Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s role in ‘Airplane!’ was written for Pete Rose
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is well known for his acting roles outside of his Hall of Fame basketball career, and one of his most notable gigs was playing Murdock in the classic comedy “Airplane!”
Though Kareem is tied to the movie, he actually wasn’t the athlete the film’s creators initially had in mind for the role.
In an oral history of the movie written for AV Club, directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams reveal that they wrote the part for Pete Rose.
David Zucker: That was another lucky break that we got, because Kareem himself was not the first choice for that role. We actually wrote it for Pete Rose.
Jim Abrahams: I’m not sure if Pete Rose actually accepted the role or not, or if we’d even gotten the green light from Paramount to use him. We may never have even sent him the script. I just know that we ended up having to film in August, so he was still in the middle of baseball season.
There was also a funny dispute over Abdul-Jabbar’s pay for the role. They offered him $30,000, but the center’s agent asked for $35,000 because Kareem wanted to buy a rug that cost that much.
J. Zucker: When we offered the role [of Murdock] to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I think we offered him $30,000, and then the agent asked for $35,000 because that’s how much this rug cost that Kareem wanted to buy. It was an oriental rug—an art piece, not one to walk on, I don’t think—so our initial reaction was, “That’s got to be the best line we’ve ever heard from an agent.” It was like, “Boy, this guy’s really creative!” But then a couple of weeks later, there’s an article in Time with a picture of Kareem standing in front of the oriental rug that he’d bought for $35,000 after we’d paid him.
Isn’t that something? But that’s not all. The guys also revealed that Bruce Jenner read for the role of Ted Striker, which went to Robert Hays.
But it’s easy to see why Abdul-Jabbar was a natural for the role. Based on this great video of him on “Jeopardy!”, you can tell he’s just a natural with comedy.
H/T Cut Four