5 Favorite Tough Guys

After a long spring and many successful activities, I moved this weekend. This capped a tough week professionally and personally because I have nothing left in the tank. It required me to put on a stiff upper lip, and gut out a strong finish.

I thought of my some of my favorite tough guys real and fictional through the effort to muster bravado (yes, I am a dork). Here were some of my influences:

1) Clint Eastwood

Come on, does it get any tougher than Clint?

The featured image for this post is from the Academy Award winning Unforgiven, Eastwood’s last western and my favorite. Eastwood’s William Munny is tough, but he’s cognizant of how his character can become a source of widespread wreckage.

A fantastic movie, and Munny is the deepest of Clint’s original tough guy characters, from Blondie in the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns to Dirty Harry. I really identify with this character.

2) Muhammad Ali

Muhammed Ali‘s fighting career was epic. A three-time heavyweight champion, many view Ali as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.

His most memorable fights were beating the late Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manilla (their third fight), and a very scary George Foreman with the rope a dope technique in the Rumble in the Jungle. Basically Ali got bludgeoned by Foreman round after round until the vicious heavyweight ran out of gas, and then Ali took him down in the eighth round.

But Ali’s toughness surpasses boxing. He refused to serve in Vietnam, which cost him his title and kept him out of boxing for four years. Even tougher, Ali came down with Parkinson’s Syndrome, and though unable to speak well, he has continued to appear publicly.

My favorite Ali moment is when he lit the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

3) Curt Schilling

I became a Curt Schilling fan for life when he powered the 1993 Phillies through the NLCS against the very tough Atlanta Braves featuring Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. He went on to win three World Series with Arizona and Boston, and has always been known as a big game pitcher.

One game stands out: The Sock in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.

Schilling, who tore his peroneus brevis tendon in game 1 of that series, had it literally sutured to his ankle’s deep connective tissue so he could pitch. The stress of pitching caused Schilling to bleed through the effort creating the legendary sock.

The effort was the gutsiest (and craziest) thing I have ever seen in professional sports on this kind of stage. Schilling pitched seven innings, letting up one run against the Yankees. It was awesome.

It also provided the final momentum for the Red Sox who became the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in MLB history, and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.

4) Steve McQueen

Classic Hollywood tough guy actor Steve McQueen really stood out in The Great Escape. This Nazi thriller featured many tough guys who attempted to escape a Nazi prisoner of war camp, including a crying Charles Bronson.

McQueen’s “Hilts, the Cooler King” was unforgettable, from the way he bounced a baseball rhythmically waiting out his isolation time in cooler to the unforgettable motorcycle chase that ended the Great Escape.

I truly admire McQueen’s characters. My wrist watch is a Tag Heuer Monaco, inspired by the original worn by McQueen in Formula 1 racing epic Le Mans.

5) Earnest Hemingway


Literary master and sportsman, Earnest Hemingway penned many a tale about tough guys. Hemingway was known for his love of bullfighting, fishing and hunting when killing on African Safaris was still PC.

I don’t know if you can really be both a literary mind and tough, but Hemingway certainly tried. Perhaps the act of writing such tales is an open act of fantasy. But as a writer, I’ll give Hemingway the hat tip.

My favorite Hemingway tough guy book has to be the tragic A Farewell to Arms featuring Frederic Henry’s doomed World War I romance with Catherine Barkley. There are Hemingway novels that may be better from a literary perspective, but this was damn gritty.

Now it’s your turn.
Who are some of your favorite tough guys?


  • Hmm. Abraham Lincoln always stands out to me as an amazingly tough man. I don’t think anybody could understand the pressure he was under – it’s not often you’re asked to try to hold your warring country together, and then his son and many relatives of his wife died during that same period. 

    I think John Lennon was tough. He could have abandoned Yoko Ono when so many turned against her (mostly for selfish or for racist reasons). He was a Beatle – he could have had anyone he wanted, and could have carved out an easier time for himself by just remaining a singing bobblehead. But he didn’t.

