We may not have realized it at the time, but the original Power Rangers was a defining point for an entire generation. Sure, we watched it because it was some fun, goofy fighting and because our parents wouldn't let us watch The X-Files. It seemed like a throwaway show. Over the years, though, we're really starting to wake up to the fact that our entire childhood was all about these six colored fighters and their endless battles to save the planet. But what about the actors in the show? Did it change their lives too? You're about to find out...
It was a show so strange it should never even existed. Not just the idea of the show - six American teenagers fighting in special suits against a 10,000-year-old alien witch - but the whole execution of it. Live-action footage of the six actors was mixed in with footage ripped from a years-old Japanese show called Kyoryu Sentai Zyurange, dubbed over with English voices.
For all the children who watched it when it originally aired, though, it was like nothing they'd ever seen. It was our first brush with Japanese TV programming, and the weirdness of that country that still fascinates us. When the American actors were cast as the Rangers, they had no idea that they would one day become a global phenomenon.
Over three seasons, the format of the show rarely changed. Although the Green Ranger was evil at first, he eventually joined the Power Rangers as their sixth member, and from then on they battled Rita and her Putty henchman every week. Beat the Putties, lose to her more powerful henchmen, get in their Zord form, beat the henchmen, lose to Rita, become Megazord, beat Rita. Every. Single. Week.
It wasn't much of a challenge for either the viewers or the actors, but both parties were clearly having the time of their lives. We loved it because we knew exactly what was going to go down, in the cheesiest way possible, and the cast loved it because it was basically them getting paid to hang out as best buddies all day.
First up on our hero roster is the Red Ranger, known as Jason Lee Scott in the TV show and played by Austin St. John. In the fictional town of Angel Grove, California, Jason seems to be a typical high school jock type of guy, obsessed with martial arts and not much else. But his big heart and willingness to help others makes him the leader of the Rangers as well as their best fighter.
For those of you who only have hazy memories of the show (and we don't blame you - the various plots were largely forgettable), the big evil is Rita, released from an alien container on Earth and intent on taking it over. Only her old nemesis, another alien called Zordon, finds some "teenagers with attitude" to become the Rangers and deal with the threat.
In the show, Jason is the only one who doesn't dismiss Zordon outright when he approaches them about becoming Power Rangers. It's that kind of laid back attitude that Austin St. John shared with his character Jason, and big reason for why he was so well-loved on set. In the end, he was the leader both in the show and around the set, making sure that everybody was enjoying their time filming.
Born in 1974, Austin was only 19 years old when he was cast as the Red Ranger. Although the experience might have changed his life, it hasn't changed his outlook on life. He did the show because it was just a little bit of fun, and although he's appeared in several entries in the franchise since, he's never seriously pursued a celebrity career.
Instead, he's doing just about the most selfless thing imaginable: saving lives on a regular basis. At At 43 years old, he's now a paramedic, working and living in Washington DC. Although the occasional fan might recognize him, he does it purely for the good of others, not for recognition. He does appear at the odd comic convention, though, just to remind his loyal fans how much he loves them.
One of the most interesting facts about Austin St. John is that like his character on the show, he's a martial arts buff. In fact, he's been practicing since he was five years old, and is now a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and first-degree black belt in Judo. He's such a master that he's written his own book on the subject, called Karate Warrior: A Guide To Martial Arts.
He may not have touched Hollywood in a long, long time, but Austin St. John has still always kept his eye out for interesting projects. Not to become a superstar or anything, but more to just show the world that he still has it. One such project is Survival's End, an Indiegogo-funded project about a super outbreak of the Ebola virus which started filming last year.
While we're yet to see the results of that film, it bodes well for us hopefully seeing more of our Red Ranger leader. He's also slated to appear with the rest of the old cast in a film called The Order, a martial arts sci-fi flick that was also funded through Indiegogo. Again, it hasn't been released yet (or even filmed), but 2018 is looking hopeful for a triumphant return of the big guy.
Few people actually could follow the ups and downs of the Green Ranger's fortunes. At some point he was evil, then he was good, then he was stripped of his powers, then he was the most powerful Ranger in the group. It didn't matter to us brainless kids - we just saw him as the "cool" guy, the tough rebel who could outmatch Red Ranger.
The Green Ranger, aka Tommy Oliver, was played by Jason David Frank. Like Austin St. John, Jason Frank was only 19 years old when he was first offered the part. After the original Power Rangers TV show changed into Power Rangers Zeo, Tommy would become the White Ranger. But he'll always be the Green punk, the most popular of them all, in our hearts.
Austin St. John isn't the only one with some real martial arts background. Jason Frank is an accomplished fighter, too, as one look at his MMA promo photos will show. That's right - he's given up kicking aliens in the face and is now just focusing on mere earthlings. With a 7th-degree black belt in Karate, purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Ajarn degree in Muay Thai, he's one of the more fearsome opponents in the ring.
