The untold truth of Johnny Galecki

While he's only barely into his 40s, Johnny Galecki is already one of the biggest television stars of all-time. He's been fortunate enough to score major and memorable roles on two extraordinarily popular shows: In the '90s, he played David Healy on Roseanne, and from 2007 to the president, he's best known for portraying experimental physicist Dr. Leonard Hofstadter on CBS's indefatigable nerd-com The Big Bang Theory. Along the way, he's also co-starred in a bunch of huge Hollywood hits, from Rings to I Know What You Did Last Summer to Hancock to Vanilla Sky to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a perennial holiday favorite. In other words, Johnny Galecki is always on our screens and he has been for the better part of three decades now. Despite that prominence, he leads a fairly quiet life free of tabloid interference and major scandal. Here then are some fascinating stories you may not have heard about TV's Johnny Galecki. 

A piercing story from Galecki's childhood

We all do dumb things when we're young. Why? Because we're young. Johnny Galecki, a man best known for playing a nerd, desperately wanted to be cool back when he was just a 10-year-old budding actor ripping it up in community theater. He was so precociously independent, having acted in a bunch of plays already, that he thought he was old enough to get his ear pierced. Well, if you want to do that and you're only 10, you have to get your parents' permission before the teenager working the mall kiosk will fire up the piercing gun, and Galecki's parents emphatically denied that go-ahead. So, young Galecki took matters into his owns hands. He still got his pierced ear, but, as he told Entertainment Weekly, he did it himself with the aid of "a safety pin and an ice cube." The actor said his parents didn't get mad (or at least wouldn't give him the satisfaction). "My father's only reaction was, 'It looks like a dog gnarled on your ear.'"

He was Mayim Bialik's first

Perhaps part of The Big Bang Theory's success is because of its familiar faces. Audiences like a show that stars two well-known and well-liked former teen stars from '90s sitcoms: Johnny Galecki (David on Roseanne) and Mayim Bialik (Blossom on TV's Blossom). Both were young stars and de facto teen idols at the exact same time, and they were even friends back in the day. Bialik invited Galecki to her Sweet 16 birthday party in 1991, but he was unable to attend. Quite the bad boy at the time, apparently, he got into an accident en route while riding his motorcycle. "I never invited him to a party again," Bialik told CBS. Bialik and Galecki even have a "history" together. Galecki guest-starred on an episode of Blossom in 1991... and he and Bialik had a kissing scene. On an episode of Conan featuring the cast of The Big Bang Theory (synergistic, as Conan O'Brien and Big Bang reruns are TBS's biggest cash cows), Bialik confirmed that their on-screen kiss was the first on-screen kiss ever for the both of them. "Yeah, it might have been my first real-life kiss, also," Bialik revealed.

Don't make a "Peep"

Comedy is deeply tied to local tastes and cultures, which means that there are only a handful of British sitcoms—or "Britcoms," if you will—that have successfully been adapted for American television. About the only ones that worked: Three's Company (based on a BBC show called Man About the House, because sexual innuendo and tight T-shirts are universal languages) and The Office (because white-collar work is terrible on both sides of the pond). After NBC's success with The Office, networks and TV makers tried to Americanize as many Britcoms as possible. Among the few that didn't make it past the pilot stage: The I.T. Crowd, Spaced, and Peep Show. The original Peep Show very much relied on the unique chemistry and sensibility of stars and co-writers David Mitchell and Robert Webb. The American version in 2005, which starred Johnny Galecki and Josh Meyers (That '70s Show, Mad TV), didn't pack the same punch. Fortunately for Galecki, Peep Show didn't get picked up, leaving him free to do The Big Bang Theory. (It also prepared him for The Big Bang Theory, giving him some comedy team practice before pairing up with Jim Parsons.)

His backup plan was flushed away

After Roseanne ended (for the first time) in 1997, Johnny Galecki dropped off the radar a bit. He jumped from a major role on one of the most popular TV shows of the era to smaller parts in films like Bean, Suicide Kings, and The Opposite of Sex. But when Galecki found he was ready to go back into the high-profile mainstream to which he was accustomed, he discovered that he was old news. "A lot of those doors weren't open anymore. I didn't work for almost three years, I think," Galecki told Fast Company. It was during that forced vacation that Galecki thought about giving up acting for good. "I started to think, well, maybe I was a child actor. And I'm alright with that." He wasn't sure what he was going to do if he wasn't an actor, until a friend told him that he would be an excellent designer of "spas and bathrooms." With a promise from the friend to fund his future bathroom design business, Galecki actually moved to Wisconsin to learn plumbing at the massive Kohler facilities. He settled into that life until he got a call to do a play in New York, which then led to The Big Bang Theory. "There's part of me that feels like there's definitely a nearby parallel universe and I'm still studying plumbing in Wisconsin," Galecki said.

