CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Many wish for their moment in the spotlight, but only a select few get to a level of fame where nearly everyone knows their name. From musicians to actors to athletes, West Virginia has raised their fair share of celebrities, and once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer. Here’s nine of the most famous West Virginians.
1. Brad Paisley
Born and raised in Glen Dale, West Virginia, Brad Paisley rose to fame as a country music singer and songwriter. With over 11 million album sales and three Grammy Awards, Paisley frequents country radio airwaves. Still, Paisley acknowledges his West Virginian roots in interviews. His 2009 music video for “Letter to Me” was shot at his alma mater John Marshall High School.
2. Jennifer Garner
Actress Jennifer Garner grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. Garner is best known for her lead role in the 2004 film 13 Going on 30. She has had many notable roles and four nominations for Golden Globe awards since then. Garner frequently discusses her childhood in West Virginia in interviews and visits the Mountain State for philanthropy. In 2016, she raised money for families affected by the 1,000 year flood by launching “West Virginia Strong” t-shirts, for example.
3. Steve Harvey
Steve Harvey, current host of Family Feud, was born in Welch, West Virginia. Harvey is also known for hosting the 2017 Miss Universe competition. He is a six-time Emmy Award winner for Family Feud and the talk show Steve Harvey, which ran from 2012 to 2017.
4. Emily Calandrelli
A Morgantown, WV native, Emily Calandrelli is a science TV host. Calandrelli is most well-known for her Netflix series, Emily’s Wonder Lab. She also has written children’s books. Calandrelli frequently discusses her West Virginian upbringing in interviews and visits the state to speak about the importance of science and women in STEM.
5. Mary Lou Retton
Born in Fairmont, West Virginia, Mary Lou Retton became a household name after she won a gold medal in the individual all-around competition in 1984. She was the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in Olympic gymnastics. Since then, Retton has made numerous film and TV appearances, including Baywatch, Glee, and Dancing with the Stars. Retton returned for a brief time to live in Fairmont in 2009, but has since moved back to Texas.
6. Jerry West
Basketball player Jerry West was born in Chelyan, West Virginia. He is most well-known for being the silhouette in the National Basketball Association (NBA) logo. West played professional for the Los Angeles Lakers. A successful career, West played for the Lakers for 14 years and was co-captain of the 1960 US Olympic gold medal team.
7. Don Knotts
Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia. He is most well known for his role as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, which won five Emmy Awards. Knotts passed away in 2006. A statue of Knotts was unveiled in front of The Metropolitan Theatre on High Street in Morgantown in 2016.
8. Hoda Kotb
Hoda Kotb grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia after her father became a professor at West Virginia University. She is a successful broadcast journalist, well known for her position as co-anchor of the Today Show and correspondent for Dateline.
9. Bill Withers
Singer songwriter Bill Withers was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia. He is well known for such hits as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me.” Withers never forgot his West Virginia roots. The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame quotes him as saying, “I am from this place, and I am of this place.” Withers passed away in 2020. The City of Beckley is planning on building a statue in his honor.