Judd Nelson rose to fame in the 1980s as a member of the “Brat Pack”, starring in classic teen movies like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. With his brooding good looks and rebel attitude, Nelson embodied the young Hollywood heartthrob. So what happened to him after those glory days?
Born Judd Asher Nelson on November 28, 1959, in Portland, Maine, he embarked on his acting journey in the early 1980s.
Nelson’s family has a rich history, with his mother, Merle, being a former member of the Maine House of Representatives and his father, Leonard, being the first Jewish president of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
It was during a casual visit to an audition with a friend at Haverford College in Pennsylvania that he was thrust into the world of acting.
Given a choice to either leave or audition, Nelson chose the latter, marking the beginning of his illustrious career. He soon left college to study acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, eventually making his way to Hollywood.
Nelson appeared in three movies before meeting John Hughes: Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Making the Grade, and Fandango.
In Making the Grade, Nelson played a small-time con man impersonating a prep school student.
In Fandango, he was part of an ensemble cast including a young Kevin Costner. Though neither film made much of an impact, they set the stage for Nelson’s stardom.
The Brat Pack
The 1980s saw the rise of a group of young actors and actresses in Hollywood collectively known as the “Brat Pack.”
This informal group consisted of Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and, of course, Judd Nelson.
They frequently appeared together in coming-of-age films, many of which have since become iconic representations of ’80s youth culture.
Movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” epitomized the angst, rebellion, and complexities of teenage life, resonating deeply with audiences of that era.
Judd Nelson, with his brooding looks and intense on-screen presence, played a pivotal role within the Brat Pack.
The Breakfast Club
His portrayal of John Bender in 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” remains one of the most memorable performances of his career. As the rebellious, misunderstood teen, Nelson’s character challenged stereotypes and authority, embodying the spirit of youthful defiance.
St. Elmo’s Fire
Similarly, in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Nelson played Alec Newbury, a character grappling with the transition from college life to adulthood. Through these roles and his association with the Brat Pack, Nelson solidified his place as a defining actor of his generation.
The film was a huge hit that instantly made Nelson a star. That same year he reunited with Breakfast Club co-stars Estevez and Ally Sheedy for St. Elmo’s Fire, further cementing his place as a leading man.
Nelson ventured into voice acting in the mid-1980s with “The Transformers: The Movie.” He worked alongside renowned actors like Orson Welles, Eric Idle, and Leonard Nimoy. Over the years, he returned to the “Transformers” franchise and took on roles in other animated series like “Phineas and Ferb” and “Ben 10: Omniverse.”
The Post-Brat Pack Era
Judd Nelson try to break out of the Brat Pack mold with a role in the 1987 Golden Globe-nominated TV movie Billionaire Boys Club.
After appearing in the World War II drama Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes, he showed his comedic skills in The Dark Backward.
Nelson found commercial and critical success with 1991’s New Jack City, co-starring opposite Ice-T.
He flexed his comedy muscles again in 1994’s Airheads with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley. And he took on a starring role in the hit sitcom Suddenly Susan opposite Brooke Shields from 1996-1999.
In the 2000s, Nelson booked many guest star TV spots, including recurring roles on CSI, Two and a Half Men, and Psych. He occasionally nodded to his past, reprising his Breakfast Club role of John Bender on Family Guy and playing Rodimus Prime again in Transformers: Animated.
Nelson stayed busy with TV movies like 2002’s Santa, Jr. and 2010’s Cancel Christmas. His biggest starring role was USA Network’s 2000 thriller Cabin by the Lake, where Nelson played a murderous screenwriter.
Judd Nelson, The Author
Amidst his acting pursuits, Nelson found time to write. He co-wrote his first screenplay in the 1990s, which resulted in the 1994 movie “Every Breath.”
By 2013, he ventured into authorship, publishing short stories like “The Power of Speech” and co-writing “Nine of Diamonds” with Nancy Fulton.
What is Judd Nelson Doing Now?
Now in his 60s, Nelson continues to work consistently in Hollywood. While no longer a bankable leading man, Nelson has transitioned gracefully into character actor status. He seems happy just to keep working, whether it’s a starring role or a supporting part.
In recent years, he has appeared in a variety of small budget and independent films and TV movies. Some of his most notable recent credits include the 2021 Lifetime network thriller Girl in the Basement, which is inspired by the true story of the Josef Fritzl, who held his daughter Elisabeth captive in a basement dungeon that he built under his house for 24 years.
He also starred as a small town sheriff in the 2020 mystery film #Unknown. Additional recent roles for Nelson include parts in The Most Dangerous Game, A Tale of Two Guns, Iceland Is Best, The Downside of Bliss, and Electric Jesus.
Apart from acting, Nelson has also ventured into writing. In 2013, he authored four books released on Kindle: “The Power of Speech,” “Nine of Diamonds,” “The Gig,” and “Water Music.