The Transformation Of Ralph Macchio From 16 To 59

Actor Ralph Macchio has generated a career filled with memorable performances. He's built up legions of fans throughout the decades of his work and the actor is still going strong at the age of 59.

Macchio was born in 1961 to Rosalie and Ralph Macchio Sr. He had one brother, Steven, and they grew up in Suffolk County, New York, influenced by both their Italian and Greek descent (per Married Biography). He started tap dancing when he was just 3, and explained to the Los Angeles Times he chose tap dancing because "aerobics wasn't around at the time." He took tap lessons for 15 years, but as he told Us Weekly he also played baseball and was once named an All-Star second baseman.

The future actor took a handful of self-defense lessons at the age of 10 and wrestled in seventh grade, although his 1-9 record showed it wasn't really his thing. He worked in his father's laundromat as his first job, earning $1 per hour. As he became a teenager, he kept dancing and became a student choreographer for some of his school's musicals.

A dance recital discovery sparked a blossoming career

When Ralph Macchio was a teenager, he was discovered by an agent, per Biography. At the time, Macchio was 16 and doing an impression of singer and comedian Eddie Cantor. He soon started auditioning for commercials, but he wasn't necessarily all that set on acting. Married Biography detailed he did commercials for Bubble Yum and Dr. Peter, and he landed a role on "Up the Academy." That role didn't garner much attention, but he was definitely noticed when he started playing Jeremy Andretti on "Eight Is Enough." AV Club noted Macchio was added during the final season of "Eight Is Enough," written in as the orphaned nephew of family matriarch Abby.

Another key life moment happened during Macchio's teen years: he met his future wife. He was just 15 and attending a birthday party for one of his cousins in the basement of his grandmother's house. There, he met Phyllis Fierro. "She was a friend of my cousin, and we just smiled and talked and danced a little. Probably the Hustle!" Macchio recalled to People. Their first date, he told Us Weekly, was to see the movie "New York, New York," which starred Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro.

A teen heartthrob hits the big screen

Not long after "Eight Is Enough," Ralph Macchio joined the cast of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders." The iconic movie, based on the book by S.E. Hinton, debuted in 1983 and starred a lot of fellow young, relatively unknown actors like Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, and C. Thomas Howell. "I wanted to play Johnny Cade in 'The Outsiders.' [I had] no interest in another role — Johnny or bust!" Macchio told Us Weekly.

"The Outsiders" helped Macchio land the central role in "The Karate Kid," where he played a teenaged Daniel LaRusso. Macchio was 22 at the time he played the martial arts student alongside Pat Morita's character of Miyagi. The initial 1984 movie did well and became a classic, leading to a second movie in 1986 and a third in 1989 that continued to feature Macchio and Morita.

"The film and the character just struck a chord back in the day. Daniel LaRusso, he was every kid next door," Macchio told Deadline of the ongoing popularity of "The Karate Kid." He continued, "All of these elements came together and it just worked the right way at the right time as the perfect feel-good movie about overcoming obstacles."

Macchio married his high school sweetheart Phyllis Fierro in 1987, and he landed another hit movie by doing "My Cousin Vinny" in 1992 with Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei. Unfortunately, after that, Macchio's career hit a significant lull.

Ralph Macchio, back in the spotlight again

Ralph Macchio never disappeared entirely, though, as he joined Season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars" in a last-minute casting decision in 2011 (per The Washington Post). While he wasn't crazy about the competition side of the show, "the performance element and the creating, I loved it," Macchio detailed. "I ran there every Monday night because the audience and the crowd, even on the street, was such a huge groundswell of support from the moment we came out in the first episode," he continued.

Macchio danced with Karina Smirnoff and he admitted they "had a great chemistry together." They quickly became fan favorites and, even years later, "people love that I did that show," he noted. The judges tended to be harsh on the pair, but Macchio focused on pleasing the fans and did his best to set aside the frequent criticisms from the judging panel.

"I tried to be funny, humorous, self-deprecating and represent myself well — put a positive vibe out there and perform for the fans, because they showed up every week, whether it was on the street or in the studio. That was awesome," he recalled. The two lasted until the semi-finals before they were eliminated.

Ralph Macchio found the right kind of reboot

Ralph Macchio told Deadline he'd turned down numerous potential sequels or reboots of "The Karate Kid" for years, but that changed in 2017. For 30 years he'd said no "just because, one, they were uninteresting and, two, I thought the timing was wrong and I was really trying to distance myself to a point," he admitted. As he told the Los Angeles Times, he was obligated via contract to do the first three films. After that, "my instinct is to move on to other things. I feel that I've closed a chapter in my life and also a chapter in Daniel's life," he detailed.

The new series, named "Cobra Kai," originally aired as a series for YouTube Red and subsequently became available on Netflix. The actor who played Daniel LaRusso's rival, William Zabka, returned to portray Johnny Lawrence, and the reboot quickly earned a lot of praise. In deciding to reprise his role, after saying no for decades, Macchio told MovieWeb the series creators "found an angle into the universe from a different perspective, and they wanted to dive into the gray areas of these characters." He admits that angle was "the big hook" for him.

As CNN noted, "Cobra Kai" received plenty of accolades during its run with YouTube, along with some Emmy nominations. Viewers didn't flock to it on YouTube, but the series shifted to Netflix after the first two seasons and it certainly got attention there.

Massive success continues for an Macchio

When "Cobra Kai" launched on Netflix in September 2020, "The Karate Kid" reboot starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka became a massive hit. Within days, it was the top trending show and Season 3 debuted to significant fanfare in January, per CNN.

Macchio avoided the turbulence that some of his fellow actors experienced after becoming famous as a teen. He remains married to his high school sweetheart Phyllis Fierro, and the two celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal. They welcomed son Daniel in 1996 and daughter Julia in 1992, and he told The Washington Post "I got two good ones" in his kids.

"The Karate Kid" and "Cobra Kai" star looks far younger than his actual age of 59, and for that, he credits his parents, he told People. "Listen — I blame my parents," he joked. "They both look very young for their age. I have a youthful energy about me for some reason," Macchio added. He admits he maintains a healthy lifestyle, but he also thinks "I've just gotten lucky in the gene department."

The actor told People on May 17 the "Cobra Kai" cast recently wrapped filming Season 4. "The stories get deeper, the characters get more complex, [and] the fighting is more awesome." Macchio's clearly loving this new chapter, admitting "It's a privilege to have the opportunity, we are just having the time of our lives."