For a lesser person, being known as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” may be a lot to live up to. However, Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who originally portrayed this Dos Equis pitchman, has risen to the occasion, as his real life is just about as interesting as his former alter ego. He is a world traveler, life saver, author, playwright, fisherman and more.
Goldsmith, 78, was born in New York. He left home at 17 to pursue an acting career. He got his start in theater. In 1966, he moved to Los Angeles for more opportunities in film and TV. He has more than 350 television appearances over his long career. He found himself in 25 western films, including John Wayne’s last one, The Shootist, in 1976, where he played a villain who was shot and killed by J.B. Books. He got the role of Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in 2006 and would go on to play him for the next 10 years.
On June 13, his memoir Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing was published by Penguin Random House. In it, he discusses his action-packed professional and personal journey, his bromance with President Barack Obama, some great celebrity anecdotes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Jordan, Warren Beatty, and more, and his own adventures and how he had saved the lives of more than one person.
Jonathan Goldsmith spoke with Michelle Tompkins for the Inquisitr about his life, his early work, what it was like to work with John Wayne, how he likes to spend his time, his charity work, how he got the role of “Dos Equis’ “The World’s Most Interesting Man,” which of the ads was his favorite, his new book Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing, what he is doing now, his new partnerships with Astral tequila and Luma WiFi, and more.
Michelle Tompkins: What’s new with you?
Jonathan Goldsmith: Oh, what’s new with me? I just came back from California on a press tour about the book, which was great and exhausting. I came in late last night. So it’s been a very busy time and a good time for me.
MT: Where are you from?
JG: I’m from New York originally. Spent 45 years in LA. Moved to Vermont seven years ago, which is where I’m talking to you from.
MT: And so you live in Vermont now?
JG: I do. Yes. I do.
MT: Can you please tell me a little bit about your childhood and early background?
JG: Oh, great. Sure I can. My father was physical education teacher of note. He was very, very successful. My mother was a high fashion model. Also successful. So successful that they split up when I was five. Lived all over the Eastern Coast as my mother traveled a lot, and settled eventually back in New York then on to Westchester County. I had a very tempestuous youth and not a very great relationship with my mother and my stepfather, and my father was my champion, and that’s what this book is all about. It’s really a love affair between myself and my father, and I have 19 children and grandchildren– grandchildren and great grandchildren, excuse me, and this is kind of my introduction to the man whose blood runs through their genes that they never met. My father.
MT: Well, I’m sorry that they weren’t able to meet him. Tell me about him.
JG: Oh, so was I. He was a great fellow. Never thought he was a successful man, but indeed he was. He taught in James Monroe High School in Fort Apache, a very poor and rough section, and he dedicated his life to helping kids, particularly at-risk kids, and I’ve been doing that since I was 18 years of age. He never felt that he was a very successful fellow, but years after he retired he was given a dinner at a very swanky East Side restaurant, and many of these young men from the slums, the poorest of the poor, went on to become doctors, lawyers, judges, and successful people. So indeed he was successful, and he certainly was to me. He was my hero. He gave me all I needed to proceed in a very difficult field. A field absolutely filled with rejection and close calls as an actor, and maybes, and almosts, and ands, and ifs, and buts, and because of his influence in my life, I stayed the course, and that’s what this book is about. It’s about surviving difficulties, and going on to realize one’s dreams because you never ever quit.
MT: You said 19 children and grandchildren?
JG: 19 grandchildren and great grandchildren. I have five kids.
MT: Five kids. Okay. And what is the age range of your children, if you don’t mind?
JG: Sure. I don’t mind. Thirty-three to 47.
MT: Okay. Wow. Big family. That’s great.
JG: Well, everybody needs a hobby [laughter].
MT: How did you decide that you wanted to be an actor?
JG: Well, I didn’t decide. I was dropped out of NYU, had a difficult time at school, didn’t know what I wanted to do, partied too much, drank too much, caroused too much. My father took me to a psychiatrist to, hopefully, give me some direction, a very famous, well-known psychiatrist, hard to see. But my father had a contact. And he said, “I want you to come back, next week. You will meet somebody that can change your life.” I came back, the next week, and here was a very strange, effete-looking fellow in a beret and sunglasses and a long, filtered cigarette. And he was a famous director. And he talked to me, and he went out. Doctor came back in. He said, “My friend, I will take you as a patient, as long as you go and take a course at the Living Theatre.” I says, “What’s that?” And he says, “It’s a place, where I think you will find something important for you.” I didn’t realize that the Living Theatre was the forerunner of all avant-garde theater in this country. They were doing Ionesco and [Jenae?] and William Carlos Williams. And I went there, reluctantly. The only time I ever stepped on a stage, I was 13, and I played a woman in summer camp, and this was not what I had planned for my life. And I did an improvisation, the first one, and I got, for the first time in my life, applause. Well, that set me on the road.
