Inside Kevin Costner's Life Throughout The Years

Kevin Costner is a staple in Hollywood and in our living rooms. While his career peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the handsome actor has remained active and appreciated by fans, partly because, well, he is a cool guy. As Vulture put it, Costner is "the dude you wouldn't mind having a beer with." His talents both as an actor and as a director weren't lost on anyone either. 

His work has been rewarded with two Academy Awards in two different categories, best director and best picture — and a best actor nomination — for 1990's "Dances with Wolves." Costner also won a Golden Globes Award for best director for the film, as well as best actor for "Hatfields & McCoys," a role that also earned him a Primetime Emmy.

Costner has also steadily maintained a reputation for his, well, good looks. He is among the "celebrities who so seem to represent American masculinity... carved out of granite and permanently decked out in blue jeans," as Vulture described him. Given how often Costner shares throwback photos to his Instagram page, it is safe to assume he is also aware of the power of his squinty-eyed half-smile. As times seems to fly by more quickly than we like to admit, we may not realize how much Costner has changed in the three-plus decades he has been in the public eye. Keep scrolling to check out Costner's incredible transformation.

Kevin Costner was unsure of his acting chances

Kevin Costner was unsure of whether a career in acting was possible or compatible with his upbringing and personality. As he detailed on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," he was raised by a father whose family escaped the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and only had one job his entire life. Costner considered that his old-fashioned, down-to-earth upbringing might not leave room for a life in Hollywood. So he went on to look for a job in marketing and marry his college girlfriend, Cindy Silva, in 1978.

But Costner loved community theater, so he started taking classes while in college. And as he told Ellen DeGeneres, his parents came to accept his choices. "You know, I think they finally saw that I wasn't good in school. I loved telling stories, and finally they just said, 'Go with God,'" he recalled. Although they didn't have any idea of how show business worked or how to help their son along his career path, they reminded him to stick to his principles. His dad's advice was simple in the end: "Kevin, just don't let anybody outwork you," he reportedly told the young man. "If you don't let another man outwork you, he'll never take your job." So Costner kept those words of wisdom in mind as he became a movie star.

Richard Burton inspired him

Before Kevin Costner first started out as an actor, he had no idea that he would eventually star in blockbusters like "Bull Durham" or "Dances With Wolves." But he did have the advice of a legend to inspire him, thanks to a serendipitous meeting on the flight back from his honeymoon.

As Costner later revealed in an interview with Roger Ebert, he spotted Richard Burton right away: the great actor was surrounded by empty seats because he had bought up all the adjacent plane tickets. When he first went over, Burton told Costner to come back when he had finished his book, so the young actor waited until Burton finished reading and then briefly nodded off to sleep. "I hadn't even told my wife how much I was thinking about wanting to be an actor," Costner recalled, "and I was on the edge of my seat." He went over and told the star that he wanted to act but didn't want a life filled with fights and divorces. "I just want to know, does that kind of life follow an actor?" Burton reportedly replied: "You have green eyes. I have green eyes... I think you'll be fine." And at the airport, Burton leaned out of his limo to wish him luck.

The encounter always stayed with him. "I never had the chance to ever talk to him about the fact that in a way, because of him, I had a life in the movies," Costner reflected.

Kevin Costner became a star in the late 1980s

In the early 1980s, Kevin Costner landed his first role as an extra in "Night Shift" and had appeared in a few commercials. However, it wasn't until later that he found substantial work — and his rise to stardom was quick. His breakout role came in 1985 when he starred in "Silverado" as the cowboy Jake. According to Vulture, "This was the first time American audiences really fell for the then-30-year-old actor." That was a busy year for the burgeoning actor as he also appeared in "Fandango," "American Flyers" and Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories," alongside Kiefer Sutherland.

Two years later, Costner would consolidate his status as a movie star when he brought federal agent Eliot Ness to life in "The Untouchables," sharing the screen with Robert De Niro and Sean Connery. His performance is "delivered by a focused guy who doesn't yet know he's going to be a star," Vulture described. Brian De Palma's hit marked the beginning of a series of popular movies for Costner, all of which came seemingly back-to-back.

Costner went on to star in the popular "Bull Durham" in 1988 and "Fields of Dreams" in 1989, giving rise to his association with baseball films. "I have loved baseball as long as I can remember," he once said (via Gossip Cop). According to Vulture, he landed the lead role in the former after impressing its director with his abilities with a baseball bat. 

