Jennifer Aniston, star of the new Netflix movie “Murder Mystery 2” with Adam Sandler, is a household name. While she may best be known for her decade-long acting on the hit show “Friends,” the Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG award winning actress also comes from a military family.
Her father, John Aniston, served in the Navy and recently passed away on Veterans Day 2022.
“My dad still lived to be 89 years old, shockingly, but that's probably stubborn Greek genes,” Aniston told USA Today. John was born in Yannis Anastassakis in Crete, Greece and moved at an early age to settle in Pennsylvania with his family. He studied theater arts at Penn State University before enlisting in the Navy. He served as an intelligence officer on active duty in Panama and later in the Navy Reserve, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander. He became an Emmy Award nominee for his role on the long-running soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and had baby Jennifer in Los Angeles with fellow actor Nancy Dow, who acted in TV shows in the 1960s. They later moved to NYC, where the celebrity grew up.
Another military man, John’s best friend Telly Savalas, became Jennifer’s godfather. Savalas was drafted into the Army in 1941 and served two years in Company C, 12th Medical Training Battalion, 4th Medical Training Regiment at Camp Pickett, Virginia. He was discharged as a corporal after sustaining an injury from a car accident. Savalas was a Purple Heart recipient.
Jennifer attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts – the school profiled by the hit TV series "Fame" -- where she was active in drama. Her knack for acting, which ran in the family, became evident at an early age.
“Jennifer is a natural talent,” John said about his daughter in a 1990 E! News interview, four years before the pilot episode of “Friends.”
“There are certain things you can learn in this business, and there are certain things you can’t learn. The comic instinct that she has is unerring. That’s her greatest asset,” he added.
In addition to acting, Aniston has always been passionate about painting; one of her creations was even displayed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was 11. She bypassed college, against her father’s wishes, to pursue the bright lights of Hollywood.
“I told her, ‘You don’t want to be in show business. Show business stinks,’” he said. “I tell everybody who wants to be an actor, don’t be an actor, be something else. Because if my telling (them) to stay out of show business is gonna keep them out, they shouldn’t be in it in the first place.”
It didn’t deter the young actress.
“My dad’s advice has always been: ‘Don’t do it. Become a doctor. Become a lawyer,’” Jennifer told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He didn’t want me to be heartbroken because he knew it was a tough business. It compelled me to go for it even harder. Do what keeps you happy, and don’t ever let people box you in.”
In the late 80s and early 90s, Aniston played a slew of roles in small off-Broadway and films like “Ferris Bueller.” But her claim to fame came in 1994 when she was cast as Rachel Green in “Friends.” For the next 10 television seasons, Aniston won audiences over as she played the spoiled but likeable New Yorker and love interest of Ross Gellar, played by David Schwimmer. In 2021, HBO aired a “Friends” Reunion, for which she earned a reported $2.5 million.
Off screen, Aniston’s tumultuous relationships have been hot in the tabloids, with marriages and divorces from Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux. For many years, she had an estranged relationship with her parents but repaired ties with her military father during COVID before he passed away.
A source told the Daily Mail that “Jennifer didn't speak to him for ages. But since the coronavirus crisis, she’s been on the phone with him almost every day. And not just brief conversations. It's like she realized life is very short and wants her relationship with John to be the best it can be. He's thrilled they have reconciled.”
In June 2022, Jennifer honored her father at the 49th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, where she virtually presented her father with a lifetime achievement award though he wasn’t in attendance. She recently wrapped filming on the third season of “The Morning Show” and her latest film “Murder Mystery 2” was released on Netflix last week.