The swinging ’60s was the counterculture, the hippy, trippy, rebel, high-spirited decade of the century. It gave us some of the best songs, movies, and movements of all time. This list is an ode to those whose talent shined above the rest, in film, music, and politics.
From glamorous starlets like Sophia Loren to moon-walking geniuses like Neil Armstrong, we bring you the best of the best from this unforgettable decade. Let us know in the comments which shining star impacted you the most.
With his sharp demeanor and charming Transatlantic accent, the British actor, formerly known as Archibald Leach, starred in several famous Hitchcock films throughout the ’60s (as well as some other acting gigs). While most of his work was actually in the ’50s, he still shined in the subsequent decade.
Cary was still considered an A-lister, so much so that he was granted the honor of starring alongside the legendary and beautiful Audrey Hepburn. He was also the original contender for the role of James Bond. But due to his age at the time (he was in his 50s), Cary wanted to do just one Bond film. Producers wanted a long-term guy, so they eventually dropped him and took Sean Connery instead.
In 1959, actress Doris Day struck gold with the unforgettable film Pillow Talk. She entered the following decade as a star and was bombarded with offers from everyone in the industry. Day went on to play several romantic comedies with big names like Cary Grant and Rock Hudson.
Time after time, she proved her talent as the movie’s leading lady. She even ended up starring in her own television show called “The Doris Day Show.” Unbeknownst to her, she was signed onto the project by her former husband. Miraculously, it was a success for five consecutive years.
Marilyn Monroe is such a timeless icon that it feels funny to have to elaborate. But for the sake of this list (which in no way could have been complete without her), let’s look into this classic starlet’s life. She rose to stardom in the mid-’40s and over the course of several years became one of the most iconic sex symbols in history.
In her career spanning 1946 to 1962, Marilyn Monroe starred in 44 movies (some better, some worse). Sadly, her life was cut short when she overdosed on barbiturates in the summer of 1962. A tragic ending to a tumultuous life…
Rock Hudson was one of the most prominent heartthrobs of the 1950s. He burst into Hollywood’s Golden Age with his role in the film Magnificent Obsession (after which he became every man and woman’s obsession). In a career spanning over three decades, he managed to star in a host of romantic comedies alongside leading ladies like Doris Day and Julie Andrews.
Tragically, Hudson’s health gradually deteriorated in the ’80s after he was diagnosed with HIV. The actor kept this a secret for months and continued to accept job offers. But as time went on, it became harder to keep his medical condition under wraps. On October 2, 1985, a year and a bit after his diagnosis, the actor died in his sleep.
It might seem unfair to include a whole band on this list, but, come on… The Beatles. Their fame reached a type of craze in the ’60s that no one had ever witnessed at the time. People were so obsessed with the British boys that a term was coined in their honor: Beatlemania.
This psychedelic rock n’ roll band dominated the decade and had fans bawling their eyes out, fainting in concerts, and screaming until they could scream no more. In retrospect, it was complete madness. This band created such waves that they will likely be remembered for many, many more years to come.
Ann-Margret, the Female Version of Elvis
A singer, dancer, and actress, this Swedish-born triple threat rose to stardom after appearing in hit films like Viva Las Vegas (1964) and Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Ann-Margret became so famous that Elvis’ manager made sure to have her songs from the musical Viva Las Vegas suppressed because he was scared that she might outshine his client.
In a career spanning several decades, this star took home five Golden Globe Awards and earned several nominations including two Grammys, two Academy Awards, six Emmy Awards, and won Screen Actors Guild Award. Her talent was acknowledged way beyond the ’60s, and in 2010, she won an Emmy for her appearance on Law & Order.
Annette Funicello, the Most Popular Mouseketeer
Annette Funicello began her career at the young age of 12 and quickly turned into a child star. She became one of the most popular and beloved Mouseketeers in the Mickey Mouse Club. Later, in her teens, she moved on to music and kicked off her musical career with the singles “First Name Initial” and “O Dio Mio.”
She eventually established herself in show biz after starring in the incredibly successful film “Beach Party” (1963) alongside her co-star Frankie Avalon. Decades later, in 1992, the actress announced she had multiple sclerosis, a medical condition she had been hiding since her diagnosis in 1987. In 2013, she died of complications from the disease.
