9 Iconic Fictional Characters You Didn’t Know Were Based on Real People


Written by:

We tend to think that fiction authors just dream up characters out of nowhere. But writers often get their ideas from everyday life, and, being great observers, they often turn people they know or have seen into characters for their stories. It could be anyone – a neighbor, a famous archaeologist, or even a notorious serial killer. And you’d be surprised how many of our favorite fictional characters have real-life counterparts. Here are nine of those fictional characters that have been inspired by real people.

Image Credit: Left: Lucas FIlm / IMDb Right: Wikipedia / Public Domain.

1. Sherlock Holmes

One of literature’s greatest detectives, Sherlock Holmes, was modeled after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical school teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell. Born in Scotland in 1859, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and went on to work as a physician in England while writing fiction in his spare time. While a student, Conan Doyle was impressed by Bell, a charismatic Scotsman with the skill to deduce personal details solely from appearance and mannerisms. Conan Doyle attended Bell’s classes and worked as his clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. There, he witnessed firsthand the diagnostic methods that would inspire Holmes’s knack for deduction. Well, isn’t that just brilliant, Watson?

Image Credit: Left: Robert Viglasky – © Hartswood Films/IMDB Right: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

2. The Dude from ‘The Big Lebowski’

You might be surprised to find out that The Dude, His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing), from the Coen Brothers’ cult classic “The Big Lebowski” was based on a real person. You might even deny it, but that aggression will not stand, man. The bowling-obsessed stoner and laconic oaf named Jeffrey Lebowski was inspired by Jeff Dowd, a film producer, writer, and political activist who drank White Russians and was often called “The Dude.” The Coen Brothers met “the Dowd” while promoting their directorial debut film “Blood Simple,” in 1984.

Image Credit: Left: IMDb Right: Brian Solis / Wikimedia Commons.

3. Alice from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Back in 1862, the author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, found himself on a leisurely boat ride down the Thames with Alice Liddell and her siblings. Alice was the daughter of Henry Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson taught mathematics. Dodgson and the Liddell family were acquaintances through his position at the university. As they drifted along, Dodgson, inspired by the youthful exuberance of Alice, began creating a tale that would soon evolve into “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Image Credit: Left: Imdb Right: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

4. James Bond

From piloting an underwater Lotus to fighting in space with laser guns, the James Bond we’ve seen in the movies is a figment of Hollywood imagination. However, the character, as originally imagined by British author Ian Fleming, was based on a real double agent who we can only assume liked his martini shaken, not stirred. Enter Popov, Dusko Popov— a Yugoslavian double agent believed to be the primary inspiration for Fleming’s 007. According to Larry Loftis’ biography on Dusko Popov, “Into the Lion’s Mouth,” Fleming, while working as an intelligence officer during WWII, was intrigued by a charming MI6 playboy at the baccarat table in Casino Estoril in Portugal. There, Popov confidently placed a $40,000 bet against a wealthy opponent who had escaped Nazi Germany. This audacious display and Popov’s charismatic demeanor at the table are cited as the key inspirations for Fleming to create James Bond.

Image Credit: Left: Imdb Right: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

5. Pocahontas

While we can’t confirm whether she ever chatted with a willow tree or had a raccoon for a pet, Pocahontas was indeed a real person from the Powhatan Native American tribe. She gained fame for her interactions with the early English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia. While often debated, stories suggest she saved the life of Captain John Smith, an English explorer, fostering a period of peace between the settlers and her tribe. Pocahontas later married John Rolfe, an English tobacco planter and her life took a significant turn when she traveled to England, where she was treated as a celebrity. She died at the age of 20.

Image Credit: Left: Imdb Right: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

6. Severus Snape from ‘Harry Potter’

Many of us have had that one strict but fair teacher who left a lasting impression on us. But the author of the legendary magic franchise “Harry Potter,” turned the memory of a teacher like that into a fictional character beloved by millions. Hogwarts’ gloomy potions professor, Severus Snape, was based on J.K Rowling’s chemistry teacher and the former head of science at Wyedean School in Sedbury, John Nettleship. At the time, Nettleship sported long dark hair and was known for his short temper and malodorous laboratory. When Nettleship first discovered the resemblance between him and Alan Rickman’s character in the record-breaking movie franchise, he wasn’t pleased.

“I first knew when someone knocked on the door and said, ‘You’re Professor Snape, aren’t you?’” He said at the time. “I suppose I was quite strict as a teacher, but I said to my wife, ‘They think I’m Professor Snape.’ She replied, ‘Of course you are – but I didn’t want to tell you.'” Nettleship died of cancer in 2011.

Image Credit: Left: Imdb Right: FairUse / Wikipedia.

7. Miss Piggy

Bonnie Erickson, the puppet designer who brought Miss Piggy to life, had a personal connection to the character’s creation. When she first designed the inimitable Miss Piggy in 1974 for an early “Muppets” television special produced by Jim Henson, she named her Miss Piggy Lee as a nod to the legendary jazz singer Peggy Lee. “My mother used to live in North Dakota where Peggy Lee sang on the local radio station before she became a famous jazz singer,” Erickson told Smithsonian Magazine. “Peggy Lee was a very independent woman, and Piggy certainly is the same.” As Miss Piggy’s popularity soared, however, there were concerns about potentially offending Peggy Lee, so the Muppet’s name was shortened to simply Miss Piggy.

Image Credit: Left: Imdb Right: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

8. Norman Bates from ‘Psycho’

The character of Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was not directly based on a real person, but he was inspired by the chilling real-life story of serial killer Ed Gein. Author Robert Bloch, who wrote the novel “Psycho” in 1959, loosely based Bates on Gein, who lived in Wisconsin, not far from where Bloch resided. Both Gein and Bates shared eerie similarities: they committed their crimes in rural areas, had overbearing mothers whom they idolized, and engaged in disturbing behaviors. Gein was convicted of murdering two women and digging up several bodies from graves.

Image Credit: Left: IMDB Right: Allserialkillers.com./ Wikipedia.

9. Indiana Jones

One of the real-life inspirations behind everyone’s favorite whip-cracking archaeologist is none other than Roy Chapman Andrews, the American explorer, naturalist, and true-life adventurer who roamed the earth in search of ancient treasures long before Indy hit the silver screen. Andrews, much like our beloved Indy, was a fearless explorer with a knack for uncovering relics of the past—and fedora hats.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: Left: Lucas FIlm / IMDb Right: Wikipedia / Public Domain.

More from MediaFeed

You’re Not a Real Boomer if You Hate These 15 Iconic Movies

Like MediaFeed’s content? Be sure to follow us.

Image Credit: IMDb.