Ten Famous Illinois State University Graduates

Knoji reviews products and up-and-coming brands we think you'll love. In certain cases, we may receive a commission from brands mentioned in our guides. Learn more.
Illinois State University was founded in 1857. Famous Illinois State graduates include John Malkovich, Doug Collins, Donald McHenry, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Cole, Judith Ivey, Richard Roeper, Kate Charles, Terry Kinney and Jane Lynch.

Illinois State University is the oldest public university in the state of Illinois. Located in the town of Normal, Illinois State was founded in 1857 as Illinois State Normal University (ISNU), a training college for teachers. "And gladly would he learn and gladly teach" was ISNU's original motto. Today, Illinois State boasts of an enrollment of over 20,000 students.

Here are ten famous Illinois State University graduates who once called the Normal campus home. Old Main, Fell Hall, Horton Field House, Watterson Towers, Hamilton-Whitten a.k.a. "The Virgin Islands," Hancock Stadium, Manchester Hall, McCormick Field, The Cage, Bone Student Center, Milner Library, Thomas Metcalf Building, Cook Hall...

John Malkovich (1953-), Actor/Writer/Director/Producer, ISU 1976

A 1972 graduate of Benton (Illinois) High School, John Malkovich originally attended Eastern Illinois University in Charleston before transferring to Illinois State, where he majored in theatre. Although Malkovich was later awarded a degree in 2005, he is listed in the alumni magazine Illinois State as a '76 graduate. A charter member of Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Malkovich eventually headed to New York where he appeared in the Broadway productions of Death of a Salesman, Arms and the Man, The Caretaker and Burn This. Hollywood later beckoned, with Malkovich strutting his stuff in such films as Places in the Heart (1984), The Glass Menagerie (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Of Mice and Men (1992), In the Line of Fire (1993), Mulholland Falls (1996), Con Air (1997), Rounders (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), Knockaround Guys (2001), Color Me Kubrick (2005), Burn After Reading (2008) and Secretariat (2010).

John Malkovich as Teddy KGB in Rounders (1998) - Miramax Films

Doug Collins (1951-), Professional Basketball Player/Coach/Sportscaster, ISU 1973

A 1969 graduate of Benton (Illinois) High School, Doug Collins is the most celebrated athlete in ISU history. Doug "The Jet" set Horton Field House aflame from 1970-73, where he averaged 29.1 points per game and became the school's all-time leading scorer with 2,240 career points. The number one overall pick in the 1973 NBA draft, Collins played nine seasons in the National Basketball Association with the Philadelphia 76ers. A four-time NBA All-Star and a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, Collins has coached in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. He has also served as an Emmy Award-winning sportscaster for Turner Network Television. Collins' #20 basketball jersey was retired in 1973 while Redbird Arena in Normal was renamed "Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena" in 2007.

Doug Collins on the cover of the January 15, 1973, issue of Sports Illustrated - Time-Life, Inc.

Donald McHenry (1936-), Diplomat/College Professor, ISNU 1957

St. Louis-born Donald McHenry was awarded a bachelor's degree from Illinois State Normal University in 1957, later earning a master's degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1959 and a L.H.D. from Bates College in 1986. McHenry began an eight-year stint with the U.S. State Department in 1963, later working for several private think tanks including the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Affairs and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. From 1979-81 McHenry served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, having been appointed to that post by President Jimmy Carter.  

L-r: Peter F. Krogh with former United Nations Ambassadors Madeleine Albright, Donald McHenry and Jeane Kirkpatrick - Georgetown University

Laurie Metcalf (1955-), Actress, ISU 1976

Carbondale, Illinois-born Laurie Metcalf grew up in Edwardsville, Illinois, where her mother was a librarian and her father comptroller at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Metcalf majored in theatre at ISU, earning her bachelor's degree in 1976. A charter member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Metcalf has appeared on Broadway, television and film. Her movie credits include Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Internal Affairs (1990), JFK (1991), Blink (1994), Scream 2 (1997), Steel City (2006) and Stop-Loss (2008). Metcalf won three Emmy Awards for best supporting actress (1992, 1993, 1994) as Jackie Harris on ABC-TV's Roseanne (1988-97). Metcalf is a recipient of both Illinois State's Alumni Achievement Award (1993) and Distinguished Alumni Award (2011).

Laurie Metcalf as Leslie Glass in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) - Orion Pictures

Gary Cole (1956-), Actor, ISU 1978

Park Ridge-Illinois born Gary Cole was a theatre major at ISU, earning his bachelor's degree in 1978. Cole first made a name for himself in Hollywood in 1984, playing the role of Green Beret Captain Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald in the NBC-TV miniseries Fatal Vision. Cole later won small screen fame as Jack "Nighthawk" Killian in Midnight Caller (1988-91). His other regular TV stints encompass such fare as Family Affair, The West Wing and Entourage. Cole's big screen credits include To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), In the Line of Fire (1993), The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Santa Fe (1997), I Spy (2002), The Joneses (2009) and The Chicago 8 (2011).

