The Tragic Truth About David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer is undoubtedly one of the most successful actors on television, thanks in large part to his standout performance in the widely acclaimed sitcom "Friends." Over his 10-year tenure on the show as Ross Geller, he was catapulted into being a household name, sustaining his fame despite his deliberate retreat from the limelight in the years since. The actor earned various accolades throughout his career, even clinching multiple Emmy nominations for projects outside of "Friends," most notably "American Crime Story."

Schwimmer has also notably made a fortune, with various accounts noting that he was the driving force in uniting the "Friends" cast to negotiate with NBC. He reportedly convinced his co-stars to band together to take home the same salary, and by the end of the show, all six of the core cast were raking in $1 million per episode, a feat unheard of at the time. Presently, he has a net worth of $120 million.

Schwimmer is a living legend by all accounts, beloved by millions across the globe. But a closer look into his life reveals a narrative that diverges from all the glossy headlines he's associated with. From feeling left out as a child to struggling with complete disillusionment with the television industry, Schwimmer's journey is marked by moments of adversity and resilience.

He was an outcast during his younger years

While everyone may know David Schwimmer's name now, that certainly wasn't the case when he was growing up. Although he wasn't exactly a class pariah, he did admit to being a bully and getting into physical altercations with his peers. At one point, he almost got himself kicked out of school.

"I was always the class clown, I was the troublemaker in class. And I was always restless ... I was a bully," he confessed in an interview with The Guardian. "I was nearly expelled from junior high and elementary school before that." His parents, both of whom were lawyers, enrolled him in the prestigious Beverly High School, but even in a different environment, he never quite fit in. "When I was there I always felt: this is not me, I'm surrounded by people with a different value system. And I just wanted to get out of California," he said.

His feelings of isolation prompted him to focus on his studies instead, which led him to decide to become a doctor. He excelled at math and science and eventually befriended the "dorky science and math guys" as well as the students in the acting club. Still, his social status was a far cry from what you'd see on "90210," never getting the chance to have a seat on the cool kids' table. "Those were the kids who had parties after school in big mansions in Beverly Hills. My friends and I were never part of that."

He experienced racism when he was a struggling actor

David Schwimmer didn't experience success overnight. Apart from failing to land roles early in his career, he shared that he was discriminated against because of his racial background, which led to missed opportunities. "I definitely felt a class system in place," he told The Guardian, adding that he would often be deemed "too ethnic" for leading roles.

Speaking with NBC News, Schwimmer opened up about being discriminated against outright because he is of Jewish descent. He told the outlet he was called a barrage of different slurs. "Oh yeah, to my face or for my benefit. But I don't want to come off like poor me, you know, I'm complaining. I've been called names. That is not the point."

Because he knew what it was like to receive the short end of the stick, he advocated for diversity when he was finally in the position to call the shots. He shared with Salon that during his time on "Friends," he was the one who pushed the production to create roles for people of color. "I campaigned for years to have a black girlfriend, you know what I mean? Aisha Tyler. It's just, like — what can I say?" he explained. "I was well aware, as a white man, that doing a show about New York and six New Yorkers — and all of us happen to be white? Yes, I was Jewish — the other white meat — but still I'm a white man, so I enjoy all the privileges that comes with that."

He struggled to make ends meet before Friends

"Friends" was certainly David Schwimmer's ticket to fame, but he earned it the hard way. He had to wait tables for nearly a decade, all while trying to make it big in the show business. "I would get small recurring roles — three episodes here, four episodes there. Working that way, you never make enough money to quit waiting tables," he told the Financial Times of his years as a struggling actor. Luckily, he had colleagues who were kind enough to support his passion. "I got to a place with this one restaurant, the Daily Grill, where the management knew me so well, and knew I was reliable, that they would actually let me go off for auditions," he shared with Salon. "And because of that I was able to pay the rent for seven years while I was auditioning—and working, by the way."

However, because of one bad experience in an unnamed show, he turned his back on television entirely and shifted his focus to theater. He told his agent to stop sending him potential TV jobs, but due to her persistence, he caved. "She said the magic words to me: 'It's an ensemble show. There's no star. There are six people, all similar age.' And I say, 'O.K., I'll read it, but I'm not going to do it,'" he recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair. The rest, as they say, is history.

He had a tough time grappling with fame

While David Schwimmer reached the pinnacle of success thanks to "Friends," he never got around to acclimating to the demands of being in the spotlight. Rather than relishing in global acclaim (he worked hard to get there, after all), he found himself yearning for anonymity instead.

"As an actor, the way I was trained, my job was to observe life and to observe other people, so I used to walk around with my head up, really engaged and watching people," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "The effect of celebrity was the absolute opposite: It made me want to hide under a baseball cap and not be seen." Because of it, he learned how to scare off paparazzi waiting for a gotcha moment from him. "I'll literally say to them, 'What?' ... I'm not an alcoholic, I'm not dating a stripper; like, I'm sorry, why do you possibly want to photograph me?" he shared with The Los Angeles Times.

Even after retiring from being Ross Geller, Schwimmer still struggled to break free from the popular character. "Even that first year [of 'Friends'], I immediately became worried about being typecast for the rest of my life. And then I said, 'This is not something in my control. I'm just going to play the long game. I hope to be acting until I'm 80, or am physically able to do so," he divulged to Vogue. "And hopefully in the meantime I'll be able to change people's minds or let them see that I have more to offer.' Because there was nothing else I could do."

He split from his wife after nearly a decade of marriage

David Schwimmer got the chance to find love and settle down after the grueling decade of starring in "Friends." It was much later than he had intended, but he said that he had to make sure that he was ready to make a serious commitment. "I waited a long time to decide to marry," he told The Telegraph. "But I took it just as seriously — I would say even more so, because I waited to decide until I thought: 'Right, I'm going to start this chapter of my life now, and see it through.'"

Sadly, his marriage didn't work out well, having split from his ex-wife Zoe Buckman after seven years. The two met in London in 2007 and married in secret three years later. They share a daughter named Cleo, who they co-parent to this day. In 2017, the pair initially announced that they were taking some time apart, only to divorce not long after. "It is with great love, respect and friendship that we have decided to take some time apart while we determine the future of our relationship," they said in a statement at the time. "Our priority is, of course, our daughter's happiness and well being during this challenging time."

While down on his luck in love, Schwimmer has decided to focus on his daughter and bring his A-game in fatherhood. "Being a dad is the highlight of my life... I'm grateful I waited until I could make it a priority," he told The Guardian. "Spending time with my daughter is more fun and meaningful than anything I've ever done."