Essex County is home to many notable individuals, from Revolutionary War figures to inventors to poets to actors to professional athletes and everything in between. There are so many accomplishments and masters of their craft to celebrate, we had to share. Read on to learn about all the famous figures who call Essex County home.
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Revolutionary War officer, Senator of New York, and Vice President to Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr was born in what is now Newark in 1756. As we all know now thanks to Disney+ and quarantine, he infamously killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804.
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Allen Ginsberg is a famous American poet popular in the 1970s and winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. He was born into a Jewish household in Newark and then later the family moved to nearby Paterson.
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Anne Hathaway was born in Brooklyn but spent most of her childhood and teenage years growing up in Millburn. She graduated from Millburn High School and even participated in performances of Jane Eyre and Gigi at the Paper Mill Playhouse, which is also located in Millburn.
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You may recognize this comedian and actor from his role as VJ (video jockey for all our Gen-Zers) on various shows on MTV including MTV Beach House. He was not only born in Newark but graduated from South Orange High School and later went on to attend Rutgers University.
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This director is behind some of the most iconic psychological thrillers and crime dramas of their time including “Carrie,” “Scarface,” and “Mission: Impossible.” Brian DePalma was one of three boys born in Newark to Italian-American parents.
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One of the first people to land on the moon is from Essex County. Buzz Aldrin was born in Glen Ridge and grew up in Montclair before moving onto West Point Academy, the Air Force, and then most notably, NASA. Montclair renamed a middle school after him in 2016 and he was the inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear character in the “Toy Story” series.
Cleo Hill’s basketball career with the NBA will always be remembered because he was one of the first African-American players to be drafted. Hailing from Newark, Hill went on to become a very successful coach at Essex County College after only a year with the St. Louis Hawks.
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Dionne Warwick was born and raised in East Orange. She is an American singer, actress, television host, and former Goodwill Ambassador for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. She began her singing career by singing gospel at Hope Church in Newark.
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Though this politician was born in the Bronx, Ed Koch grew up in Newark and graduated from South Side High School. He served in the House of Representatives and then went on to become the mayor of New York City.
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Ernest Dickerson is a director and cinematographer who calls Newark his hometown. He met classmate and fellow director Spike Lee at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. They went on to work together on numerous films including “Malcolm X” and “Do The Right Thing”.
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R&B singer and late wife of The Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans grew up in Newark singing in the choir of the Emmanuel Baptist Church.
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Maybe this name doesn’t ring a bell but if the “emo” era was a thing during your school years, the name My Chemical Romance probably rings a few bells. Frank Iero is a Belleville native that was a vocalist and guitarist for the band.
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The hit musical “Jersey Boys” follows the beginnings of Frankie Valli, who was born in Newark and grew up in New Jersey. His one-of-a-kind voice made waves in the music industry as a solo artist as well as a member of the Four Seasons.
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Gloria Gaynor is a disco-era singer/songwriter known most famously for her songs “I Will Survive” and “Reach Out: I’ll Be There.” She was born, raised, and lived in Newark until she signed with Columbia Records after spending years performing in local nightclubs.
If you’re old enough to remember buying film for the camera (sorry millennials), then thank Hannibal Goodwin for the invention of that film. While he didn’t grow up in Essex County, it was during his tenure at the House of Prayer Church in Newark that the idea had been developed.
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This 90210 star got started in 07101. Ian Ziering was born in Newark and grew up in West Orange. He went on to William Paterson University so forget about Beverly Hills, he couldn’t be more Jersey.
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Less famously known by his given name, Tracy Lauren Marrow, Ice-T was born and raised in Newark before his family moved to Morris County.
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The actor behind one of the funniest characters to grace television, George Costanza of “Seinfeld”, originally from Newark.
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Playing not far from home in East Orange, Jabrill Peppers is a safety for the New York Giants. He played for Don Bosco Prep and then Paramus Catholic High School, where he was recruited by the University of Michigan.
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This famous actor born and raised in Newark starred on the HBO hits, “Oz” and “The Wire”. According to NJ.com, J.D Williams has maintained his connection to Newark by offering free acting workshops at a local career center.
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Jerry Lewis was a comedian, actor, director, and producer, among other things. He was an Irvington native, where neighbors and friends remember how he was always pulling pranks on others.
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“Goodfellas”, “Home Alone”, and “The Irishman” all have this actor in common. Joe Pesci was born in Newark but grew up and graduated from Belleville High School before his big break in movies.
