The Untold Truth Of Ralph Macchio

When one thinks of the most popular movies of the '80s, "The Karate Kid" is up there as one of the decade's biggest hits. When released in 1984, the movie took in a staggering $90.82 million at the domestic box office after being made with an $8 million budget. As the titular star of the decade-defining flick, Ralph Macchio quickly became not just a household name, but, according to the Long Island Press, "a bonafide piece of pop culture."

To say the veteran actor accurately predicted the future is an understatement. Not only did he go on to star in two more installments of the franchise, but now, over 35 years later, he's reprising the role in its reboot "Cobra Kai." Already in its fourth season and renewed for a fifth, the beloved Netflix series allows for new generations to learn the story of Daniel and the actor who made him a lasting movie icon.

Although fans may think they know all there is to learn about the Long Island, New York, native, who hails from the same hometown as Mariah Carey, here are some more interesting facts we discovered about the doting husband and father of two.

Ralph Macchio married his high school sweetheart

When it comes to marriage, Ralph Macchio's course has been unlike many of his industry peers. The actor has been married to his high school sweetheart, Phyllis Fierro, since 1987, giving Hollywood couples major relationship goals. (Check out this throwback photo from the early days of their courtship that their daughter posted on Instagram.) The lovebirds first laid eyes on each other in Macchio's grandmother's basement at a cousin's birthday party when he was just 15, which he called "infatuation and love at first sight" while speaking with Drew Barrymore on her talk show. "She was a friend of my cousin, and we just smiled and talked and danced a little," he told People of their fateful first encounter. 

They tied the knot less than a year after "Karate Kid II" premiered (via People) and have enjoyed a long and happy union, raising two children together — Julia Macchio, born in 1992, and Daniel Macchio, in 1996. When asked about the key to their staying power, Macchio revealed it's a deep commitment to one another. "It's the belief through the easy times, through the tough times, whatever we encounter, that we are meant to be together," he said to People.

Macchio has praised his wife, a nurse practitioner, for her "hero work" on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, he was interviewed on "The View" and gushed about how proud he was of her perseverance in the face of adversity.

His son is named after his Karate Kid character

It goes without saying that, after filming the "Karate Kid" trilogy, Ralph Macchio became very connected to his now-iconic character, Daniel LaRusso. In fact, when the movie celebrated its 30th anniversary, he took to Twitter to thank LaRusso, saying, "You have enhanced my life, dude! As well as so many others." (Another fun fact to note is that, originally, the character was named Daniel Webber (via Screen Rant), but, when the actor was cast, the last name was changed to make it sound Italian-American, like the actor himself.) 

In fact, Macchio is so nostalgic about his on-screen persona that he actually named his son after him! In an interview on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," the doting dad revealed that his son's moniker was, in fact, inspired by the character. "My wife and I love the name Daniel," he explained. And what does his offspring think of being named with his father's movie role in mind? "There was a chunk of time when my son was like, 'Did you have to?' But now he's proud of it," he told The Guardian

And, now, with the success of "Cobra Kai," Macchio's son and daughter get to watch Daniel's story further unfold, which Macchio, who refers to himself as "a nerd dad," calls "really wonderful" (via People). In fact, Julia Macchio, who has some acting credits, appeared in Season 4 of the reboot, playing Vanessa, one of Daniel's cousins (via Men's Health).

In his opinion, being from New York landed Ralph Macchio his first movie role

It seems as though Ralph Macchio was destined for a career in entertainment. He began tap dancing lessons at the age of 3 — which would help him later in life when he competed on a certain reality TV dance competition — and was discovered on stage at a dance recital when he was 16 (via Biography). As most fledgling stars, Macchio started his career by lending his skills to commercials, notably one for Bubble Yum gum. The ad, which aired in 1980, features the then-young talent showcasing his dancing skills on screen.

