
Adds Cowell: “Terry loves people, he cares about the contestants, loves television, has a great sense of humor and loves attention and has an amazing empathy for the contestants.”
Perhaps Crews relates to their stories because he’s dealt with his own share of pain and struggles. He’s spoken openly about growing up with an abusive father and a pornography addiction that almost destroyed his marriage. He was named one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year: The Silence Breakers in 2017 after he went public about being groped by a powerful Hollywood agent. When he first spoke out about the assault in a searing Twitter thread, he really thought his career was over. But he was met with a wave of support, and he credits those who spoke out before him for paving the road.
“Because of the women of the #MeToo movement, I was able to continue my career,” he says. “There’s so many careers that just stopped and nobody knew why. So many people disappeared. But now it’s coming into the open and I didn’t face that same amount of stigma.”
It didn’t stop with that Twitter thread; Crews has continued to be a fierce advocate for survivors. In 2018, Crews spoke in support of the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Crews says he will talk about the experience in more depth in his upcoming book, “Tough,” which will be published next year. Similar to his 2014 memoir, “Manhood: How to Be a Better Man — or Just Live With One,” Crews says this will be a very upfront look at his journey.
“A lot has happened since ‘Manhood,’” he notes. “And I have a lot to say.”
Until then, Crews has the final season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on its way and will be heard in the animated film “Rumble” in 2022. And that’s when he’s not cheering on contestants on “America’s Got Talent” and its spin-off, “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.”
“I like to call myself the most thankful man in Hollywood,” he says. “Because I’m from Flint, Mich., I know where I could be right now. And I’m already living way above what I even expected. So, the honor is all my privilege. I’m going to continue to entertain until the last day. This is just the beginning.”
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