Kevin Costner cemented his A-list status with 'Dances with Wolves'

With a series of box office hits and a solidified reputation as an actor, Kevin Costner made his directorial debut with the overarching undertaking that was "Dances with Wolves" in 1990. Firstly, screenwriter Michael Blake had to write a novel to get Costner interested in the idea. When Costner accepted the project, he struggled to find anyone willing to finance it, resulting in his having to look abroad for foreign investors until Orion Pictures stepped in. 

And when he managed that, he couldn't find a director that embraced his vision, as he said on "The Tim Ferriss Show." "Some wanted to get rid of the opening Civil War sequence. Some thought it was too long. Somebody thought it shouldn't be a white [love interest], that that would be cliché," he said. So Costner went ahead and did it himself. The production issues leading up to the release caused many in the industry to think Costner was risking his career, with some dubbing it "Costner's Last Stand."

We all know how wrong they were. The movie raked in more than $420 million, making it the "second-highest-grossing Western of all time," per Outsider. More modern audiences have rightfully raised racial issues in the film, including its white savior complex, as Salon noted. Nonetheless, the Lakota Sioux were grateful for Costner's portrayal and honored him with a sacred ceremony.

A challenging time in his personal life

Before his career took off, Kevin Costner told Richard Burton he wanted a life free of scandals. And he largely lived up to that promise. But his busy schedule required him to spend a lot of time away from home. In addition, his then-wife Cindy Silva and mother of three of his seven children had growing issues with Costner's films that banked on his sex appeal. To make matters worse, rumors of infidelity began to circulate in the early 1990s, which proved to be too much for their marriage to endure. In 1994, Costner and Silva announced they were divorcing, People detailed.

After his divorce, he dated Bridget Rooney — with whom he had a child — activist Birgit Cunningham, and Australian model Elle Macpherson. Costner married Christine Baumgartner in 2004, and the couple welcomed three children. "I have played two roles in my life, one I get paid to do, which is the movies, and the other one is being a father, for which I'll be rewarded my whole life," he said (via Closer Weekly).

The end of his marriage came as his career was also going through a rocky phase. The release of "Waterworld" in 1995 wasn't ... well received. Then "The Postman," which he also directed, hit theaters in 1997, a movie that received five Razzie Awards, including for worst movie, worst director, worst actor, and worst screenplay. Ouch.

He had a close bond with Whitney Houston

Fans of "The Bodyguard" obsessed over the chemistry between Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in the roles of a world famous singer and her bodyguard. Costner pushed for the singer to be cast opposite him in her film debut and forced the studio to delay production until she could join the project. And after filming together, the pair were so close that he wrote her letters for years and tried to help her through her struggles with addiction. After her tragic death in 2012, Costner even called her the love of his life and gave a speech at her memorial

The movie star spoke about how they had bonded over being raised in the Baptist church and how much respect he had for her family. Costner also shared his memories of talking Houston through the screen test and trying to soothe her nerves. "The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered: Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?" he revealed to an emotional audience of mourners, praising her miraculous voice and strength as a performer. "Whitney, if you could hear me now I would tell you, you weren't just good enough — you were great." Costner went on by telling his friend: "You weren't just pretty — you were as beautiful as a woman could be. And people didn't just like you, Whitney — they loved you."

He crossed the political aisle

Despite being a vocal Republican supporter in the 80s, Kevin Costner later crossed the political aisle and switched to mostly endorsing Democrats. Costner campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008 and later endorsed Pete Buttigieg in 2019, before he then threw his weight behind Joe Biden. He also spoke against Donald Trump's presidency, arguing that he had a negative impact on the political landscape and had validated racist attitudes.

"I grew up in a Republican household, and I heard [my] father go, 'Damn that Kennedy,' and when you're 12 years old, you're probably thinking, if you love your father, yeah, damn that Kennedy," he told Roger Ebert in 2008, explaining that he came from a family of conservatives and had followed their lead at first. "I had to evolve and that took time for myself. I moved very quickly as a 20-year-old." The actor also explained that he felt liberated by making movies like Oliver Stone's "JFK" in 1991 and the political drama "Thirteen Days" in 2001. "I've always felt too limited by both parties."

He also ruffled feathers by supporting Liz Cheney when the Republican was rejected by her own party for criticizing Trump. "I wanted to let her know, as a citizen, how much I appreciated her brave, clear-headed stance," he told The Hill after his endorsement provoked outrage from Trump loyalists, including some of his "Yellowstone" fans. "I didn't really care how the cookie crumbles, that people that liked me now don't like me."