The Beach Boys, More Than Just a Garage Band
Formed in Hawthorne, California, the Beach Boys started out by jamming in their garage. The band’s original lineup consisted of brothers Carl, Brian, and Dennis Wilson along with their cousin Mike and a friend named AI Jardine. Their manager was the siblings’ father, Murry.
They meshed pop with ’50s rock ‘n roll with soulful R&B and creating unique sounds that often had a bit of jazz and classical elements to them. This unconventional theme turned them into one of the most important bands of the ’60s.
Goldie Hawn, the Bubbly Blonde
With her big blue eyes and contagious smile, Goldie Hawn charmed audiences in the ’60s when she first appeared on the NBC comedy sketch program Town & Martin’s Laugh-In. But Hawn proved she wasn’t all easy-going giggles. In 1969, she won her first Academy Award as well as a Golden Globe for her performance in the movie Cactus Flower (1969).
For over three decades, Goldie maintained her star status and was cast for films like There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970), The Sugarland Express (1974) Foul Play (1978), and Private Benjamin (1980), for which she was granted an Academy Award nomination for leading lady. For those of you who don’t know (although we doubt it), Hawn gave birth to one of Hollywood’s hottest stars nowadays – Kate Hudson!
A legend in his field, talk show host Johnny Carson became The Tonight Show’s host in 1962 and instantly turned into a pop culture sensation. He ran the show for 30 years, in which he received six Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the TV Academy’s Governor’s Award.
In 1987, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Not only that, but he also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 1992) as well as the Kennedy Center Honor (in 1993). Talk about achievements, huh?
After more than 50 years in show biz, Jack Nicholson has reportedly retired. This iconic actor\filmmaker is known for playing and producing a wide range of successful films. He’s taken on characters ranging from villains to romantic leads to comic figures.
His most celebrated movies include 1969’s Easy Rider, 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and 1980’s The Shining. Apart from acting, Nicholson has also directed three movies, including 1990’s The Two Jakes (Chinatown’s sequel).
Zsa Zsa Gabor
A socialite and actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor first rose to stardom in her country, Hungary, where she was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. She moved to America in the ’40s and with the help of her unique European flair, became a sought-after starlet.
Apart from her acting career (in films such as We’re Not Married! Moulin Rouge, and Lovely to Look At), Gabor was known for her lavish Hollywood lifestyle, her larger-than-life personality and her many romantic relationships.
Steve McQueen, the Highest Paid Actor in the World
McQueen’s anti-hero person made him stand out from the others. He was a sought-after talent in the late ’50s, ’60s, and well into the ’70s. Among his nicknames was the “King of Cool” which says a lot about the guy. Some of his popular performances include roles in movies like The Sand Pebbles (1966), Love With the Proper Stranger (1963), and Nevada Smith (1966).
In 1974, Steve McQueen earned the title of the highest-paid movie star on the globe. That level of popularity gave him a free hand at saying whatever he felt like saying on set, often clashing with directors and producers. He commanded the largest salaries and, for the most part, got what he asked for.
Neil Armstrong, the Nation’s Hero
In 1969, Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon and commemorated the moment with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Ahhh, the poetics… Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, was not only America’s hero but the whole world’s hero.
He was born and raised in Ohio, studied aeronautical engineering, became a naval aviator, then a test pilot, then a project pilot before he finally joined NASA in their second group which was selected in 1962. After he resigned from NASA, he became a professor at the University of Cincinnati where he taught in the department of Aerospace engineering until 1979.
With a tremendously successful career spanning over six decades, there’s no doubt that Warren Beatty is one of America’s most prized treasures. Throughout his years as an actor, director, screenwriter, and producer, Beatty has earned a mind-blowing number of nominations and awards.
Eight of the movies he has produced have earned a whopping 53 Academy nominations. But most importantly, Beatty received the academy’s highest honor, the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1999. He has earned 18 Golden Globe nominations (winning six of them) for movies including Shampoo (1975) and the 1967 classic, Bonnie and Clyde.
One of art’s quirkiest talents, Andy Warhol’s daring and bold experimental art and film techniques, as well as his playfulness, and brazen, free-spirited attitude made him an icon and an adored influencer. His impact still echoes today.