He bared all on the stage

If you've ever wondered what Dr. Leonard Hofstadter would look like if he shed all those layers of nerdy T-shirts, hoodies, and army surplus jackets, you probably missed your chance. That play that whisked Galecki out of the glamorous world of bathroom design and back into well-paid make believe: The Little Dog Laughed. Written by Douglas Carter Beane (whose also wrote To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar), the comedy is about the romantic entanglements between an actor named Mitchell, his agent named Diane, a prostitute Mitchell hires named Alex, and Alex's girlfriend, Ellen. Galecki played Alex the hustler, a role which required him to go full-frontal in front of all those fans of the legitimate theater. Galecki originated his role in the initial off-Broadway production, and continued playing the part when The Little Dog Laughed moved to Broadway. It was ultimately nominated for a GLAAD Media Award and the Tony Award for Best Play, but it remains best known for being the play in which Leonard from The Big Bang Theory got nude in public.

He almost played Sheldon, even though he's clearly a Leonard

Johnny Galecki has portrayed Dr. Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory so well and for so long that it's hard to imagine anybody else doing it... or Galecki playing a different role on the long-running series. But things almost turned out that way. While Jim Parsons was obviously the right guy to play Sheldon Cooper, producers actually offered the role to Johnny Galecki first, which would mean somebody else would have played Leonard. Galecki told Variety that he felt drawn to the part he'd eventually land because it was the kind of character he'd never gotten to portray. And so, he brazenly asked producers if he could try that out instead of Sheldon. "It was a very selfish request on my part," Galecki said. "I hadn't been able to traverse those stories of the heart. I've often been cast as the best friend or the gay assistant of whatever character got to explore those relationships. I said I'd rather play this guy, who seems to have a future of romantic triumphs and difficulties."

He had a very famous, very secret girlfriend for a very long time

Early in the run of The Big Bang Theory, Johnny Galecki dated one of the most popular and desired women in all of television. Who was Galecki's partner for all that time? Kaley Cuoco, his on-screen love interest on The Big Bang Theory. So why wasn't this all over People, Entertainment Tonight, and Nicki Swift, like, all the time? Galecki and Cuoco kept the relationship a secret. Not until 2010, long after they broke up, did either say anything, when Cuoco revealed to in-house magazine CBS Watch! (via Us Weekly) that she and Galecki "dated for almost two years. It was such a huge part of my life and no one knew about it." She added that not only did they not tell anyone, but that they "never went anywhere together." (Sounds fun!) In 2013—three years after Cuoco fessed up—Galecki shared a few more scant details of the long-term romance and its aftermath with CBS Watch! "We're dear friends, still. Kaley's not just an ex, she's a part of my life." Why so mum? "I just don't like to speak about it. And not because I'm trying to be enigmatic; I just worry that it will conflict with people's acceptance of Leonard and Penny."

He helped Sara Gilbert come out

Johnny Galecki just seems to like dating his co-stars. Back during Roseanne in the '90s, Galecki dated Sara Gilbert, who portrayed his girlfriend. It ultimately didn't work out because of the most understandable "It's not you, it's me" situation possible: Gilbert realized she was gay. "I thought he was super cute and had a crush on him," Gilbert recollected on a 2013 episode of her show The Talk. "We started dating, and he would come over and we would, like, make out, and then I would start to get depressed." Gilbert said Galecki noticed and got his feelings hurt... until she explained. "I eventually told him I thought it was about my sexuality, and he was super sweet about it." Gilbert said they remained very good friends, to the point where when Gilbert decided to publicly come out on The Talk in 2010, she looked to Galecki for permission to tell the story above. Galecki was extremely supportive. Gilbert relayed that he said, 'Of course. I love you, and I think it's really important and I'm so proud of you. If you want, I will be there, and I will hold your hand."

He lost his house

With a salary of $1 million per episode, playing a guy who makes a modest living working at a university who needs a roommate (and then spouse) to help make rent has made Johnny Galecki a very wealthy man. He took some of that wealth and bought himself a lovely piece of land in Northern California. Galecki owned a 300-acre ranch, which contained a cabin and a vineyard among other delights. Tragically, the hillside plot near San Luis Obispo was situated in the path of a 2017 wildfire. The "Hill Fire" burned more than 1,500 acres in its first few days—including Galecki's property. More than 250 local residents were evacuated, but Galecki wasn't there at the time—the order came down on a weekday, and the land had been Galecki's weekend chill-out spot. "My heart goes out to all in the area who are also experiencing loss from this vicious fire," Galecki said in a statement. "The threat of which we live with constantly, which may seem crazy to some but we do so because living in our beautiful, rural area makes it worthwhile. It's never the structures that create a community—it's the people."

Why he's only doing one Roseanne episode

The only TV comedy that's even remotely challenged the ratings dominance of The Big Bang Theory: the Roseanne reboot. Johnny Galecki is connected to both shows, obviously—he was best known for playing Darlene Conner's boyfriend/husband/baby daddy on Roseanne before he became physics genius Leonard Hofstadter. The new Roseanne somehow got its cast back together after a 21-year hiatus, including big-time movie star John Goodman and both Beckys (Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke). Two notable absences: Glenn Quinn (he played Becky's husband, Mark — Quinn died of a heroin overdose in 2002), and Galecki. In the first round of new Roseanne episodes, Galecki is set to appear just once. It's not that he doesn't want to—it's just business, as Roseanne is on ABC, and Big Bang is a CBS show. "It's a different network," Galecki told Fox News. "And it was probably most uncomfortable only to me because obviously Big Bang is my home and my family. But I probably wouldn't have been on Big Bang if it hadn't been for Roseanne. So there were just the politics to be considerate about, but everyone was very supportive."