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Most famously known for his roles in “Good Times,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Roots”, the actor John Amos was born in Newark and grew up in East Orange.
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Before making the NBA All-Rookie team in 2012 and after being named second-team All-American during his time at Morehead State University, Kenneth Faried was a player at Technology High School in Newark, where he was born and raised.
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Born in East Orange, Lauryn Hill is an American singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer, and actress. Through all her success and achievements, Hill still lives in Essex County.
Current safety for the New Orleans Saints, Malcolm Jenkins is originally from East Orange. His family later moved to Piscataway, where he ultimately gained attention for his skills on the field.
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Martha Stewart is a retail businesswoman, writer, tv personality, and lifestyle expert. Although, she was born in Jersey City, at the age of three she moved to Nutley and graduated from Nutley High School.
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Matee Avajon is a former WNBA player who graduated from Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark after helping the team become the first to win the state’s Tournament of Champions in back-to-back years.
Michael B. Jordan
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Heartthrob Michael B. Jordan has been gracing our screens for over ten years starring in TV shows and movies such as “Friday Night Lights”, the “Creed” franchise, and “Black Panther”. He moved to Newark from California at the age of two and graduated from Newark Arts High School. He was named People Magazine’s 2021 sexiest man alive.
Michaela Jaé (MJ) Rodriguez
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Born in Newark, NJ, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is relatively newer to Hollywood but is already making big waves. In 2022, MJ’s performance as Blanca Rodriguez in the FX series Pose scored her an Emmy nomination + secured her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama series. What’s more, MJ is the first trans person to receive a Golden Globe and received a special honor from producer Ryan Murphy at the 2023 Golden Globes.
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Half of the world-renowned musical duo Simon + Garfunkle is from Newark. Paul Simon is known as one of the best songwriters in history and holds over 10 Grammys.
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Rapper, actress, and all-around entertainer, Queen Latifah has not strayed far from her Newark/East Orange roots. Most recently, she’s been an advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations in a campaign produced in partnership with Essex County.
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Born and raised in Newark, Randy Foye is a ten-year veteran of the NBA. He graduated from East Side High School where he was named New Jersey Player of the Year before moving on to play basketball at Villanova.
Known by her rap name “Rah Digga,” Rashia is a rapper and actress who started her life in music after growing up in Newark and graduating college from NJIT. Rah Digga was the only female artist in Flipmode Squad, a group lead by hip-hop star Busta Rhymes.
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Ray Liotta is another “Goodfellas” actor who was born in the Brick City, a.k.a Newark. After his critically acclaimed performance in the Martin Scorsese classic, he went on to star in the films “The Rat Pack” and “Phoenix” in addition to playing a police officer alongside Jennifer Lopez in “Shades of Blue”.
Even though this name may not ring any bells, the world owes Sam Porcello a big round of applause for the goodness that is the Oreo™ cookie filling. In fact, Nabisco nicknamed him “Mr. Oreo” for his contribution to the timeless cult classic.
Sandy Grossman was a famous sports telecaster and director, who was born in Newark and graduated from Weequahic High School. He went on to win eight Emmys for directing numerous sporting events like the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and NBA finals among others.
Sarah Vaughan was a jazz artist who was born and raised in Newark before becoming popular in New York City nightclubs. Newark has commemorated her legacy by creating a U.S. Forever stamp and naming a local vocal competition after her.
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The legendary seven-foot basketball star was born in Newark. While his career took him all over the country, he makes the occasional trip home to support various causes and organizations he supports.
Tisha Campbell Martin
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This comedic actress who grew up in Newark and East Orange was made famous by her recurring roles in the television sitcoms” Martin” and “My Wife and Kids”.
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This well known actor was born in NY and moved quite a few times before his family settled down in Glen Ridge.
Tracey “Africa” Norman
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Tracey Africa, as she is known, is the first African-American Trans model to achieve as much acclaim as she had in the 1970s. In a feature by The Cut, she recalls growing up in Newark and always being around friends in fashion who said she could always be a model.
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Whitney Houston is one of Newark’s most beloved treasures. This was made especially evident after the city mourned the loss of this legendary and unforgettable singer in 2012 following her death.
William Brennan Jr.
This U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Newark native was one of the longest-serving justices in our history. He was known for his progressive views and bargaining techniques, which made him “probably the most influential Justice of the 20th century,” according to the late Antonin Scalia.
Zach Braff is an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter who is best known for his role in the TV series Scrubs. He was born in South Orange.