Frank first signed up to Sucker Punch entertainment in 2009, and over the next year won almost every single one of his bouts - without ever once having to morph into a robot. Since then he turned pro, and his winning streak has been incredible, taking out his opponents often in the first round. An injury to his bicep put him out for some time, but he's hungry to return to the ring.
Jason married young, at the age of twenty, just one year after he started work on the Power Rangers. He stayed with his wife, Shawna, for seven years, and had three children - Hunter, Jacob, and Skye. But their young marriage wasn't to last, and the couple split up in 2001. Nowadays, Jason Frank is based out of Houston, Texas, where he lives with his current wife Tammie.
Tammie has been a huge influence on his life. They met in 2002 and married a year later, and now have a daughter named Jenna. Like Jason, Tammie is a martial artist. As well as that, she's a practicing Christian, and introduced Jason to the church after the death of his brother. It affected him so much that he helped create a Christian MMA company called "Jesus Didn't Tap." Weird combo, but great name.
While many of his costars left the Power Rangers world behind after their three seasons of fame, Jason wasn't quite as ready to give up the suit. He played his character Tommy Oliver for a further 17 years after the first run ended, making his time in front of the camera, kicking alien butt over and over, an incredible 20 years in total.
As one of the most popular Power Rangers characters of all time, there was really no reason for Jason Frank (or Tommy Oliver) to ever give up. Tommy's been through many different versions, from the green suit to the white suit, and later becoming a Red Ranger and Black Dino Ranger (and paleontologist) in the show, mentoring the other Power Ranger teenagers as they protected the world from terrible acting.
It's no secret that Jason Frank loved his time as Tommy Oliver, and the continued fan praise at conventions and online has meant he's always willing to don the suit one last time. But in 2013, it looked like the character would be permanently retired. He no longer appeared in the TV shows Power Rangers Wild Force, SPD, or Super Megaforce, although he would cameo in a few of the episodes.
However, the new cinematic reboot might change all that. Released in March of this year, the Tommy Oliver character is absent for the entire film, but it is hinted towards the end that he will return for the sequel. Whether it will be Jason Frank playing him is up for debate - according to him, they might be looking for a female actress to portray the character.
From the very beginning of the show, the Blue Ranger, aka teenager Billy Cranston, was always the controversial choice. He was the nerdy one of the group, into tech and not very good at all at fighting, and many fans questioned why he was even in the team. But as the seasons and episodes rolled by, he proved his worth time and time again, inventing all kinds of gadgets for the team and even becoming a competent fighter.
Fun fact: the name of the character, Cranston, comes from actor Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad. Apparently he provided the voiceovers for a bunch of the villain monsters in the early seasons, and the producers liked him so much they named the character after him. David Yost, who played the Blue Ranger, was one of the oldest actors in the group - 24 years old when he started.
Behind Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger, David Yost is the second-longest serving member of the original Power Rangers team. He made the move from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to Power Rangers Zeo, and only left the show just before the end of that series, some five years after he first started on the small screen. His character, however, continued the fight and was even included in this year's movie reboot.
Despite leaving the show, Yost continues to keep in touch with the rest of the original cast. Not only that, but he continues to tour the comic and sci-fi conventions, for the fans. Just as he became a highly regarded member of the Power Rangers team, so too did David Yost become a firm fan favorite, and it's a role that he remembers fondly.
There was only one major cloud that threatened to sour his career as a Ranger, and that was the circumstances of his departure from the show. David Yost quit only two episodes from the end of the Power Rangers Zeo series, and producers had to reuse stock footage and a body double in order to make it look like he was still there.
It's still unclear what happened to make him leave the show so suddenly. According to producers on the show, Yost left because of a contract dispute, after a promised bonus salary was not delivered to the actors. However, Yost has a different memory of it. In 2010, David - who is gay in real life - told an interviewer that he quit because the working atmosphere had become toxic, and that he was constantly subjected to homophobic slurs from the crew (but not his fellow cast members) whenever he was on set.
Whatever the reason for his split from The Power Rangers, Yost has said that the relationship that he had with the original gang was so amazing, that he still loves to catch up with them. The events of his departure haven't turned off his dream of being a full-time actor, either, and he's still acting in and producing projects in Hollywood whenever he has the chance.
The number of shows he's worked in or on, and the number of studios he's worked for, would take all day to type out. But you can rest assured that he's been a busy man in the industry ever since he left the show, starring in several films, producing series like Temptation Island and Alien Hunter, and even working as the director of production for the Sci-Fi Channel.