    Now who are YOUR favorite tough women? :)

    •  How about Mother Theresa for becoming such a figure in a patriarchal society?  I’ll throw Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in from the Aliens series to keep the movie thread going. And finally Queen Elizabeth I, who brought England into the Imperial colonization era as a powerhouse, all without a man at her side.

      • Hm. Very Small Quibble: I look at Mother Teresa somewhat differently. She was an outsider – and when you’re not part of the structure, you sort of operate outside it, more easily because some of the rules don’t apply. (I know that sounds odd, but there you have it – there’s less of the “you should know better!” and more of the “well, she’s not from here and she plays by different rules anyway!”) By the time she became the icon we now know, it was too late for those to whom she might have posed a threat. Plus people LOVED her at that point. 

        Rather different from, say, Mary Roy – who fought for equal property rights for daughters in a small, wealthy, influential, and veeery patriarchal community. And won. BTW, Roy was a divorcee, which means she had far less support than Mother Teresa, who had the support of a community where everyone was like her. 

        Everyone looks up to Mother Teresa, as well they should – she willfully gave up a comfortable life to serve the poorest of the poor. But people like Roy are the scarier tougher heroines in some way. 

        To answer Margie’s question: My favorite female character’s a small one from the TV serialization of the Hindi novel Tamas set during the Indo-Pak partition – a Sikh woman bursts out of her house armed with little more than a ceremonial sword to face down and tell off a blood thirsty mob of either Hindus or Muslims (can’t remember which) and save a mother and child in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was 15 when the show came on (aided by a Supreme Court decision, no less) and didn’t have the words to describe what I now know I felt, “Beat that with a stick, fellas!” 

        It was AWESOME. And I’ve carried the image with me all my life. 


  • Because I recently watched There Will Be Blood for the umpteenth time:  Daniel Plainview is my favorite tough guy – even though it all ends badly.  The depiction of him pushing himself along on his back with a broken leg (after climbing out of the shaft with a broken leg) is quintessential toughness.

    •  Boy, that was a tough movie. And he was not the nicest of characters!  Thanks for mentioning Daniel.

  • Ernest Shackleton. Ship trapped in ice and ultimately crushed. Spent 2 months camping on ice while leading crew across floes to Antarctic land. Takes smaller crew (7) in a lifeboat to go get help. Sails through a hurricane to reach South Georgia Island, only to hit land on the wrong side. Leaves with smaller team (3) over land, through virgin mountain pass 32 miles to whaling community. The hike trip took 36 hours. Mounts recues effort. Gets every man back home with not a single life lost.  

  • A solid list, for sure.  I’m particularly relieved that you included Steve McQueen as he’s one of my faves and is rarely rated as tough.  But remembering him in “The Great Escape” as the guy who’d suffer “the cooler” in order to deliver some intel back to his mates is the very definition of tough. 

    That said, a list of tough guys without The Duke – unthinkable! Watching John Wayne in any classic (particularly John Ford) western or war movie defines the category.  Would you rather go into battle or a gunfight (and, let’s face it, when you’re talking tough guys that’s the barometer) with the Duke or Kurt Schilling?  Not much of a choice in my book. 

    That all said, moving can suck the lifeblood out of Superman so I applaud you finishing in style.  Next time you’re up against it, remember Lance Armstrong’s famous line, “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.”

    •  Love that, quitting is forever.  And yeah, the Cooler Kid was the toughest of all the McQueen characters by far!  THanks for adding the Duke!

      How the hell are you, Scott?  It’s been WAY too long?  Still in California?

  • Muhammad ALi is my idol! He is humble, family oriented and tough. He inspired many of his fighting spirit. He is big and he did not let his weight stop his dreams as a starting boxer. The greatest battle of all that Muhammad Ali fought was Parkinson’s. You’ll never know what will kill you until it’s there. All respects to the great Ali!

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