‘George, George, George of the Jungle, strong as he can be. Aaaaahhhhhhh. Watch out for that tree!’
I can’t tell you the number of times my younger sister and I watched George of the Jungle growing up, singing along loudly with the theme tune on every occasion.
We loved yelling ‘watch out for that tree’ every time George would swing through the jungle with his hilarious habit of crashing into everything, leaving us with tears of laughter in our eyes.
Although the film was a childhood favourite of mine, I had no idea until a couple of years ago George was played by Brendan Fraser, a major Hollywood star in the late 1990s.
If you watched movies in the 90s you’d have certainly seen Fraser pop up as his career was taking off.
And if you didn’t go to the cinema or buy home videos, he was continually featured on film posters plastered on to the side of buses and billboards year after year.
Making a name for himself in California Man (released as Encino Man in the US) and School Ties in 1992, two years later Fraser appeared in the comedy Airheads alongside the hugely popular and successful actors Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler.
Starring next to these two big names though didn’t faze Fraser who showed off his natural comedic talent, sense of humour and acting chops as the leader of a band of loser musicians.
While I didn’t watch these three films growing up, instead seeing them when I was older, they were successful among teenagers at the time much like George of the Jungle was with children my age at the time of its release.
You can watch the trailer for Airheads below:
When George of the Jungle was released in 1997, Disney did not expect it to be the huge success it was both commercially and with critics.
A live-action film adaptation of the Jay Ward cartoon of the same name, kids couldn’t help but fall in love with Fraser’s goofy George, a primitive man who was raised by animals.
While the movie admittedly heavily relied on one repetitive joke, that clumsy George couldn’t help but swing directly into trees, we didn’t mind it, the slapstick humour never got old.
Check out the trailer for George of the Jungle here:
But George of the Jungle wouldn’t have worked without Fraser; he was the perfect leading man to take on the role, much like he proved in Airheads.
Charismatic, charming and funny, he made George instantly likeable and relatable when the character could have been quite irritating.
It’s a shame he didn’t reprise the role in the sequel George of the Jungle 2 which went straight to video.
Let me tell you this, while my family’s copy of the original film on VHS remained very much on top of the pile of videos next to the television, George of the Jungle 2 went straight to the charity shop after one watch!
With George of the Jungle kind of being a breakthrough film for Fraser, showing he could be a leading man and action star, it wasn’t long until he was cast in as the lead in his first proper summer blockbuster.
1999’s The Mummy saw Fraser’s heroic adventurer Rick O’Connell take on a high priest he accidentally awoke when he travelled to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead.
While the comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones are clear, Fraser’s O’Connell was a hero in his own right. It’s no wonder the it was followed by two sequels.
Continuing to appear in films throughout the 00s, it has been a while since we have seen Fraser on the big screen as he disappeared from the public eye leaving the world wondering what ever happened to the movie star.
Coming forward with his own story of sexual abuse, allegedly at the hands of Philip Berk, the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), Fraser spoke about the impact it had on him.
Speaking about the incident which is said to have taken place in 2003 at a HFPA luncheon, Fraser described how he was groped when he shook hands with Berk.
Overcome with fear and panic, Fraser rushed home telling the magazine:
I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.
I became depressed. I was blaming myself and I was miserable—because I was saying, ‘this is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel’.
It made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive.
I don’t know if this curried disfavour with the group, with the HFPA, but the silence was deafening.
Deciding not to make the alleged incident public at the time, Fraser did receive a written apology from Berk who disputed the actor’s account in a statement provided to GQ calling it ‘a total fabrication’.
After the luncheon Fraser felt shut out from the HFPA wondering if he had now been blacklisted in Hollywood.
Although there is no way we can definitively link the two, Fraser’s career certainly declined after the alleged incident as he withdrew from the Hollywood scene.
In his personal life Fraser has also faced struggles in the past year continually being in and out of hospital struggling with his health.
Undergoing several surgeries, these included a laminectomy, a couple of lumbar surgeries, a partial knee replacement and repairs on his vocal cords.
Considering Fraser was known to be an action star, this of course posed problems with what roles he could take on.
By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China, which was 2008, I was put together with tape and ice—just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs.
Screw-cap ice packs and downhill-mountain-biking pads, ’cause they’re small and light and they can fit under your clothes. I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily.
I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild sh*t that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not.
Eventually his body couldn’t take any more and Fraser was forced to retire from stunt work.
During this period Fraser also went through a divorce, his mother died in 2016 and his eldest son was then diagnosed with autism.
The actor clearly needed a break and despite everything he has been through he concluded his GQ interview on a positive note by saying ‘I feel a lot better now’.
Returning to the entertainment world in 2016 when he joined the recurring cast of the TV drama The Affair, Fraser now focuses on television.
Earlier this year he portrayed the Getty family fixer in the anthology series Trust alongside Donald Sutherland and Hilary Swank after being cast in the show by Danny Boyle.
In August it was announced Fraser will play Robotman/Cliff Steele in DC’s upcoming live-action television series Doom Patrol which will be a spin-off from Titans.
And so the future looks promising for Fraser, a man who brought laughter and adventure to so many of our childhoods in iconic roles including the jungle’s George and The Mummy’s Rick O’Connell to name just a few.
We wish him all the best. Happy 50th birthday Brendan!
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.