Andy’s works include painting, photography, filmmaking, silk screening, and sculpture. His studio in New York was called The Factory, and it had colorful people drop by for visits, from intellectuals to drag queens to playwrights and Hollywood celebs.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis
A socialite, photographer, writer, editor, and the first lady of America (1961-1963), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was every man’s dream and every woman’s envy. She had an optimistic glamour, a classy sense of style and impeccable wit.
She studied French Literature in college, worked for the Washington Times-Herald as a photographer and finally left her job after meeting future president John Kennedy at a dinner party. She was certainly an influential role model who deserves a spot on this list.
Of Bahamian and American heritage, Sidney Poitier made history when he became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was granted two Golden Globe Awards as well as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award AND a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.
Among his many successful projects are 1959’s Porgy and Bess, 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun, 1965’s A Patch of Blue. In 1967, he starred in three great films dealing with issues of race: To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. All in all, Poitier is one heck of a legend.
Raquel Welch, an Unforgettable Sex Symbol
Raquel Welch stormed onto the scene with her role in 1966’s Fantastic Voyage. After the movie, she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, which in turn led her to the British studio Hamer Film Productions which ultimately produced One Million Years B.C. – the film that turned her into a sex symbol.
Welch later starred in movies like 1967’s Bedazzled, 1968’s Bandolero! 1969’s 100 Rifles, and 1970’s Myra Breckinridge. Year after year, she captivated the audience and cemented her status as a ’60s icon.
In the 1960s, Sean Connery was at his peak. Later in his career, he would make some rough mistakes, like giving up roles in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings. But in his heyday, and after taking on the role of James Bond, Connery was marked as a talented force to be reckoned with.
Apart from James Bond, Connery starred in iconic films done by Sidney Lumet and Alfred Hitchcock. Later in his career, Connery was recognized as “The Greatest Living Scot” as well as “Scotland’s Greatest Living National Treasure.” People Magazine also called him “The Sexiest Man Alive” as well as the “Sexiest Man of the Century.”
Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense
Regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in history, British director Alfred Hitchcock is responsible for bringing us a string of thrilling movies. Over his six-decade-long career, he has directed over 50 memorable films.
He is known by his fans as the “Master of Suspense,” who not only worked behind the scenes but also starred in his own movies in various cameo appearances. He also hosted his own TV show called Hitchcock Presents (from 1955-1965). In total, his movies garnered 46 Academy Award nominations (he won six of them). He was also nominated five teams for Best Director (but unfortunately never won).
Heston was both a political activist and a devastatingly attractive actor (who was often seen shirtless in movies. As an actor in Hollywood, Heston starred in around 100 films over the course of six decades. Among his famous roles is Moses in the epic movie The Ten Commandments.
For playing Moses, the actor got his first ever nomination for the Golden Globe Award. Later, for his role in the film Ben-Hur (1959), the actor won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Other famous films he’s starred in include Secret of the Incas (1954), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and Touch of Evil (1958).
English actor Michael Cane is known for his heavy South London accent and irresistible charm. In his career spanning over seven decades, he has starred in more than 160 movies and has been granted numerous awards including two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, one BAFTA award, and one Screen Actors Guild Award.
This British icon was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for all his outstanding contributions to cinema. He made his breakthrough in the 1960s with roles in movies like Zulu and The Ipcress File and has never slowed down since.
Italian actress Sophia Loren (officially named Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone…phew!) was crowned by the Film Institute of America as one of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It all began with a beauty pageant where she was encouraged to take acting lessons as a way to break into the industry.
In 1950, she officially kicked off her acting career at the young age of sixteen. She starred in minor roles during the decade’s early years, only to sign a contract with Paramount in 1956. This launched her career, granting her spots in movies like Pride and the Passion and Houseboat.
Adam West, the Legendary Batman
Adam West played Batman in the ’60s in the famous ABC series, as well as in the 1966 feature film of the same name. He reprised the role again and again in various movies and TV shows until he retired from the action genre.
This legendary superhero kicked off his acting career in the 1950s but became a household name in the following decade. He starred in 1962’s Geronimo alongside Chuck Connors, and had a role in 1965’s The Outlaws Is Coming.
Model, actress, and singer, Dame Lesley Lawson (aka Twiggy) is a cultural icon who rose to stardom as a teenage model in the 1960s in London. She was known for her lanky frame and androgynous appearance, a result of her big eyes, gorgeous long eyelashes and short hair.
