Famous Long Islanders like Billy Joel and "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio have entertained people across the country and around the world. But no matter where they go and what they do, they always take a little bit of home with them. Check out quotes from these 44 celebrities reminincing about life on LI.
"They told me I had something special, from a really young age. And they rewarded me and trusted me with important solos and roles [in school productions] and influenced me and inspired me to be creative," Broadway and movie actress Menzel said of her experiences at J. Irving Baylis Elementary School in Plainview and then Syosset's H.B. Thompson Middle School and Syosset High School. She’s maintained a positive opinion despite an “A” she didn’t get in choir from late Syosset High teacher Elliot Bean. "He gave me a B+ once because I was talking to my girlfriends too much. I think I felt comfortable in the music class and I was doing well and getting a little cocky."
"Everybody feels, everybody wants to express themselves. But you have to learn from somebody. I learned at Adelphi. I came into the school with talent, but I left knowing how to express myself — in art and music." The Public Enemy frontman and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from Roosevelt graduated from Adelphi in 1984 and received an honorary doctorate in 2013.
"People used to call us the Demolition Squad because we would open up for bands and steal their audience. We did 2,000 club shows. My hair still smells like beer and smoke to this day." Snider and his Twisted Sister bandmates ruled clubs on Long Island like Speaks in Island Park, the Mad Hatter in Stony Brook and Hammerheads in Levittown before attaining worldwide fame.
"There were no phone lines yet into the houses. One phone booth for the entire street. So when the phone rang, we had to go out to the street to answer it. The streets were just mud and dust, like a western town. It was a real feeling of the frontier." -- Famous author DeMille on living in Elmont after his family moved there from Jamaica, Queens in the late '40s. His father, Huron DeMille, helped develop communites on Long Island, and Nelson DeMille ended up using the island as the setting for best-selling thrillers like "Plum Island" and "The Gold Coast."
"The fishing place and the making out place were the same place. We used to hang out at the Sand Street Beach in Stony Brook and West Meadow Beach. At West Meadow, I used to hang out with a bunch of guys, one of them had a house on the beach. We'd party with the girls from school. And Smith's Point Beach. But we did a lot more talking about getting sex than actually getting it, talked more about making out than actually making out." Before James found success as an actor and comedian, he shared the wrestling mats at Ward Melville High School with WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley.
"I'd get on my bike in the morning and take off for parts unknown like Tackapausha Preserve [in Seaford] or Bethpage State Park. Now, that was an exciting adventure." Mets superfan Seinfeld grew up in Massapequa and went on to stardom with his iconic self-titled sitcom. Among the ways he found to tip a cap to his former home on "Seinfeld" was naming a character on one episode "Mr. Bevilacqua," after his real-life Massapequa High School phys ed and driver's ed teacher, Albert Bevilacqua.
"I did all the Long Island clubs, getting in the back door even before I was able to go in the front door. Back then you had to gain your audience 200 people at a time -- Escapes in Merrick." Merrick native Gibson rose through the club ranks during her teens to score with platinum-selling albums "Out of the Blue" and Electric Youth" before going on to Broadway success. She sparred with the likes of Clay Aiken while appearing on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2012, was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014 and competed on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2017.
"We had no money. We spent our lives at the beach," Lindenhurst native Benatar said of her and her friends. "And some of our friends had little boats with motors on them. Everyone was smoking pot and having a great time." The Grammy-winning singer released the memoir "Between a Heart and a Rock Place" in 2011.
"At that time, there weren't as many cars on the road and gas was like 30 cents. I worked in the summertime and always had gas money and I was able to take my girlfriend out. Back in the day, when you had a 442, man, you were rolling. It was only fitting for the high school quarterback, to be honest with you." -- Esiason, a 1978 East Islip High School graduate, talking to Motor Trend about driving his sister's 1969 Oldsmobile 442 around Islip Town and other highways like the Southern State Parkway and Montauk Highway. Esiason was a star quarterback at the University of Maryland and in the NFL before settling into a broadcasting career that now includes a morning show on WFAN Radio and a studio analyst role during football season with CBS Sports.
"The Boys & Girls Club definitely gave me my start. I actually had my very first talent show at the Boys & Girls Club in the gym. I was about 12 years old. It was a homemade stage that the guys made. And it's just surreal. It's like full-circle, you know, to be here today and to be able to tell kids and young people, 'You can do it. I had my start here.' So, that's amazing." -- Glen Cove native and R&B superstar Ashanti talking in a PSA about her time at the Glen Cove Boys & Girls Club, where her mother, Tina Douglas, taught dance. Ashanti is a member of the Boys & Girls Club of America Alumni Hall of Fame.
