It would be impressive enough for an actor to star in a single show that changed the course of television history with iconic characters and cross-generational appeal, but the fact that John Schneider’s done exactly that on a consistent basis for at least four decades makes him nothing short of legendary. Whether it’s currently playing Jim Cryer on Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots, previously immortalizing Jonathan Kent on Smallville and Bo Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard, or showing off his own fancy footwork Dancing with the Stars, the man of many hats is synonymous with success and one of most ubiquitous faces in all of pop culture.
Add in a simultaneous career as a four-time chart-topping country artist with over 20 albums to his credit, including a whopping 72 tracks within the last year alone, alongside a burgeoning movie career with executive producer Alicia Allain under their own John Schneider Studios/Maven Entertainment banners, and he could quite realistically be counted amongst the most prolific and recognized entertainers of all time. And it turns out his heart is just as huge as the fame that follows thanks to his co-founding of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at the genesis of this extraordinary career that’s accompanied by his tireless work with ongoing fundraising efforts to this very day.
“The balance of careers really takes care of itself,” he insists of the delightfully crazy calendar he and Allain keep. “We spend time recording an album and then there’s time spent mixing the album, which gives me time to be off either touring with music or working on a movie. When the movie is finished filming, there are many aspects of postproduction that need to be done, and if I am not doing them myself, then naturally so I don’t get bored, I am out on the road. I guess the moral to the story is that Alicia and I are both hard, hard workers who don’t really, at this point anyway, seem to need any downtime!”
That’s certainly the case in Schneider’s recent musical outpouring after spending all of 2018 releasing one song a week as part of an ambitious project called The Odyssey, which was produced by longtime friend, personal champion, superstar session man and fellow Dukes collaborator Paul Leim, in addition to Greatest Hits…Still! (featuring acoustic re-recordings of several smash hits), plus the holiday EP Merry Christmas Baby. The unstoppable streak continued into 2019 with the release of the Southern Rock-inspired album Redneck Rebel, and a deeply personal inspirational album, Recycling Grace, which expands upon his remarkable crossover ability into a wide array of artistic territory.
“Coming from a musical theater background, I naturally gravitate toward many different aspects of entertainment. Personally it just seems like the right thing to do. I couldn’t imagine being locked into one area,” he explains of the desire to stay equally involved in music and acting. “The inspirational album is jam packed with a few standards, but also new songs whose intention is to make you think and feel something. The music itself is intentionally more raw, bluesy and edgy. I believe these inspirational songs especially should elicit some sort of physical reaction from the listener. These will do that for sure!”
In the meantime, longtime fans and newcomers alike can catch Schneider starring on Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots, not only a flagship series of OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), but also the #1 primetime cable series on Tuesday nights. “I hope The Haves and Have Nots will show people that there is a versatility to my storytelling through acting that is much brighter than they suspected,” Schneider observes of his widely embraced Jim Cryer character. “Of course it’s always fun to play the bad guy, but it also takes a little more for thought. One of the best things about it is it gives me an opportunity to really stretch, explore and take chances. I have loved every minute of it!”
Schneider has also been hard at work on the upcoming movie, Christmas Cars, which will release this holiday season. Schneider wrote, directed and stars in this semi-autobiographical film, which is sure to be a hit with Dukes fans of all ages.
Prior to that, Schneider spent a whopping ten years on The WB turned The CW’s Smallville, which sent him flying straight into the epicenter of Superman hysteria and prompted his constant demand to appear at themed conventions and special events with massive crowds from all over the globe. “Playing Jonathan on Smallville was a huge honor,” he confirms. “I believe that that character is quite possibly the best father figure on television. Ever. I’m also proud to be part of what I believe is the crown jewel of the entire Superman legend. I don’t believe there was a bad episode of that show. One amazing adventure after another!”
And then of course there’s his pioneering presence on CBS’ The Dukes of Hazzard for seven stratospheric years where Schneider was so immensely popular, he was the subject of an elaborate but ultimately resolved pickpocketing scheme where his stolen driver’s license was bootlegged and sold in staggering quantities at $50 a pop for decades until it was returned to its rightful owner (though the now comical tradition continues being available on Schneider’s website with a personally signed certificate of authenticity). There’s also the annual “Bo’s Extravaganza” at the 58-acre John Schneider Studios in Holden, Louisiana where nearly 10,000 fans from every corner of earth come on an annual basis to swap stories, score autographs, browse memorabilia, take in a classic car show featuring the program’s actual vehicles and catch concerts by the most enormous names in music, such as longtime Schneider admirer Kid Rock in 2019.
“The great thing about Dukes is there were no cell phones in those days so people’s heads were not buried in them,” he recalls of it impenetrable run from the late 1970s through the mid-‘80s. “We actually depended upon our relationships, friendships and family in order to get through whatever the weekly issue was. I do think that people who are fans of The Dukes of Hazzard are more likely to pay attention to one another rather than ignore one another in favor of those who may call or text at any second.”
Continues Schneider: “The number one thing I hear about people’s memory of The Dukes of Hazzard is that they remember spending time with love ones watching it. Of course they remember specific episodes, but more than that, they remember their lives every Friday night as they gathered together as a family and watch this great show. Because of that, I actually feel as if I’m a part of their family and not just someone who is in a box in their living room.”
That sense of personal connection and such a widespread appeal in general caused ABC's Dancing with the Stars to come calling in 2018. For seven weeks, Schneider had an incredible run with pro partner Emma Slater, and despite being eliminated on the dance floor, was requested back for the season finale to perform his single “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.”
“There’s a very small club of people actually who have done Dancing with the Stars,” notices Schneider. “I took away friendships from that show as well as friendships with people I have met after who went through the experience. Just the other day, I met a fellow who had been on Dancing with the Stars a couple of years ago and we had an immediate bond because of our experience on that show. Finally, what I took away from Dancing with the Stars was that dancing is hard work!”
Though Schneider definitely deserves a day (or a decade) off given that unceasing work ethic, he fills in any free time with the completely selfless efforts of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, which he co-founded in 1983 and has since raised more than $7 billion dollars (with over $409 million in 2018 alone) for medical research and community awareness of children's health issues, which is distributed directly to a network of 170 children’ hospitals.
“All of us at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals are working toward the goal of being able to raise $1 billion a year,” he boldly proclaims. “I think we will reach that goal in the next five years. The biggest change I’ve seen in children’s healthcare over the past 36 years is that premature birth, especially extremely premature birth and very low weight babies, was far more of a death sentence in the old days. Now when a child is born weighing only a pound, they are expected to live and almost always do, whereas 36 years ago, that was definitely not the case. Medicine has also made great inroads in childhood diabetes and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is directly related to that research.”
The idea of setting specific goals still appeals to Schneider on the professional front as well, who rather than coasting on his ever-increasing list of countless of accomplishments, keeps on dreaming of the next field he’d like to cultivate. “We would like to have one of our films take off and sell over 100,000 units. Same thing with the music,” he says matter of factly. “Once we get into the area where we are fairly certain we can sell this number, we will be able to continue to make movies, music and other forms of entertainment without having to seek outside funding. Then we will truly be independent and have autonomy.”