For the most part, our world’s biggest stars excel in either the creative arts or sports. From a creative perspective, actors who grace the big screen and artists who write the next pop anthem go down in history as influential celebrities. From an athletic perspective, sports stars who represent their nations in international competitions are dubbed part of the elite.

Creativity and sports are two primary ways in which a person can become a legend because many ordinary people lack exceptional artistic and/or athletic talent. It seems that celebrities tend to represent two skills that simply can’t be taught. After all, not everyone is born with a gaze as convincing as Leonardo DiCaprio, or the ability to hit the G7 high note like Mariah Carey, or to dunk with the conviction and grace of Michael Jordan.

But, on occasion, a star might make their name in an entirely different field. Though rare, people like Stephen Hawking highlight that some stars are born with brains—and their intelligence alone is enough to put them on the map. Let’s count down some of the world’s biggest celebrities who made their name thanks to straddling the line of genius (rather than earning honorary degrees down the line, like many celebs).


Jennifer Shahade

Jennifer Shahade is one of the US’s most qualified and famous thinkers. In the late 90s, Shahade landed on the map thanks to her skills in chess. To date, she has won two US Women’s Champion titles, and also has the official FIDE title of Woman Grandmaster. But if you’ve heard of Shahade, it might actually be for her poker exploits.

She’s also a master in Texas Holdem, which is the world’s most popular poker variation. As a poker pro, Shahade made her name competing in online and in-person tournaments. She’s also taken her love of both mental sports (poker and chess) to an award-winning podcast format. Her podcast, The Grid, which focuses on theoretical approaches to poker, won the 2019 Global Poker Award for Podcast of the Year, whereas her podcast, Ladies Knight, which focuses on chess, is also hugely popular.



Neil deGrasse Tyson

In the last ten years, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has become one of America’s latest sweethearts. With degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard, he’s easily one of the most academically celebrated scholars in the realm of astrophysics.

But he also has a penchant for teaching and rubbing elbows with non-academics. His ability to translate highly complex topics into understandable summaries has lent to his celebrity, making him a popular host and guest on a variety of projects. To date, he’s appeared in dozens of films, shows, and interviews, from PBS’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey to pop hits like BoJack Horseman and Parks & Recreation.


Elon Musk

Love him or hate him, Elon Musk has elbowed his way into the realm of stardom thanks to his genius. Today, the infamous CEO is most notably remembered for his contributions to self-driving cars, space travel, and, more recently, the acquisition of Twitter. While his personal views have left much of his celebrity open to the court of public opinion, Musk made it into the spotlight with a few whiz ideas.

His most famous projects revolve around Tesla’s self-driving and state-of-the-art electric cars, along with his forays into recreational space travel via SpaceX. However, he’s also a major thinker behind the current AI boom. As OpenAI’s co-founder, Musk has often shared his opinions on the power and purpose of AI.


Mayim Bialik

Most would recognize actress Mayim Bialik from the popular TV show, The Big Bang Theory. On the show, she plays the brainy love interest of the main character. However, not all of the role is an acting performance for Bialik. Before she moved into the acting world as an adult, she was a highly celebrated academic.

Bialik has degrees in both neuroscience and philosophy, which she has used to publish multiple studies, along with a doctorate thesis. Her studies have all focused on cognitive neuroscience.


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