He has seven kids

It's a good thing that Kevin Costner seems to enjoy being a family man: over the years, he had two daughters and a son with his first wife Cindy Silva, another son with his girlfriend Bridget Rooney, and two sons and a daughter with his second wife Christine Baumgartner. So the actor has seven kids in total, with a 27-year age gap between his oldest and youngest children.

As he told People in 2020, Costner values his time with Annie, Lily, Joe, Liam, Cayden, Hayes, and Grace. "Our house is like a river: You've just got to get into the flow of it," he insisted, adding that he felt comfortable with the chaos. "And whatever you thought it was going to be, maybe it still can, but it's going to have to work with what the day brings."

He also added in another interview with People that he had found small parts for his kids in his movies just so that he had more time with them. "I work as a provider. I'm a father and I'm a husband, but the world doesn't revolve around me," he stated, reflecting on how much he loved playing around with his younger children like any other dad. "When I'm not making a movie, I'm living and on the freeway with my wife, getting the kids to their stuff or I'm waiting for them to come out of a party. I'm just twiddling my thumbs.

He had a country music career

Fans of Kevin Costner's movie career might be surprised to find out he also became a country rock singer in 2007. His band "Kevin Costner & Modern West" released three albums and toured around the world, appearing on the Billboard country charts and winning fans in Europe. They also wrote and released a concept album inspired by his hit Western TV show "Yellowstone," mostly from the point of view of his character John Dutton. Although Costner has admitted that songwriting doesn't come as easily to him as acting, he also spoke about how much he loves the process of storytelling through music.

But the band became part of a tragedy when a thunderstorm caused a stage to collapse at one of their shows in 2009. "I came within a whisper of dying," Costner told the Toronto Star, revealing that one woman had actually died and 75 audience members had been injured in the freak accident. "It shows you how precious and how quickly life can be in the balance," he reflected, adding that he had actually been caught underneath the stage. "I like to think of myself as someone that has pretty high survival instincts, whether I'm in a stadium or in a bar or in the street, and this natural phenomena dominated everybody so quickly. There was a loss of life, there were some injuries that have been probably impossible to recover from, and it was stronger and it just outran everybody."

Kevin Costner found success again later in life

While Kevin Costner kept appearing in movies throughout the 2000s, none of them quite catapulted him back to the heights of his early 1990s fame. He also stepped away from the director's chair for a few years, until he decided to take on the project "A Little War of Our Own" in 2011. He still had another arena to conquer, however, and Costner found massive success with his pivot to TV in 2018 as he ended up breaking records with a smash hit series: Paramount Network's Western series "Yellowstone," which marked his first time as a regular TV lead. 

According to IMDb, the show has 8.6 out of 10 rating with more than 36,800 votes, a testament to the public's approval. In fact, its Season 3 premiere attracted more than 4.2 million viewers, making it one of the most-watched shows on cable TV. "Yellowstone" is "a picture of what still happens in America," Costner said on "Live with Kelly and Ryan," referring to its rural appeal. "People still work on horseback, they still produce food and it makes its way to the city; that way of life is not gone." He also explained its success by talking about the beautiful scenery where the show is shot, revealing that they filmed their Western melodrama in the same Montana valley that Lewis and Clark traveled through over two centuries ago.

His divorce was announced in 2023

Kevin Costner made headlines in May 2023 when Christine Costner, his wife of 18 years, filed for divorce based on "irreconcilable differences." TMZ reported that they were both filing for joint custody of their three children but that she wasn't pursuing any kind of alimony or spousal support.

The couple has kept quiet about the exact reasons why their marriage broke down, but a representative for the "Dances with Wolves" star made it clear that Kevin didn't think his actions had caused the separation. "It is with great sadness that circumstances beyond his control have transpired which have resulted in Mr. Costner having to participate in a dissolution of marriage action," the spokesperson stated when the actor was asked to comment. "We ask that his, Christine's and their children's privacy be respected as they navigate this difficult time."

Sources close to the actor did confirm that it had no correlation with the other shocking update in Kevin's life — his hit show "Yellowstone" has been canceled. Although there will still be a new spin-off series that's rumored to star Matthew McConaughey, Costner's incarnation of the Western will end after its fifth season, which will air in November 2023. But an insider told People that the divorce "has nothing to do with Yellowstone," adding that "the two situations are unrelated."