Twiggy became so famous she was crowned “The Face of 1966” as well as British Woman of the Year. By the end of the decade, this model had traveled to France, Japan, and the States, landing covers in huge magazines like The Tatler and Vogue.
Elvis Presley is the one and only, TRUE King of Rock and Roll. He’s arguably one of the most important icons of the 20th century. With sexually provocative performances and energized hits, he revolutionized the music industry.
He began his music career in the mid ’50s, when he released his first single “Heartbreak Hotel,” which aired at the start of 1956 and turned into a number one hit across the States. Within one single year, Elvis sold about ten million singles, and from then on, well, the rest is history.
British actress Audrey Hepburn is recognized as both a movie star and a fashion icon. She’s considered one of the greatest female screen legends in Classic Hollywood history and was also enshrined in the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame list (yeah, that’s a thing).
Audrey was raised in Belgium, England and the Netherlands. She started performing on stages as a dancer and later progressed to theater. One thing led to another and she landed a part in the rom-com Roman Holiday (1953), which won her an Oscar and was an incredible kickstart to a marvelous cinematic career.
Remembered for his baritone voice, outstanding acting and great looks, Burton established himself as a prolific actor in the 1950s and moved on to the following decade with even more ambition, giving us a memorable performance in 1964’s Hamlet.
People adored Burton, but, apparently, all of the praise did nothing but wear him down and cause him anxiety. The actor was a heavy drinker, and he ended up disappointing his fans by not living up to the image they drew of him. They believed he wasted his talent. Nevertheless, he is still considered one of the greatest actors of his time.
Known as the “First Lady of Song,” the “Queen of Jazz,” and “Lady Ella,” Fitzgerald made her mark on show business with her impeccable intonation, timing, diction, and skillful improvisational abilities. She impressed crowds with her scat singing and purity of tone.
Elle’s teenage years were tumultuous, but she found stability in music. She got accepted into the “Chick Webb Orchestra,” and began performing all across the country. Later, in 1942, she embarked on a solo career. The rest is beautiful, soulful history.
Elizabeth Tylor began acting as a child in the early ’40s. Slowly but surely, she became one of the most well-known stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1950s. In the following decade, in the swinging ’60s, she was crowned as one of the highest paid movie stars.
From that point on, Taylor established her status as a well-known figure in show biz and she remained an inspiration for many. In 1999, she was named the seventh greatest female screen legend by the American Film Institute. Can I get a round of applause please?
An actor, producer, director, and activist, Robert Redford has earned several accolades throughout his prolific career. He’s been nominated numerous times for an Academy Award, won a British Academy Film Award, snatched two Golden Globe Awards, and even earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2014, he was crowned by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He began appearing on stages in the 1950s, but his career really kicked off in the following decade, where he made his film debut in 1962’s War Hunt.
Paul Newman did basically everything – he acted, he directed, he raced cars, and he was an entrepreneur. Over the course of his career, he won numerous awards (Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes, Primetime Emmy Award, and even the Jean Hershlot Humanitarian Award).
Newman began acting at the age of 10, performing in various local plays. Later, after serving in the Navy and spending time in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he went on to get his BA degree in drama and economics. Eventually, he landed his first Broadway role in Picnic.
Aretha Franklin – The Powerhouse Singer
Known as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin has been crowned ninth place by Rolling Stone in their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. She has sold over 75 million records worldwide, winning over audiences with hits like “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
She began her singing journey as a child, when she sang her heart out to gospel tunes at her local church in Detroit, Michigan where her father was a minister. Later, at the tender age of 18, she signed with Columbia Records and embarked on one of the most impressive music careers in history.
Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of Them All
Boxer and activist, Muhammad Ali (known by his fans as the Greatest), is one of the most significant figures in sports history and arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Sports Illustrated crowned him Sportsman of the Century, back in 1999.
Ali began training at the young age of 12 and by 18, had already managed to win a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. Later that year, he turned pro. In 1964, Ali rose triumphant in one of the greatest matches in boxing history – his match against Sonny Liston, in which he snagged the heavyweight championship.
Actor, singer, and director Perkins is mostly famous for his performances in horror movies, where he normally took on malicious, villainous roles. However, he also agreed to play romantic leads in several dramas. In short – he could do it all.