"There is no feeling that is any greater, there is no award that is any greater than to come home. And even though Manhasset was a very rich community, a very affluent community, at no time did I worry about racism or prejudice or see any of that. It was an example of how people should be treated.'' -- NFL Hall of Famer Brown speaking during a May 2013 event at Manhasset High School unveiling a plaque to honor his achievements there. From 1950-53, Brown won 13 varsity letters in five sports: football, basketball, track, baseball and lacrosse.
"After we started getting gigs in bars on weeknights, I’d be half asleep in school all day, and the teachers thought I was always stoned, even though I never was." -- Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joel talking about his time with The Hassles while attending Hicksville High School. "At the time, I made $200, maybe $300 a week, and that's pretty cool for a kid," he added of playing at spots like Action House in Oceanside and My House in Plainview.
"I credit my husband [Helmut Huber] that we chose Garden City. It was the town I grew up in, and I don't think I realized what a wonderful town it was till we were married. When you grow up someplace, the idea is to get away! You don't know it's a great place. And then my husband, who's also from a beautiful place, the Austrian Alps, says it's a gorgeous town, with a great school system and a wonderful sense of community. It's where my parents lived, and we moved back and raised our children, to give them a sense of normalcy and roots." Following her legendary four-decade run as Erica Kane on "All My Children," Lucci moved on to other projects, including the Lifetime series "Devious Maids."
"When I grew up, this was like my playground, this school [Ward Melville High School]... I was tagging along with my dad, having the sights and the sounds and smells -- that potpourri of liniment and perspiration. I remember the first time I smelled 'BO' was at a cross-country meet. But it wasn't unpleasant, in a strange way. That's what you got when you worked hard." Foley enjoyed his years at the high school gym with his dad, former Ward Melville athletic director Jack Foley, then went on to become a three-time WWE Champion, a best-selling author and a 2013 WWE Hall of Famer.
"No matter where you were you fell asleep hearing the waves. It was just a great place to develop. You felt safe and when you feel safe, you can do anything. You always felt like there were so many places to go. We had different hangouts -- swimming at the pool, seeing movies at the Laurel Theater, noshing at Beach Burger, getting a slice and a Coke for a quarter at Gino's pizzeria ... And of course, you'd hang out on the boardwalk, or under the boardwalk if you were lucky." -- Crystal talking about growing up in the '50s in Long Beach before becoming a legendary comedic actor.
"I was never cast as the lead then. I was known as the 'Dancing Kid,' not that I was all that great. But I had been dancing since the age of 3, taking lessons at the June Claire School of Dance in Babylon, Long Island." -- Macchio in a 1996 interview with "Playbill" talking about how he was in the chorus for the Half Hollow Hills High School West production of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Macchio, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills West in 1979, became a star as "The Karate Kid," then finally landed the lead in "How To Succeed" as part of a national tour of the production. He returned to his "Karate Kid" origins in 2018 with the launch of Netflix series "Cobra Kai."
"I learned a lot about acting behind that bar," he said. "I won't be able to resist reminiscing." Danza, a 1968 Malverne High School graduate, served up drinks at Malverne's Ickle Bickle's back in the day. Today it's called Connolly Station, and Danza returned there to tend bar on March 14, 2013 as part of a fundraiser to save a Howard T. Herber Middle School sixth-grade field trip.
"I loved it. I was really lucky that everyone really understood about my [movie] work and allowed me to take tests at different times [than other students] and miss days if I needed to because I was working. That allowed me a lot of freedom, which was really, really wonderful." -- Portman reflecting on her time at Syosset High School, from which the graduated in 1999. Portman co-authored with two adult scientists a paper, "A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar." It was published in the Journal of Chemical Education and earned Portman, then a senior, a semifinalist spot in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.
"There was a whole stretch of Jericho Turnpike in Commack with fast-food joints. One of your classmates always had a part-time job in McDonald's or Burger King. They'd throw you extra fries or burgers with your order. That was a big perk to us." Costas was part of the first graduating class at Commack South High School before moving on Syracuse University and eventually becoming one of the most-accomplished sportscasters of all time.
"There really was a Trees Lounge. The owner was a woman named Ann Mitchell and there used to be a tree in front of the bar. That's why she named it Trees Lounge." -- Buscemi, best known for his roles on HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Boardwalk Empire," talking to the Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) about directing, writing and starring in the 1997 indie flick "Trees Lounge." Buscemi's character, Tommy Basilio, was based on the actor's upbringing in Valley Stream, including time spent at the former North Central Avenue speakeasy. The film was set in Valley Stream and some scenes were shot there, although the real Trees Lounge was gone by then.
"I could walk out in the front yard, and in the street there'd be a football game, or a street hockey game. And then you get on your bike and you go to the pool, and every person in town is there, with the Good Humor man up on top of the hill. It really was 'The Wonder Years.' Very much so." Radio host/pianist/composer Tesh grew up on Seabury Road off Old Country Road in Garden City and graduated from Garden City High School.