The Black Ranger, aka teenager Zack Taylor, is just another example of the charming subtlety of the early 90s. Played by black actor Walter Emanuel Jones, Zack was every African American 90s stereotype rolled into one, from his Will Smith-style hi-top hairstyle, to his love of b-ball and dancing to a boombox, and just being a straight-up, all-round playa, this was clearly a character dreamt up by a boardroom full of old white dudes.
And yet Walter Jones brought so much fun to the character and the cast that he transcended all that. Always joking around with the gang and getting up to mischief, he was the guy that we all secretly wanted to be, one arm around Kimberly and wisecracking about a savage Putty smack down we just delivered. Walter made Zack come alive.
The interesting thing about the original Power Rangers gang is that despite their successes, only a few of them really managed to follow their dreams of becoming A-list actors. Sure, the show was cheesy as hell, but those teenagers and twenty-year-olds really played their parts to perfection. Especially Walter Jones, who like we said brought such life to his role that he stole every scene.
In the end, Walter Jones actually only lasted a year and a half as the Black Ranger, eventually walking from the set after a contract dispute couldn't be resolved. That hasn't harmed his acting career, though, which has been nothing short of stellar. Aside from eventually returning to Power Rangers for the odd episode, he's also been in Family Matters, Step by Step, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Moesha, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Early Edition, NYPD Blue, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Shield and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Not bad at all, right?
His dancing on the show is not just something he made up on the spot. In fact, he's been a proper professional dancer since he was young. Talking about his casting, Walter said "I auditioned like other people. I almost missed it because I was doing 'Star Search' at the time. After 2-3 call backs, with Saban, I learned that they wanted an actor who can dance, do martial arts, and gymnastics. It just happened that I had all the right characteristics for the role."
How good is he, exactly? Well, since he discovered salsa on a cruise to Puerto Rico, he actually became a world champion of the dance in 2004. That's a couple of years from not knowing a single step, to becoming one of the best in the world at it. Most people couldn't even learn the Macarena in that time, let alone a fast-paced Latino rhythm like salsa. He even teaches classes in it in LA!
The world of Power Rangers is full of odd rumors and whispers in the wind, conspiracies and fan theories. With a show that attracts such a devoted audience as this, it's really no surprise that some people get a little too obsessed. One of the biggest rumors is about Walter's middle finger on his left hand, which is missing from the first knuckle. Everyone says that it was a freakish accident on set, but the truth is far more mundane.
Speaking in an interview about the finger, Walter said that the accident happened long before he was ever a Power Ranger - in fact, it was when he was four years old. "As a kid, growing up without a middle finger, people were fascinated by it. Girls wanted to touch it and they would oft-times scream. I lost it at a young age and I doubt it will ever come back."
There's simply no doubting the love that Wallter Jones got in such a short time as Black Ranger Zack Taylor. None of which has diminished in the almost quarter century since the show first aired and Walter first appeared. Fans still love him, and as he does the circuits of conventions and signings with his co-stars, he's still making knees weak everywhere.
One of our favorite stories about his influence comes from a Star Wars convention that he attended. "This one guy," Walter recalls, "he was probably 24 or 25 years old, and he wasn't standing too far from me, broke down in tears once he knew he was standing right next to me. He was in complete shock that the original Black Power Ranger was right there, right next to him. It like brought him back to his old childhood. The guy came up to me and apologized for crying since it all overwhelmed him. We took a picture and I was so happy that I was able to make a difference in his life and be a kind person."
Back in 1999, around the time that the original DVD boxset was coming out, Austin St. John and Walter Jones hosted a special airing of a Power Rangers episode they called "The Lost Episode". In fact, it was just the unaired pilot of the original series, an episode called "The Day Of The Dumpster". Most of the cast members were the same, except for one key difference: the Yellow Ranger.
Ask any fan who the Yellow Ranger, aka Trini Kwan, was played by and they'll tell you it was Thuy Trang, the then 19-year-old Vietnamese-American actress. But in the unaired pilot, Trini Kwan was actually played by Audri DuBois, a Hispanic-American actress who was later fired for asking for more money. What would have happened if Audri had stayed on? How would Thuy Trang's life been different?
This is not a story that has a happy ending. Tragically, Thuy Trang's happy life in the States was cut short when she was only 27, in a car crash in San Francisco. Like Austin St. John and Walter Jones, the Red Ranger and Black Ranger, she had also left the show in the middle of the second season due to a pay dispute. But even though her time was brief, both in life and on the show, she touched the hearts of millions.
Like her character in Power Rangers, Thuy Trang was both polite and soft spoken, as well as being a fierce martial arts fighter. In real life, Trang had studied kung fu from the age of nine, and she put these skills to good use in the show. Trini Kwan was also a kung fu master, proficient in the art of Praying Mantis Kung Fu, and would often put down the enemies with lightning-fast moves and high kicks.
