Johnny Knoxville became both a beloved goofball and a lightning rod for controversy as soon as his signature TV show, Jackass, premiered on MTV in 2000. The show, which featured Knoxville and his friends executing a variety of stupid pranks and dangerous stunts, made an instant star of its hip, easygoing, developmentally arrested host, who was quickly signed on for a variety of film projects. However, its subject matter of foolish bicycle jumps, gross eating feats, and pepper spray testing drew the ire of concerned parents whose children were hurting themselves trying to imitate their hero.
Knoxville was born Philip John Clapp in Knoxville, TN, on March 11, 1971, son of a used car salesman. At age eight, the asthmatic suffered a simultaneous bout of flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis that nearly killed him. Knoxville would later joke that surviving this period convinced him he was invincible, making possible his future vocation as a performer who would injure himself for laughs. Knoxville had originally planned to go into acting through normal channels, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, CA. However, it was while writing for a skateboarding magazine called Big Brother that Knoxville got his big break. Working on a story about self-defense equipment, Knoxville agreed to let magazine editor Jeff Tremaine film him testing the devices on himself. Hence, Jackass was born, with Tremaine, Knoxville, and director Spike Jonze serving as co-creators. MTV won a bidding war with Comedy Central, and the show became a hit -- one quickly festooned with warning labels not to try this at home.