"When I went to this school I was on the honor roll," Carey said during "Mariah Carey's Homecoming Special," a 1999 Fox documentary that saw her return to her alma mater, Harborfields High School, from which she graduated in 1987, to perform and recollect. She later added of the Greenlawn school, "I actually liked gym, you know, when I didn't really have to participate in sports."
In her teen years the Commack native would hang out with friends at Tiffany's Wine and Cheese Cafe on Jericho Turnpike "with fake IDs and drink sangria. It was right across from the Commack Motor Inn, where they had mirrored ceilings over the beds and where everyone wanted to go have sex for the first time. I don't think anyone did, but it was always, 'Hey, we're going to CMI.'"
"My parents moved from Brooklyn to Westbury when I was 8, and it was a fantastic experience. I loved Mid-Island Plaza [now Broadway Mall]. And Hicksville Junior High and High School. I made great friends – some I still have." -- Bracco in a 2009 interview with Long Island Woman magazine. She graduated from Hicksville High in 1972 before moving on to an acting career highlighted by her role as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on "The Sopranos."
"I took something so innocent and beautiful and really just ruined it. My parents weren't privy to the dirty performances. My friends would beg me for puppet shows." -- Radio legend and former "America's Got Talent" judge Stern in a biography.com story talking about how much he enjoyed holding performances of "The Perverted Marionette Show" in the basement of his parents' Roosevelt home during his childhood.
"When I was little I used to drive my dad's car in the backyard. It was pretty funny, I crashed into a tree almost, but, you know, I was learning." -- Lohan as a 17-year-old on a 2003 episode of "The Sharon Osbourne Show" speaking with guest host Anthony Anderson. She went on to explain, "Where I lived in New York, on Long Island, it's Laurel Hollow, and it's 2-acre zoning, so we had 3 acres, and I drove."
"One of the things that my kids and I liked to do was get our bucket and our rake and dig up steamers and take them straight to The Dockside in Sag Harbor. They took our steamers into the kitchen and we bought a few of theirs and sat down and ate them fresh right there watching the boats." -- Supermodel and actress Brinkley talking to hamptons.com about her love of the area and how it spurred her interest in advocating for the environment.
"I'm really grateful that it [getting the role of Meadow on "The Sopranos"] happened to me at the time it did," said Sigler. It was important to her that landing her breakout role during her senior year at Jericho High School didn't cost her the normal teen experiences. "I still got to go on my spring break and my senior prom and finish high school with all my friends."
"'Teachers' worst nightmare' and 'class clown' were like my little awards," comedian Amy Schumer said during a 2011 interview on "The Howard Stern Show." (Both Schumer and Stern attended South Side High School In Rockville Centre.) "I had detention every single week, like 'Breakfast Club' Saturday detention," the 1999 graduate said. "I just liked making myself laugh and making people uncomfortable. I never saw the teachers as these untouchable authorities."
"We'd play a lot of parties, we'd play until the cops came, we'd play the beach clubs, like the Malibu and the Colony out in Lido Beach, and a lot of dances at the school." -- Money, an Island Trees High School alumnus who died of cancer in 2019, spoke with Newsday in a 1998 story about the days when his high school band, The Grapes of Wrath, was busy competing with other local acts: "We did a battle of the bands in 1966 with The Hassles, Billy Joel's band...I think it was MacArthur High School in Levittown or Syosset High School or the Mid-Island Mall, I can't remember. Neither one of us won."
"My high school [Holy Trinity] was right next to his and it's like, I know exactly what he's talking about in his songs." -- "Glee" star Ushkowitz talking to New York magazine about her favorite New Yorker, Billy Joel. Ushkowitz was raised in East Meadow and graduated from Hicksville's Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, near Joel's alma mater, Hicksville High School.
"Jones Beach, West End 4. My teen years were spent here boy hunting, swimming and eating, listening to the radio! Cool memories!" The model, actress, raw-food advocate and author was born in East Williston.
"The person who I am was formed at the malls, on the Jericho Turnpike, in the parks. I spent a good portion of my childhood on the South Shore of Long Island. It's a little bit tougher. We moved to Northport for high school...It's a spectacularly beautiful town. It's by the water. I thought I had landed in Oz, basically." -- West Islip-raised Falco talking to The Wall Street Journal about her upbringing prior to a career that includes the iconic role of Carmela on "The Sopranos."
"I've always said that in springtime, if you drive the loop, going home, going south, just as the sun's going down over that marshland, it is as pretty as anywhere you will ever see. I love to catch it at the right time ... in May ... about 7:30." -- Former WFAN host Francesa on driving the Loop Parkway. He spent much of his life on the barrier island that includes Long Beach, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach. As an adult, he moved to Manhasset.