MT: Now, what was your first professional gig?
JG: Well, I guess that would be summer stock, with Upon the Kate down in Kennebunkport, in Maine. I toured with Martha Scott in a play.
MT: Do you have any thoughts about returning to the theater one day?
JG: Oh, sure. I’d like to. In fact, I’m presently writing two plays. Sure, I’d like to do that. Then I went on the Broadway. I was in Night of the Iguana, a Tennessee Williams play and Sombrero Playhouse in Arizona, a very prestigious play, written by William Inge, the author of Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Did over 350 starring roles, subsequently, on television and in films.
Working with John Wayne
MT: Is it true that you worked with John Wayne?
JG: Yeah, I did The Shootist. Cute story about that. It was his last picture. I played a young gunslinger that wanted to take on the legend. I crashed through the window in the boarding house. He shot me. I went down, but I wasn’t dead. He then proceeded to spend the afternoon shooting me in the head, and each time he did, a prop man would shoot a blood cap, so that would leave me a mess, with a welt. And after seven of them, I had a massive headache. I’m laying on the floor. The director came over and says, “What are they paying you, kid?” And he doubled it the next day, and he said, “If it’s any consolation, everybody the Duke shoots becomes a star [laughter].” And 40 years later, he was right.
The audition for Dos Equis’ “The World’s Most Interesting Man”
MT: Now, how did Dos Equis come to you?
JG: Well, I got a call. I had been out of the business for 10 years and out of Hollywood. And it’s a very special out-of-sight, out-of-mind feeling. It’s very cold, and it’s very difficult. Nobody knew me. And I went through some financial difficulties. I knew that I needed to go back to the theater, to the movies, film. And nobody would handle me but one lovely, young lady, who had a small boutique agency. And I was living in the High Sierras, up in the mountains. And she called me one day, and she said, “They’re looking for a Hemingway my character. I said, “What’s it all about?” She says, “Well, I don’t really know. I don’t think they know.” I said, “What’s the script?” She says, “There isn’t one. You have to do an improvisation that starts and ends with the line, ‘And that’s how I arm-wrestled Fidel Castro.'” Wonderful [laughter]. Drove down in my yellow truck, was going through financial difficulty, slept in the back of it in an empty campground after the season. Spent a listless night wondering if I still had it, if I ever had it, could I make them laugh again? Went to the audition and there were four or five hundred other fellows that all looked like John Wayne, excuse me, Juan Valdez, the coffee merchant–
MT: Now that is different.
JG: Yeah, and I said, “No, they’re looking for a Latino,” and they were all 20, 30 years younger than I was. I said, “What a mistake.” I went into an empty room. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just thought, “Well, of course, it’s so close,” I hadn’t thought about it. Think of Fernando Lamas, my dear friend that departed 10 years earlier from the Earth, and great [inaudible], and I copied his voice, my imitation of it. I went into this empty room and spoke to a wall. They were all back in New York, their producer, and the client, etc., etc. And they asked me about my life and I started to stream this BS stream of consciousness on and on. They asked me about what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I said, “Well, I started out I wanted to be a white hunter and by the time I reached fourth grade, I wanted to be an OB-GYN.” They laughed, they kept laughing. I kept talking. 45 minutes I left and I called Barbara, my agent, who is now my wife, I said, “Honey, we wasted time. Mine, theirs, yours. They’re not looking for me, they want a Latino about 30 years of age.” I wasn’t 20, 30, 40, 50; I was almost 70. She said, “Well, you gave it a good shot.” Three months went by, they were looking in South America, they were looking in Mexico, all the major markets here. We got a call one day and the casting director said, “Barbara, they really liked Johnathan but they feel they have to go younger.” And she paused and she said, “Joe, how can the most interesting man in the world be young? You need age to have life experience.” He said, “I’ll call you back.” And he called back and said, “It’s his role.” So Barbara became my wife and manager.