When he was 17, Macchio landed his first movie role in the 1980 comedy "Up the Academy." After the film, he did an interview where he described its premise. "It's a satire about these four guys thrown into this military school to be disciplined and they kind of discipline the military school," he explained. Looking back on his career for a Vanity Fair feature, Macchio credited being from New York with getting him the part. "When I did my audition, he just kept giving me more improvisational F bombs to drop ... I think he liked my sort of New York kinda young energy," he recalled, speaking of the movie's director, Robert Downey Sr., father to A-List actor Robert Downey Jr., who, ironically, also auditioned for the lead in "The Karate Kid," as Macchio revealed on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

The first book he read for fun turned into a future movie role for him

After his first movie role in "Up the Academy," Ralph Macchio earned a recurring role in the comedy-drama series "Eight is Enough." Joining the hit show in its final season, he played Jeremy Andretti (another character whose last name is Italian-American, like the actor) for 21 episodes (via Vanity Fair). After doing more TV work, he heard that the book "The Outsiders," which he said was "the first book I ever read without my parents or teacher telling me to read" (via Vanity Fair), was getting a film adaption, and he knew he wanted in. He especially wanted to play Johnny Cade "maybe because he was the sort of runt of the group and I was kind of the smallest guy in my class," Macchio shared with Vanity Fair.

As luck — and his unbridled talent — would have it, Macchio scored the coveted role, joining one of the strongest young ensembles at the time, consisting of then-up-and-coming stars like Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, and Matt Dillon. In an interview with Parade, Macchio dished that the film's director, Francis Ford Coppola, told him he was "too clean" for the part of Johnny, who came from an abusive household. So, to prep for the role, he "slept outside one night under newspapers just like Johnny did, and it was not fun."

The actor credits his parents for his youthful appearance

Ralph Macchio undoubtedly joins the list of Hollywood actors who do not seem to age. And, even at the start of his career, the actor credited looking young with helping him get ahead in the industry. When he was asked in an interview, at 18, if it bothered him that he looked "15 or 14," he said, "As far as business wise, it's been the best thing I could ask for." It seems like Macchio was predicting the future, because, just a few years later, his youthful appearance would lead him to play the part that would take his career to a level he probably never could have imagined. In his most notable role to date, as the protagonist in "The Karate Kid," Macchio was 24 (via ABC News) when he played 17-year-old high school student Daniel LaRusso (via Screen Rant).

It's only natural that the ageless actor is asked about the secrets to retaining his same boyish looks all these years later. "Listen — I blame my parents," he told People. "They both look very young for their age ... I think I've just gotten lucky in the gene department." He also names having a healthy and active lifestyle as another reason he's been defying the aging process. "I also exercise regularly and enjoy playing tennis and softball—anything cardio," he told Stack.

Ralph Macchio trained for five weeks when cast in The Karate Kid

In "The Karate Kid," Ralph Macchio's character, Daniel LaRusso, gets beaten up by a gang after school, and, to defend himself, enlists the aid of a karate sensei for a crash course in the sport. So did the star have a knowledge of the art of karate at the time he was cast, beating out Charlie Sheen, Nicholas Cage, and Robert Downey, Jr. for the part? "I faked it kind of well ... I just did what was necessary," he said in an interview with Leta Powell Drake at the time. "As far as defense, I still run to the next street corner."

As for the training process, which he said lasted five weeks, he attended karate tournaments in Los Angeles to get a firsthand look into the technique he'd use on screen. And, as his time with the franchise progressed, he gained even more experience. "In the second film, in 'Karate Kid: Part II,' I had more time to train, so I got better at it," he told The Wrap. His character is trained by Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, who also did not have any martial arts training. Although the iconic on-screen duo didn't teach each other any self-defense moves, they did share a lasting connection, so much so that Macchio spoke at his co-star's funeral and paid homage to him in "Cobra Kai" (via The Guardian).

He owns a vintage car that has special meaning to him

Ralph Macchio always has a physical reminder of his time on the set of "The Karate Kid." To go back to that early experience that changed his life, all he has to do is visit his storage unit. That's because the actor owns the 1947 Ford convertible his character was given by Mr. Miyagi in the film, part of the famous "wax on, wax off" scene that goes down in movie history. 

On "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Macchio explained that the classic car was gifted to him by Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the film, the day "The Karate Kid Part III" was released. "It's one of the most famous cars in movies, certainly the most famous car in a movie I was in," he told Motor Trend. "People ask me about it all the time." The vintage ride even made a cameo on screen in Season 2 of "Cobra Kai," which Macchio shared with Motor Trend

Another vintage car that appears in a movie Macchio is famous for is the Buick Skylark, which he drives in the 1992 comedy classic "My Cousin Vinny." In the film, the car leads to much trouble for his character, Billy Gambini. The actor was even photographed in one for his interview with Hemmings Motor News.

Ralph Macchio competed on Dancing with the Stars

All of his early dance training paid off later in life, as Ralph Macchio was cast in Season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars" alongside partner Karina Smirnoff. The pair was a fan favorite on the show, and, although he had hoped to make the finals, Macchio was eliminated in the semifinals, arriving in fourth place (via ABC News). The actor-turned-dancer told Today that he had no regrets regarding his performances, saying, "There were tough days, but I showed up every day."

Looking back on the reality series, Macchio remembered the warm reception he got from fans during his run on the series. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said he received a "huge groundswell of support," a "tremendous amount of press," and "big nostalgic embrace [from] people who grew up with ... 'The Outsiders,' 'The Karate Kid,' and 'My Cousin Vinny.'

And, although his legion of fans enhanced his time on the show, his experience with its judges wasn't as pleasant. "I think the judges were tough on us, maybe because we came out of the gate so strong," he told ABC News. Macchio was also bothered by what he saw as an apparent unfairness in the series' judging system. "There are people that last a long time that are not very great dancers, and there are people that are really good and show improvement that don't wind up sticking around too long," he told The Washington Post.

The actor and his family are all dog lovers

Besides being part of a highly-acclaimed series, many cast members of "The Karate Kid" reboot share another thing in common: They're dog lovers. In fact, there are so many dog owners in the cast that Woof Republic even compiled an article entitled "The Dogs of 'Cobra Kai.'" Ralph Macchio is no exception, having a soft spot in his heart for fur babies. 

When Macchio raised his family, they had a Shih Tzu, Ginger, at home, and when his brood's beloved canine passed away, he didn't want another. However, when his wife showed him a photo of a Yorkshire terrier from a shelter on Long Island, New York, where they live (via Newsday), things changed. The dog was brought to the shelter in need of medical care (via Newsday). And, although he had never adopted an animal before, once he became smitten with the little guy, named Oliver, who later became part of his family, Macchio's outlook changed. "There are thousands if not more of these animals, so the concept of rescuing feels good, and as a family it feels like a positive thing," he told People.

Another interesting part to Macchio's adoption story (per Newsday) is the fact that another celebrity, Adrian Grenier, adopted from the same place: Kent Shelter, "a private nonprofit humane society to care for abused, abandoned and homeless animals."

The veteran actor said 'no' to a Karate Kid reboot for 'decades'

In the many years that passed since Ralph Macchio starred in "The Karate Kid," he said there has only been "just one day, maybe, when someone hasn't mentioned" the film to him. "It might have been a day when I was sick and stayed in my room all day," he told The Guardian. Therefore, it's only natural that the actor, who has a net worth of $4 million partly thanks to the success of the franchise and the opportunities it afforded him, was asked often to star in a reboot. In an interview with his co-star both then and now, William Zabka, who plays Daniel's nemesis, Johnny Lawrence, Macchio said, "We both said 'no' for decades to everybody having what they thought was their brilliant idea."

So, what made him agree to star in "Cobra Kai," the reboot of "The Karate Kid" that became so popular its Season 4 debut led it to become one of the most watched shows on Netflix in just three days (via Variety)? It's thanks to its creators, who are all actual loyal and knowledgeable fans of the films. "Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald] and Hayden [Schlossberg] know way more about the films than I ever did," Macchio explained to The Guardian. "It's really wonderful."