But the fascinating and troubled story of Thuy Trang goes back far beyond her first major role in the Power Rangers. Born in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, she was forced to flee the capital, Saigon, during its fall in 1975. She was only two years old at the time, and her father was a soldier whose battalion was attempting to repel the North Vietnamese army.
While her father managed to escape and was granted political asylum in the U.S., Trang had a much more difficult route. With her mother and family, they stowed away on board a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong, and were forced to live in a detention camp there until her father could get them to the States. Thuy Trang almost died from illness during this harrowing journey.
After surviving such odds and landing in the land of opportunity, it seemed like Trang's life could only be blessed from then on. She earned a scholarship to study engineering at UCI, but a chance meeting with a Hollywood agent convinced her that she should try acting. A few small roles later and she stepped into the shoes of the Yellow Ranger, the beginning of a brilliant career. But that's when her luck would run out.
On that fateful day, September 3rd, 2001, Trang was in the passenger seat of a car driven by the bridesmaid of her friend, Angela Rockwood. Angela was due to get married to actor Dustin Nguyen, and Trang was also a bridesmaid for the wedding. At some point in their drive, the driver lost control of the car and it hit a rock wall before flipping several times and sliding over an embankment. Trang died of internal injuries before ever reaching the hospital.
All of her Power Rangers co-stars - with the exception of Jason Frank, whose brother had also just died - attended the funeral, shocked by the sudden and devastating loss of one of their dearest friends. Fans the world over mourned the up-and-coming star, a woman whose life was taken too soon. To this day, many still honor the anniversary of her death.
Tragic really is the best word to describe it. This was a star for whom everything really looked to be going right. She had continued to pursue her career in acting after she left the Power Rangers, and had landed a few major roles in that time, including The Crow: City of Angels and Spy Hard. If the accident hadn't happened, she might have been one of the greats by now.
Every teen story needs a super-hot love interest, and the Pink Ranger, aka Kimberly Hart, was every boy's dream. Played by Amy Jo Johnson, this was a sweet yet sassy teen who looked just as good in a dress as she did dishing out a savage Putty beating. Everybody in the show was obsessed with this teenage beauty, from the Red Ranger to the Green, but it was ultimately Tommy Oliver (the Green Ranger) who gained her heart.
By all accounts, the real life Amy Jo Johnson was just as lovely and kind natured as her Kimberly character. Where three of the other Rangers left in the middle of the second season due to a dispute, Amy ignored all the fuss and continued giving her all to the show. When she left, at the end of the third season, it was only to pursue other opportunities in her acting career.
Although she could sing, play the guitar, and knew sign language, Kimberley Hart started off in the show as just your typical Valley Girl. She was a cheerleader, too. But much like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the movie of which came out around the same time, Kimberley becomes a warm-hearted and witty fighting machine, using her gymnastics to soundly beat her enemies every time.
With the exception of being exceptionally good at gymnastics - it's what scored her a spot on the show - Amy Johnson's early life couldn't be much more different than her character's. She grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to a car salesman father and clothing store manager mother, and lived an average and humble teen life, focusing on her gymnastics. That is, until she decided to become an actress.
And what an actress she's become. While it was a huge break for her at the time - she was 23 years old and hadn't been in a movie or TV show before it - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was only the first stepping stone in a huge career. From outstanding roles in Felicity, Saved By The Bell, and ER in the 90s, to being a star in Flashpoint, The Division, and Covert Affairs, she's rarely off the small screen.
She's just as comfortable on the big screen, too, with over 20 films to her name. This year, in fact, she even produced, written, directed, and starred in her own film, a drama called The Space Between. Not to mention that fact that she's musically gifted, too, with three albums under her belt as a singer-songwriter. Basically, there's nothing this girl can't do.
The personal lives of many of the Power Rangers performers has been tumultuous, to say the least. But not Amy Johnson, who's found her one true love and stuck with him. She married her one and only husband, a man by the name of Oliver Giner, in 2009, have had one daughter together, and are still happily married to this day.
Moving her even further from her on-screen Valley Girl image is the fact that in the late 2000s, she decided to leave the States behind and live in Toronto. She seems happy with the move, even gaining Canadian citizenship in 2015 and performing most of her roles there. Sure, she still hops on the fan circuit around the world to remind them of who she was, but her heart now lies north of the border.
Few people who grew up after the early 90s will remember just how sexist that period of time really was. It was before powerful women like Dana Scully, Buffy Summers, Daria Morgendorffer, and yes, the Powerpuff Girls, proved that ladies could kick ass and hold their own even better than the boys. Before they paved the way for more strong female characters.
Amy Jo Johnson, playing Kimberly Hart, was one of those female characters who didn't need to be saved by men. But at the time, it was still a controversial move to have a girl beating up monsters all on her own, and Amy struggled with the reaction. She pushed through, though, and everyone grew to love her and recognize that this was totally cool. And at the same time, the show made her a star.