MT: Now, do you have a favorite? I think the Dos Equis commercials, especially with you in it, were some of the best ads I’ve ever seen. Do you have any favorite lines?
JG: Oh, yeah. I have one favorite line. There’s a lot of them that are so good but the one I like the most was, “He once warned a psychic.”
MT: I like, “In museums, he’s allowed to touch the art.” “His mom has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son’.”
JG: There’s a lot of good ones. I got all these–
MT: That was great. Do you drink Dos Equis?
JG: No. I drink tequila. During the time I was with the campaign that’s all I could drink in public if it was beer. But they sent me to Mars and I came back with a very, very special tequila; it’s called Astral, A-S-T-R-A-L, and it is marvelous. So marvelous that I took an equity position in the company and I am now involved in launching this great tequila, and very happy to do it. Also, I’m doing another company; it’s called Luma which has a high-speed WiFi system and great protection which I think is terribly important. With all the grandkids I have, I want to keep them safe from the bad stuff that happens to come on the internet from time to time in case you didn’t know. So those are the things that I’m working on now.
MT: Okay. Thank you. You have two other business ventures. Now, back to Dos Equis for a moment, how long did you play the part?
JG: I did that for nine years.
MT: Now, is there any chance of you going back to it? Because the new ads really aren’t the same without you.
JG: Well, thank you. No, there is no chance of me going back to it that I know of. No.
MT: When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?
JG: I like to fish, and that’s what I’m doing tomorrow morning. I’ve got a boat and a beautiful lake right near my house, and that’s the most enjoyable thing I can do next to gardening. I’ve got a beautiful piece of property up here in Vermont with stone walls and lots of flowers surrounded by the Green Mountains. And I love being outside doing yard work.
MT: So how did you first get the idea to do your book?
JG: Well, I had been in Vietnam. I was involved with a charity called Mines Advisory Group or M-A-G, MAG. And our purpose was to locate and call attention to unexploded ordinates. There’s literally still hundreds of thousands of tons of these evil weapons that are just waiting to cripple, maim, and kill mostly children that find them and farmers that bump into them. So I was in Vietnam and I had a camera crew following me around. I did a Reddit from there. It was very well-received. When I came back, a young reporter came up to interview me from the Boston Globe. And afterwards, he said, “You have had a fascinating life. Have you ever thought about writing a book?” I said, “Well, not really.” I said, “Some people have asked me.” And at the same time, I was putting together things– I’m a hoarder and I have stuff going back to the very beginnings of my career. I have letters from my grandmother when I was five. I save everything. And I was trying to separate stuff from my kids. And I said, “Gee, what would be a better way than to write a book?” So I started to write. I didn’t know if I had it in me to write a book. I had always written poetry. And one memory led to another and that’s the reason I wrote this book. Also, because most of the grandkids, let alone the great-grandchildren have never met my father, and I wanted them to know something about this wonderful man in their genes.
MT: And what are some of your favorite anecdotes from the book? You met a lot of famous people.
JG: Yeah, I did. I think the highlights, of course, were saving two lives, one this man on Mount Whitney. Well, we don’t have too much more time, but I’ll just cut it as briefly as I can. I saved a young girl that was drowning in front of a lot of people. I had worked when I was 18-years-old at a camp for handicap children, and a lot of the kids had epilepsy and it was difficult to watch them in the pool. It’s hard to differentiate between a child at play and a child having an epileptic attack, but I knew what to look for. It was a crowded Sunday, thousands of people, and right in front of everybody, 10 feet from her family, this little girl was going up and down and I realized that she was drowning. Nobody else did, but I knew what to look for and pulled her out.
Years before that, I climbed Mount Whitney with another fellow. We were late climbing up to the top of the mountain. We had our equipment cached at halfway mark, so to acclimatize, we slept there. Climbed up to the top. On the way up, my toe was bothering me. I injured my toe carrying another epileptic child at that cap that was for the Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund for handicapped kids, and my toe kept us from being– prevented us from getting up too early to the top. We had to come down last, and on the way up, right before we hit the summit, an elderly man was walking down, ill-prepared, not dressed properly – it was late September – and had a speed graphic camera on his shoulder. And we found our stuff. It started to snow. We were going to make camp, and I said we can’t. That guy is out there in front of us is never going to make it through the night, particularly in the snowstorm, and he had the wrong equipment on him. We found him. He was delirious. We put him in my little sleeping bag. I got into the big sleeping bag with this other fellow. Tied a line around this fellow who was in a coma and thrashing around a little bit, delirious, and tied him to my arm. And the next day, sun came out, and we went down to Whitney Portal, where you check in, and there was a ranger and a litter going to get what we thought was this man. It was actually coming in to get us because we had signed in and the man did not, and so we saved his life, too. That’s two. And there was another one, but it’s too long a story.