Perkins began acting as a teenager and debuted in movies way before setting foot on an actual stage. Eventually, he debuted on Broadway in the play Tea and Sympathy, where he starred as Tom Lee, a “sissy” character magically cured by the right woman.
Jimi Hendrix – The Guitarist
Even though his career was short, Jimi Hendrix managed to create waves and is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and one of the most colorful musicians of the 20th century. According to the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Hendrix is “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
The first time Hendrix picked up a guitar was at the age of 15. Later, he began jamming with the Isley Brothers, then with Little Richard, then with Curtis Knight and the Squire before teaming up with bassist Chas Chandler who served as his manager for the remaining years of his career. He found fame with the Jimi Hendrix Experience after releasing memorable singles like Purple Haze and Hey Joe.
Sonny and Cher – The Singing Duo
American pop duo Sonny and Cher found fame in the ’60s and ’70s. They began their career as R&B backup singers for Phil Spector, and later went on to release their own hits, including 1965’s Baby Don’t Go and I Got You Babe.
In the ’70s, they turned into media influencers and landed top TV shows: The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Sonny & Cher Show. Their career came to an end in the mid ’70s after they divorced. But the decade they spent together was so fruitful that Rolling Stone ranked them number 18 on their list of the 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.
Johnny Cash, the Man in Black
Known for his bass-baritone voice, profound lyrics, and distinctive train-like chugging guitar strumming, Johnny Cash, also known as “The Man in the Black,” is one of the ’60s most beloved artists. His songs contained themes of sorrow and redemption, of tribulation and hope.
His career was not without its shortcomings. Johnny Cash attempted to commit suicide once but was saved at the last minute. Cash was appreciated not only for his music, but for his incredibly humble demeanor, good heart and clever mind.
James Douglas Morrison, better known as Jim Morrison, was the lead vocalist of The Doors. This artist’s larger than life personality, wild ideas, poetic lyrics and rebel attitude made him one of the most memorable figures of the ’60s.
The Doors found fame in the mid ’60s with their single “Light My Fire,” which became a number one hit tune in the United States. In total, Morrison recorded six studio albums with the band, all of which were widely praised. Sadly, though, he found his death at the young age of 27.
Actress and model Natalie Wood began her career as a child star and over time transitioned to more serious roles. Over the course of her career, Wood received four Golden Globes nominations and three Academy Award nominations.
As a teen, Wood was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). She also starred in musicals like West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962). As her career progressed, Wood tried her hands in other films like Sex and the Single Girl and Inside Daisy Clover.
Actor Jack Lemmon was great at both comedy and drama. Later in his career, The Guardian crowned him as the “the most successful tragi-comedian of his age.” The actor starred in more than 60 films and was nominated a whopping eight times for an Academy Award (winning twice).
He also received six Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards, two Emmy Awards and two Cannes Film Festival awards. In 1988, this cultural icon was given a prestigious accolade – the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the American Film Institute for his grand contributions to cinema.
Filmmaker and actor John Wayne became an icon in the States following the roles he took on during Hollywood’s Golden Age and, in particular, Westerns and war films. In total, Wayne appeared in 179 movies and TV show. The actor was selected by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest male stars in America.
Initially, he had dreams of being a football player, but he lost his scholarship as a result of an accident. He then began working for the Fox Film Corporation and started taking on minor roles. His first leading part was in the Western The Big Trail, and the rest is history…
Songwriter, singer, actor, and movie producer, Mick Jagger has done it all. He gained recognition as the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, and the songs he wrote with Keith Richards are known to be some of the best in music history.
Jagger has been dubbed as one of “the most popular and influential frontmen in the history of rock & roll.” With a distinctive voice and energetic air, he has managed to draw audiences in, concert after concert.
Bob Dylan is considered by many to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time. With a career spanning more than six decades, he has managed to touch the hearts of many and inspire numerous other musicians to grab a guitar and sing.
He gained recognition in the ’60s with songs like Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin. His lyrics became the anthem for many Civil Rights activists and antiwar movements. It’s safe to say that there’s a reason why Bob Dylan is regarded as one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century.
American actress and fashion model Jane Fonda is a film icon, an activist, and a style guru. She has received a host of different accolades, including two British Academy Film Awards, two Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes, and a Primetime Emmy Award.
Fonda made her debut on Broadway in the play There Was a Little Girl, for which she got a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Later that year, she made her screen debut in the romantic comedy Tall Story.