Gary Cole as Jack "Nighthawk" Killian in Midnight Caller (1988-91) - Lorimar Television

Judith Ivey (1951-), Actress, ISU 1973

Born in El Paso, Texas, Judith Ivey majored in theatre at Illinois State, earning her bachelor's degree in 1973. Her first professional stage work came shortly after at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where she appeared in a production of The Sea. Broadway later beckoned, with Ivey winning Tony Awards for Steaming (1983) and Hurlyburly (1985). Her movie credits include Harry & Son (1984), Brighton Beach Memories (1986), Love Hurts (1990), The Devil's Advocate (1997), Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and A Bird of the Air (2011). Ivey's regular TV stints include Down Home, Designing Women, The 5 Mrs. Buchanans, The Critic and Buddies.

Judith Ivey with Bill Pullman in The Kennedy Center's production of The Subject Was Roses (2006) - Scott Suchman, Theater Mania

Richard Roeper (1959-), Film Critic/Journalist/Author, ISU 1982

A Chicago native and a 1978 Thornridge High School alumnus, Richard Roeper graduated from Illinois State in 1982. Roeper began work as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1987. From 2000-08 Roeper served as co-host of the television series At the Movies with University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana graduate Roger Ebert. Roeper's work has appeared in Esquire, Playboy, TV Guide, Maxim and Entertainment Weekly. He has authored eight books, including He Rents, She Rents: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Women's Films and Guy Movies, with Laurie Viera (1999), Hollywood Urban Legends: The Truth Behind All Those Delightfully Persistent Myths of Films, Television, and Music (2001), Schlock Value: Hollywood At Its Worst (2005) and Bet the House: How I Gambled Over a Grand a Day for 30 Days on Sports, Poker, and Games of Chance (2010).

Richard Roeper, left, with Roger Ebert in At the Movies (2000-08) - Buena Vista Television

Carol Fosher Chase a.k.a. Kate Charles (1950-), Mystery Novelist, ISU 1972

Cincinnati-born Carol Fosher Chase graduated from Bloomington (Illinois) High School in 1968. She earned her bachelor's degree in library science from Illinois State in 1972 and later a master's degree from Indiana University. Now a resident of the United Kingdom, Chase has authored eight mystery novels to date – most of which are set against the background of the Church of England – including A Drink of Deadly Wine (1991), The Snares of Death (1993), Evil Angels Among Them (1995), Cruel Habitations (2000), Evil Intent (2005) and Deep Waters (2009). Chase/Charles was recently inducted into The Detection Club, the oldest crime fiction organization in the world whose founding members include Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

Carol Chase on the cover of Illinois State Alumni Magazine Summer 2004 - Illinois State University

Terry Kinney (1954-), Actor/Writer/Director/Producer, ISU 1976

Lincoln, Illinois-born Terry Kinney earned his bachelor's degree in theatre from Illinois State in 1976. A co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, Kinney has worked both in front of and behind the cameras, appearing in television, film and on the stage. Regarding the latter, Kinney earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play (The Grapes of Wrath, 1990) and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Acting (Balm in Gilead, 1985). His movie acting credits include A Walk on the Moon (1987), Miles from Home (1988), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Firm (1993), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Fly Away Home (1996), Save the Last Dance (2001) and Turn the River (2007). His television credits encompass such fare as Oz, Law & Order, The Unusuals, The Mentalist and Being Human.

Terry Kinney as Sam Bosco in The Mentalist (2008-) - CBS-TV

Jane Lynch (1960-), Actress, ISU 1982

Dolton-Illinois born Jane Lynch came to Illinois State in 1978, working under the late, legendary ISU theatre arts professor Jean Scharfenberg, whom some have called ISU's "Dragon Lady." Lynch earned her bachelor's degree from Illinois State in 1982 and later a master's degree from Cornell. A veteran of Chicago's Second City improvisational comedy acting troupe, the six-foot tall Lynch later headed to Hollywood, where she numbers among her film credits Taxi Killer (1988), The Fugitive (1993), Red Lipstick (2000), Collateral Damage (2002), Sleepover (2004), The Rocker (2008) and Paul (2011). Lynch won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2009 for her role as the butt-kicking cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester in Fox's hit TV series Glee.

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester in Glee (2009-) - Fox Broadcasting Company

Ten More Notable Illinois State University Graduates

  • Jeff Perry (1955-), Actor/Director, ISU 1978
  • Rondi Reed (1952-), Actress, ISU 1977
  • Tom Irwin (1956-), Actor, ISU 1979
  • Suzy Bogguss (1956-), Country Music Singer, ISU 1979
  • Buzz Capra (1947-), Professional Baseball Player, ISU 1973
  • Mike Prior (1963-), Professional Football Player, ISU 1985
  • D.A. Weibring (1953-), Professional Golfer, ISU 1975
  • Dennis Nelson (1946-), Professional Football Player, ISU 1970
  • Reggie Hayes (1969-), Actor/Screenwriter, ISU 1991
  • Mort Castle (1946-), Horror Novelist, ISU 1968

Top Image

  •  Illinois State University 1973 graduate Doug Collins coaching in the NBA - Philadelphia 76ers

About the Author

  • William J. Felchner is a graduate of Illinois State University. His articles have appeared in True West, Hot Rod, Corvette Quarterly, Illinois Magazine, Goldmine, Military Trader, Old West, Persimmon Hill, Pennsylvania, Frontier Times and many more...

1 comment

A. Smith
Posted on Jun 5, 2011