His bromance with President Obama
The eloquence, charm, & intelligence of my friend President Obama will be dearly missed. His beautiful heart & humor will always be remembered, as well as his contributions to America & his inspiration across the world. #farewell #farewellobama #barackobama #america #jonathangoldsmith aka #mostinterestingmanintheworld #stayinteresting
MT: That’s a very interesting life you’ve led. And you also met many celebrities and accomplished many things.
JG: Well, the most important celebrity I ever met, my wife and I met Barack Obama when he was starting his second tour, and we had a nice and interesting dialogue. He seemed to be interested in the campaign. He took a lot of time. A 10-second photo op turned into 3 minutes of conversation, a delightful conversation. Six months later, I got a call from the White House, would I like to be part of a special [program?], a surprise for the president. It was his birthday. 10 of his best friends in the [inaudible], and I would be going to Camp David for the weekend. I said, of course, went to Camp David, and I met the president of the United States and had two glorious days doing all kinds of activities: archery, skeet shooting, basketball, bowling, and sat at his table. Sat right next to him for two days. Got to know him, and a very special fellow, and talked with him personally, intimately. He liked me, and I was just thrilled to be in his company. I was a big fan of his. And I saw him again at the White House Correspondents’ dinner.
And the way I end my book, I was invited by his photographer to have lunch at the White House mess, and I did. I never thought I would see the president because it was the day after the tragedy in Paris. Go up to the Oval Office to see– Pete asked me, the photographer, would I like to see the office? I said sure. Went up there. Incredible place. There’s Roosevelt’s chair for the fireside chats, Martin Luther King’s bust, a Remington sculpture, the desk, a gift from the Queen of England. Suddenly, the room is filled with energy, and I turn around. There’s the president of the United States. And I said, “Hey, what are you doing here?” And he says, “Hey, man, I work here [laughter].” He says, “What are you doing– what are you doing here?” I happened to have a cigar in my pocket. I said, “I came to give you this.” I said, “And you?” He says, “Well, I came to give you this.” He gave me a little blue box with some gold presidential cufflinks in it, and I said, “Thank you.” And he said, “Okay.” And a hug, and he was gone. And I end the book talking about what that little blue box meant to me, what life means to me – it’s the experience – what my personal credo is. And I’m talking fast because I don’t have much more time.
MT: I have only a couple more things.
JG: Okay. Life is like a parade, and if you’re like most people, you watch it go by. You don’t participate. You live vicariously for those that are brave enough to get in their own parade. It’s your journey. Join it. What are your other two questions, Michelle?
MT: How do you like your fans to connect with you?
JG: Oh. Great. Thank you for asking. Stay_interesting, that’s my Instagram, and my Facebook is under my name.
MY: Okay. I’ll make sure that people do that. And then is there anything else you want to add?
JG: Well, all I want to do is tell you that I am a very proud chairperson for Make-A-Wish in the state of Vermont, and it’s something that’s very important to me. I’ve been working with at-risk children since I’ve been 18 years of age, and that’s the best thing about celebrity, is being able to call attention to the things you believe in, and care about, and have a way of giving back to. I would like to feel that I have contributed and not just taken the good that’s come my way.
MT: That’s very good advice and a good way for everyone to live.
JG: I think so. Yep. I think so.
MT: And the final thing I want to tell you is a reason why I wanted to do this interview so much is because you and my dad look alike [laughter]. I’m sure you have a lot of people tell you that, but you guys really do.
JG: I can’t tell you how many people show me pictures. Yeah. That’s great [laughter]. Give him my best. Just to my friends and fans out there, I thank them for their incredible support. And one door shut and 10 opened, and I’m really looking forward to my involvement as an ambassador for Astral Tequila and for Luna. They’re two great companies. I so believe in them. I have equity positions in them. And thank everybody for their support. It’s been overwhelming. I’m grateful.
To learn more about Jonathan Goldsmith, please follow him on social media and check out his book Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing.
[Featured Image by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP Images]