Entertainment TV The real people behind the TV characters
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The real people behind the TV characters

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Some television characters are so unique you’d never believe they could actually exist off the screen.

But some of television’s craziest, creepiest and strangest personalities were inspired by real life people.

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From a writer’s kooky neighbour, to a revolutionary ad man, and a notorious gangster, here are The New Daily‘s top-five television characters inspired by real people.

Mr Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns from The Simpsons

Inspired by Fred Olsen, Norwegian billionaire

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Monty Burns (left) bears a striking resemblance to shipping billionaire Fred Olsen.

Mr Burns is one of the most recognisable yet loathed figures in The Simpsons and rumours have long swirled about his inspiration. The most popular of all is that he’s based on the shy-yet-powerful Fred Olsen, a Norwegian watch, shipping and energy billionaire, simply because they look quite similar.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening told Fortune the resemblance is ‘purely coincidental’, but look at the pair side by side and you can see why the comparisons continue.

According to Fortune, even Olsen himself was convinced he was the sole inspiration for The Simpsons character. Other popular choices for Mr Burns’ inspiration include another Norwegian businessman, Olav Thon, who is believed to have taken over a couple of factories in Groening’s home town when he was young.

Piper Chapman from Orange Is the New Black

Inspired by Piper Kerman, actual criminal

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Piper Chapman, the character from Orange Is the New Black (left), and author and reformed criminal Piper Kerman.

The main character in the hit comedy-drama is based on a real-life criminal figure who wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir about her experiences in prison.

In the show Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling and inspired by Kerman, is a bisexual former wild child whose crimes from the past catch up with her and land her in prison.

Full of contradictions and likability issues, the character is the believable pivot in the gritty Netflix original which gets more popular every day.

Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire

Inspired by Enoch L. Johnson, American gangster

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Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire (left) is a recreation of a real-life gangster Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson.

Even after a dynamite single-series role as Tony Soprano’s cousin in The Sopranos and memorable roles in Big Daddy, Billy Madison and The Wedding Singer, Steve Buscemi’s portrayal of Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire was easily his most riveting work.

Nucky is based on real-life political gangster Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson, who in the early 1900s ruled the Atlantic City boardwalk with an iron fist. Boardwalk Empire ran for five seasons and became a cult hit for its violent, boozy and honest portrayal at life on the boardwalk when laws were rarely enforced.

Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld

Inspired by Kenny Kramer, comedian

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Kenny Kramer (left), who inspired Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer. (Kenny photo: Getty)

Surprisingly, one of the most awkward, obtuse, unusual and unique characters in television history wasn’t the product of a writer’s overactive imagination.

Comedian Kenny Kramer lived across the hall from Seinfeld creator Larry David for six years, just like Cosmo did with Jerry. It is believed that when Kenny found out about David using his likeness, he demanded he play Cosmo in the show and also receive renumeration for being Cosmo’s source of inspiration.

Kenny did not get his way, so he settled for a role hosting a behind-the-scenes Seinfeld tour of significant locations from the show. These tours were parodied in the program itself in the episode titled The Muffin Tops.

Don Draper from Mad Men

Inspired by George Lois, Madison Avenue ad man

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Don Draper from Mad Men next to actual ad man George Lois.

This likeness was the subject of a VICE documentary, which looked at the similarities between Don and Lois, an American art director, designer and author well known for his innovative campaigns and logos for huge names like Tommy Hilfiger, Xerox, ESPN and Lean Cuisine.

In the documentary, Lois says he thinks Don is nowhere near as good as he was as an ad man, so at least we know where the Mad Men protagonist’s bravado comes from.

Show creator Matthew Weiner is known for his strict and often neurotic adherence to genuine historical representation, however he insists Lois was not the express or sole inspiration for Draper.

Watch the documentary and decide for yourself. There are a lot of compelling similarities.

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