Chris "Mad Dog" Russo
"My father was a jewelry salesman and he took the train to work every day. I used to look through the back porch window and see my father cut through the stable when he'd come home at night." Russo grew up on Harmony Court in Syosset with Galeeza Stable behind the home. He went on to fame, teaming with co-host Mike Francesa on WFAN for 19 years before going it alone on Sirius XM's "Mad Dog Radio."
Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling
"In the early 1970s, my band, the Off Hour Rockers, rented a house in Bayville on the water and played our first gig at where the Shipwreck Tavern is today. I remember going to sleep listening to the sound of the waves and I said, 'I’m coming back to this someday.'" -- Martling, a stand-up comedian, radio host, actor and a former writer and radio personality for "The Howard Stern Show," has lived in Bayville since 1976 and visited his aunt and uncle there regularly during his childhood.
"You ran as fast as you can, dove on the wet green and slid 150 feet downhill. People would be laughing so hard they were crying." -- Baldwin talking about he and fellow famous brothers Alec, Daniel and Stephen having some slip-and-slide fun with friends at Massapequa’s Peninsula Golf Club back in the '70s after the sun went down. His bond with the community remains strong: In 2001 he helped establish the Massapequa Community Fund as a way to give back.
"I graduated from Valley Stream Central High School in 1985. It was the best childhood anyone could ever ask for. You'll find 10 to 15 people packed at someone's house for parties... Still to this day, I keep in touch with everyone who grew on that street, on Jefferson Avenue... We also used to hangout at Green Acres Mall all the time. We'd go to the movies at the multiplex. We loved going to the best pizza place, Ancona Pizzeria." Breuer is a stand-up comedian, actor and radio host. He's known for his time as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" and for his role in the 1998 cult "stoner" flick "Half Baked."
LL Cool J
"I played Little League football on Long Island, I spent a lot of time out here. So, you know, it's just amazing to just be recognized. And every award matters. And when your own community -- this is like truly my roots, this is part of my roots and part of, you know, where I come from. And when the people honor you where you come from there's a certain level of just -- it just feels a little bit more sincere, a little more truthful, so I'm very thankful." -- LL Cool J during a news conference about being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2008. He's known by many for his connection to Queens, but he was born in Bay Shore in 1968, and now has a home in Manhasset with his wife and four children.
Melissa Joan Hart
"I grew up in a house where holidays, you know, [were] big traditions, all that, and my parents did a really good job of convincing us of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and all that. I mean, it was like, there was no doubt in my mind at 14 that Santa Claus was real... They're [other kids] off at, like, keg parties and I still believe in Santa." -- Hart in a 2001 interview on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Born in Smithtown, Hart was raised in Sayville before earning adolescent icon status starring on "Clarissa Explains It All" and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."
"I used to tell stories when I was little. For example, I saw 'ET' when I was about 4 years old, just about the time I started working professionally. Our neighbors in Long Island still tell this story. I was on the other side of the fence and I talked to them for hours telling them the entire story of 'ET.' I was acting it out. I always did that with everything. I'd have my sisters and cousins do plays. We'd make movies together. My parents were always cool with that. I was a ham." -- Ali in a 2010 interview with SheKnows.com. The actress was raised in North Bellmore and is best known for her role as Ashley Banks on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
"I distinctly remember summers; especially the clamming. it was spectacular. My dad was in the Kiwanis Club and they'd hold these clam bakes down by Crab Meadow. You'd be able to dig the shoreline and come up with little necks, then a little farther out would be the cherrystones and, of course, they'd go way out for the quahogs, the chowders. I remember being on the beach with a knife and cutting them open and eating them raw. We'd have these feasts. And we'd get buckets of them, for Mom to make clam sauce." Northport's LuPone went on to win two Tony Awards but never forgot her roots, returning to the village for a pair of sold-out concerts at the John W. Engeman Theater in 2017.
"Dr. J." Julius Erving
"I lived at 50 Beech [now Evans] Avenue in Hempstead. We moved there when my mom and dad separated. I was 3 years old. I remember at age 5 or 6 running up and down the steps of that project. Something was instilled in me by God, a competitive nature. We had benches outside that were secured in cement. Kids my age used to step on the seat of the benches and jump over. As I got stronger and faster, I got to the point where I could step onto the back part of the bench and jump over. And then one day, when I was 7 or 8, an amazing thing happened. I jumped clear over the bench. I experienced a breakthough and I was happy. It became a part of my makeup." Erving ended up starring at Roosevelt High School before eventually embarking on a Hall of Fame career that included a pair of ABA titles on Long Island with the New York Nets in 1974 and 1976.
"I loved living there. My friends and I could walk down the street, cross a creek, and play for a couple of hours in woods that ran all the way to Sunrise Highway, where there was an abandoned waterworks. -- Demme talking about his childhood home on Lorenz Avenue in Baldwin. Demme went on to direct classics like "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia."