For the last 35 years, Tom Hanks has romanced, inspired, captivated and made the hearts of his audience laugh — both young and old alike. He’s known as “the nicest guy in Hollywood” but Tom Hanks’ early years were full of heartache and confusion, and his journey to fame wasn’t an easy one.
I’ve always loved Tom Hanks movies, but after learning more about his humble beginnings, my admiration for him as a fellow believer in Christ has greatly increased.
Thomas “Tom” Jeffrey Hanks was born on July 9, 1956, in Concord, California just a few miles from where I currently serve as pastor of The Vineyard Church – Mid Peninsula. Tom’s mother, Janet Marylyn (Frager), was a Portuguese hospital worker, and his father, Amos Mefford Hanks, was an itinerant cook whose parents were from the United Kingdom.
Tom had a very confusing and painful childhood. At only 5 years old, Tom’s parents split up and got divorced and Tom’s father moved him and his two older siblings, Sandra and Larry, to Reno, Nevada, while his younger brother, Jim, remained with his mother.
Life was not easy being separated from his mother and little brother — something a young child could never quite possibly understand fully. But Tom’s father did his best to raise him and his brother and sister
And as if life wasn’t already confusing and tough enough, both of Tom’s parents continued to have dysfunctional marriage relationships; his mother remarried 3 times, while his father remarried twice.
Tom’s first stepmother had 8 children of her own, and eventually left his father. Tom’s second stepmother was of Asian descent who was named Frances Wong and had 3 children of her own, 2 of which lived with Tom growing up.
In school you his classmates and teachers would have never predicted his rise to stardom. He was unpopular with both peers and teachers alike. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine he told them:
“I was a geek, a spaz. I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy. At the same time, I was the guy who’d yell out funny captions during filmstrips. But I didn’t get into trouble. I was always a real good kid and pretty responsible.”
Because of his father’s career as a traveling Chef, Tom and his siblings were moved often. By the age of 10, young Tom had attended at least 5 different grammar schools and lived in more than 10 houses. Finally, in 1966 they put down roots in Oakland, California.
But Tom’s optimistic outlook considers all of his early trials in life excellent preparation for the life of an actor. “It made me flexible,” he told Rolling Stone. “It gave me confidence to think I can be in any sort of social situation and know how to gracefully get out of it.”
Even though Tom’s family religious background was Catholic and Mormon, he has self identified himself as being a “Bible-toting evangelical” as a teenager.
While attending Skyline High School, young Tom finally found his home. He was gifted in athletics, but everything changed on the day he watched a friend perform in the school’s production of Dracula and began to dream of becoming an actor.
After being inspired by his friend’s performance, Tom joined the Thespian Club and began acting in his junior year of high school. His first ‘acting’ role would be behind the scenes — working as a stage manager for the school’s production of My Fair Lady.
It was long hours and hard work, but the young, aspiring actor didn’t mind. Instead, Tom decided to learn all he could about acting and theater — both on and off the stage.
Finally, he advanced to the stage playing roles in Skyline’s productions of Night of the Iguana, Twelfth Night, and South Pacific. As a senior, he received his first award with Skyline High School’s prestigious award of Best Actor. This award was just a taste of what was to come when he would be awarded his first Oscar, 20 years later.
After graduating from Skyline, Tom promptly left Oakland and set off to explore the idea of studying theater. He explains that he graduated as “an underachieving student with lousy SAT scores” and had no ability to pay for college. Chabot College in Hayward, just down the street from where I live, was the perfect solution to Tom’s question of what to do with his life after high school “..because it accepted everyone and was free.”
While there, it didn’t take long for Tom to realize that God had indeed created him with the purpose of inspiring audiences. By the time he graduated with his Associates degree, Tom had made the community college’s dean’s list. He then transferred to California State University in serious pursuit of becoming an actor.
He told New York magazine in 1986,
“Acting classes looked like the best place for a guy who liked to make a lot of noise and be rather flamboyant. … I spent a lot of time going to plays. I wouldn’t take dates with me. I’d just drive to a theater, buy myself a ticket, sit in the seat and read the program, and then get into the play completely. I spent a lot of time like that, seeing Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and all that.”
During his years studying theater, he met a man named Vincent Dowling, who was the head of the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Dowling immediately recognized Tom’s God-given talent and offered the opportunity for Tom to become an intern at the festival.
Tom agreed, and his internship stretched into a three-year experience that covered most aspects of theater production, including lighting, set design, and stage management, leading him to drop out of college.
During the same time, Tom won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his 1978performance as “Proteus” in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona — one of the few times Tom Hanks would ever play the part of a villain.
In 1979, Tom took a step of faith and moved to New York City. Two years later, he received his ‘big break’ when he landed one of the lead roles as “Kip Wilson,” on the ABC television pilot of Bosom Buddies.
He and Peter Scolari played a pair of young advertising executives forced to dress as women so they could live in an inexpensive all-female hotel.
Though a bit corny at times, Bosom Buddies was genuinely hilarious and Tom’s humor did not disappoint.
Sadly, the show was cancelled after two seasons, but it gave Tom the exposure he needed to land several guest roles on popular shows like Happy Days (1974-84), Taxi (1978-83), The Love Boat (1977-87) and Family Ties (1982-89).
In 1988, Tom finally landed a role in a movie that would forever change his career: Big. In the movie, he played a 13-year-old boy transplanted overnight into the body of a 35-year-old man. I remember this movie. It was hilarious!
Tom Hanks’ performance delighted both critics and moviegoers alike, and Big earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The hugely popular film Sleepless in Seattle paired him up again with his Joe Versus the Volcano co-star, Meg Ryan. In the movie, he played the role of a recently widowed father, whose son calls in to a radio station in an attempt to find him a wife.
Tom charmed audiences and before long, hearts across the world fell in love with him.
The following year, Tom achieved what had never been done before by bringing home his second straight lead actor Oscar, for his iconic role in Forrest Gump (1994), becoming the first person in 50 years to accomplish that feat. Forrest Gump is still one of my all time favorite movies.
In Forrest Gump, he played the title role of a simple man with a low I.Q. and good intentions, who runs through childhood with his best and only friend “Jenny.” His ‘Mama’ teaches him the ways of life and leaves him to choose his destiny. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”
Whether dominating on the gridiron as a college football star, fighting in Vietnam, or captaining a shrimp boat, “Forrest” inspires people with his childlike optimism. But one person Forrest cares about most may be the most difficult to save — his childhood love, the sweet but troubled “Jenny.”
Tom’s emotional performance both inspired Americans and taught the world that even the most unlikely heroes can make a difference.
Tom went on to capture hearts across the globe in his phenomenal lead roles in several box office hits like Apollo 13 (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and the romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail (late 1998), once again co-starring with Meg Ryan for the third time.
In You’ve Got Mail, struggling boutique bookseller “Kathleen Kelly” (Meg Ryan) hates “Joe Fox” (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate Fox Books chain store that just moved in across the street. When they meet online, however, they begin an intense and anonymous online romance, oblivious of each other’s true identity.
Eventually Joe learns that the enchanting woman he’s involved with is actually his business rival. He must now struggle to reconcile his real-life dislike for her with the cyber-love he’s come to feel for. How true this dilemma is for many who engage in online romances only to find out that real life is not the same.
Widely recognized as one of the highest-earning actors in movie history, it’s no secret that Tom Hanks has found unparalleled success in Hollywood.
But along the way, Tom has established himself as one of the finest and most respected actors of his generation, as well as “the nicest guy in show business” and “the most trusted celebrity”.
But for Tom, there’s more to life than lights, cameras, and action. On this side of eternity, he considers his wife and family his greatest gifts — and his actions prove it.
On April 30, 1988, Tom married actress Rita Wilson, with whom he co-starred in Volunteers.
Tom and Rita have two sons together, Chester (Chet) Marlon and Truman Theodore.
Over the years, Tom’s love and devotion to his wife has been made perfectly evident to all.
Whether they’re walking the red carpet hand-in-hand, or casually attending a hockey game and get caught on the kiss-cam, Tom’s actions consistently reveal his devoted love and affection for his beautiful wife of over 28 years.
The couple recently revealed that God is their marriage secret.
Rita revealed, “God is a part of our life. Every single day, I prayed to God for I don’t know how many years that he would bring me somebody that I loved […] that loved me in the same way, and he brought me Tom, so I believe in that.”
But just before their anniversary last year, Tom and Rita revealed their heartbreaking reality: Rita had secretly been battling breast cancer.
In a heart-wrenching and emotional post Rita shared, “Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma.”
But throughout the scariest season of their lives, Tom and Rita put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. And despite the unimaginable battle, Rita pulled through with her supportive husband faithfully by her side.
“Who knew it would make you even closer?” Rita told The New York Times. “You never know how your spouse is going to react in a situation like this. I was so amazed, so blown away by the care my husband gave me. It was such a normal, intimate time.”
Throughout Rita’s battle, Tom refused to leave her side. And last year the adorable couple announced the miraculous news that thanks to God, Rita overcame and was announced cancer-free.
Tom was overjoyed and expressed his relief, “God bless my wife – and her courage. We’re very lucky.”
Recently, Tom revealed that he has has also been facing a health challenge with Type 2 diabetes.
He told David Letterman, “I went to the doctors and they said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been living with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated. You’ve got Type 2 diabetes.’”
But Tom isn’t concerned. Instead, he has made the firm decision to surrender his life to the Lord. When a reporter cornered Tom and Rita and asked if they believed in the power of prayer, the unashamed Christian couple revealed that they pray often, and encourage others entrust their lives to the Lord as well.
When Tom was asked if he believed in God, the brilliant actor replied,
“I think you’ll be foolish not to believe in God.”
In addition to his faith, Tom is also known as one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth guys in Hollywood. He is so laid-back in fact, that he once insisted that his newly-befriended cab driver attend an event with him.
It’s simply amazing to see how far the Lord has brought Tom Hanks. From a chaotic childhood and humble beginnings, Tom’s life reminds us to smile, trust God’s plan, and keep your chin up.
“As long as you as an individual… can convince yourself that in order to move forward as best as you can, you have to be optimistic, you can be described as ‘one of the faithful,’ one of those people who can say, ‘Well, look, something’s going to happen! Let’s just keep trying. Let’s not give up.’” – Tom Hanks
While learning about Tom’s inspiring story, I just couldn’t help but think of Romans 8:39, which reads,
Romans 8:39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tom’s humble and approachable demeanor sets him apart, while his faith and trust in the Lord is just a beautiful sight to behold. Thank you Tom Hanks, for your unashamed faith and unwavering character.
Tom Hanks will forever be one of the world’s most beloved actors. America needs more men in Hollywood like Tom Hanks, please share this article if you agree.
If you would like to start a relationship with God like Tom Hanks has click here.
Pastor Duke Taber is the Senior Pastor at The Vineyard Church in San Carlos Ca. He is an alumnus from Life Pacific College and Multnomah Biblical Seminary. He is a husband, father, and grandfather.
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