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The roughest, toughest cowboy in Hollywood, John Wayne will forever be remembered for his gunslinging roles. He launched his career during the silent era of the 1920s, and ultimately went on to star in over 170 films and TV productions over the 50 years that followed. But to many, Wayne was more than a movie star—he was an American icon celebrating our nation's "frontiersman history." Long after his death in 1979, the American Film Institute named Wayne one of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema, and the actor was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor of the U.S.—for his lifetime contribution to film.
Today, Wayne is survived by his seven children from three marriages, as well as his many grandchildren. Among those grandchildren is Nashville-based guitarist and singer Jennifer Wayne, who's now taking the country music world by storm! Read on to see the blonde bombshell now and to find out how her grandfather's memory has shaped her own career in crucial moments.
She's a major country music star.
Jennifer Wayne looks right at home on stage at country music shows, but she says she found her passion for performing later in life. "I've loved music since I was little, but I grew up being a tennis player," she told Risen Magazine. "With my dad, music wasn't really an option; it was tennis, tennis, tennis." When she turned eighteen, she picked up her first guitar and began learning the instrument. Soon after, she joined her then-boyfriend's family band. "One day [my boyfriend's] dad said, 'Jen, you should sing!'" she recalled. "I was so nervous, but I did it! Then we just started going around and singing at little gigs. I was playing guitar and writing the songs, and we'd record the songs on this recorder they had. That was my first kind of band."
Today, she's one third of the country trio Runaway June, which has had several hit songs including "Buy My Own Drinks," "We Were Rich," "Wild West," and "Lipstick." The group toured with Carrie Underwood in 2019 before releasing their first full album later that year.
She's also had several on-screen appearances.
In addition to her bustling music career, Wayne has also made her big break on the silver screen. "I have a girlfriend that produces movies, and she called me one day and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie," Wayne explained to Risen. "I said, 'Yea, that would be awesome!' I was thinking it was going to be this small, rinky-dink little movie and that it would just be for fun." Upon arrival she realized it was a full scale production "with trailers and crew members and all of this equipment and stuff." Her response? "Well shoot, I've got to just fake it 'til I make it."
The singer says she conjured one of her grandfather's favorite movie quotes to make it through the intimidating shoot: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway," she told herself, recalling one of her granddad's famous onscreen lines. In the end, Wayne says the experience gave her "the acting bug," and made her want to pursue future film opportunities.
You may also remember Wayne from one of her two appearances on CBS's The Amazing Race, which she competed on alongside then-bandmate Caroline Cutbirth. After traversing 22 cities in nine countries, Wayne and Cutbirth came in second as the winning team jumped out of a plane just moments before them to secure first prize. "We were four seconds away from being millionaires!" Wayne told the site Reality TV World of their dramatic second-place finish.
Her recent wedding included a nod to her late grandfather.
In January of this year, Wayne married her sweetheart Austin Moody after a two-week long engagement. According to People, the wedding had a sweet, nostalgic twist that honored her late grandfather: it was cowboy themed. The bride wore a white crepe chiffon dress and cowboy boots, and the groom and guests wore western-style hats. As her "something borrowed," Wayne also donned her grandmother's engagement ring, which was given to her by the late movie star.
Wayne tied the knot in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida in front of just 20 of the couple's closest friends and family. They hope to have a larger gathering in Nashville once they can safely do so without pandemic restrictions, People reports.
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As a kid, she thought all grandfathers were on TV.
Though John Wayne passed away three years before his granddaughter was born and the two never met, the younger Wayne grew up knowing all about his legacy and watching his movies on TV. She admits that because she had nothing to compare it to, she thought this was normal for all kids.
"When I was little, I would always ask the other kids, 'What channel is your grandpa on?' because mine was always on AMC and I could just turn it on [and see him]!" she told Risen. "So, I'd always ask what channel their grandpas were on because I didn't know that it was any different."