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Harrison Ford's life and career: From Star Wars fame to Calista Flockhart marriage and near-miss helicopter accident

The Hollywood legend has appeared in some of the most successful film franchises in cinema history

Harrison Ford and his wife Calista Flockhart at the premiere of Indiana Jones 5 in 2023. © Getty
Megan Bull
TV Writer
January 14, 2024
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A cultural icon, Harrison Ford is regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Internationally recognized for portraying lovable rogues Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard; the star's winning combination of charisma and wit adds to his on-screen magnetism. 

After 50+ years in the biz, The Critics Choice Association honored Harrison with the Career Achievement Award on Sunday, January 14. Celebrating the A-lister's distinguished contributions to Cinema, Harrison's latest feat has us feeling nostalgic. 

WATCH: Harrison Ford tearfully thanks wife Calista Flockhart after receiving the Career Achievement Award

In honor of the milestone, we're taking a look at the actor's colourful life and career. From Harrison's early life in Chicago to his most iconic film roles, high-profile romances and enduring passion for aviation. Here's what you need to know about the Hollywood legend…

Harrison Ford and Camilla Sparv on the set of the 1966 movie 'Dead Heat on A Merry Go Round'© Getty Images

Early life

Born on July 13, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Harrison hails from an impressive lineage of creatives. His parents – Dorothy and John William 'Christopher' Ford – were both former actors, while his paternal grandfather, John Edward 'Fitzgerald' Ford, was a vaudeville comedian. 

Growing up in Des Plaines, Harrison described himself as a "late bloomer." Struggling with shyness, he signed up for a drama class while studying at Ripon College, and just like that, he caught the acting bug. "I was terrified to get up in front of people, but I really enjoyed the storytelling part," he told People in 1997.

After failing his philosophy course in his senior year, the star was expelled from college four days before graduation. As a result, Harrison headed to California with his first wife, Mary Marquardt, in pursuit of his newfound passions.  

By 1966, the actor had landed a bit part in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. Despite being told that he'd never make it in the business, Harrison pushed on, bagging small, speaking parts in TV series such as The Virginian (1967), Love, American Style (19689), Gunsmoke (1972), and Kung Fu (1974). 

He’d also become a father of two, welcoming sons Benjamin (born in 1966) and Willard (born in 1969). To support his family, the A-lister worked as a carpenter, while waiting on auditions. 

It wasn't until 1977 when George Lucas cast him as smooth-talking smuggler Han Solo, that things began to change… 

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope© Getty

Star Wars fame

Harrison's big break came with the release of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). Opening to widespread critical acclaim, the first instalment of the sci-fi saga grossed $410 million worldwide during its initial run. Harrison would also appear in the subsequent sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Force Awakens (2015). 

Asked about the enduring success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, in 2023, Harrison told The Inquirer: "Did I think they might be successful films? Yes—or I would have run away. It might have seemed odd to the British crew when we were making the first Star Wars.

"They might have said, 'What's going on here?' Like, there's a seven-foot-tall man in a dog suit. There's also a beautiful princess, a wise old warrior and a callow youth. Then, there's a [expletive] —I know the part I play. And it's fun!" 

Harrison added: "At that point in my career, it didn't matter to me that the film would become hugely successful and end up changing movie history. But I was grateful because it changed my life. I had opportunities that extended beyond director George Lucas' and my success in making that film. It gave me freedom and opportunities that I never had imagined I might have."

Following his stint in Star Wars, Harrison went on to land roles in big-budget blockbusters, including Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Bladerunner (1982) and Air Force One (1997). 

Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in Star Wars© Getty

Carrie Fisher affair

Harrison's on-screen chemistry with co-star Carrie Fisher was palpable, and as it turns out, the Star Wars legends were together behind the scenes.  

After shutting down romance rumors for years, the late actress finally revealed that she and Harrison had been engaged in an affair during the first film. "It wasn't just my secret to keep," Carrie told The Guardian in 2016. At the time of their relationship, Harrison was still married to his first wife, Mary Marquardt. They would later divorce in 1979. 

Reflecting on their brief affair in her 2016 memoir, The Princess Diarist, Carrie remarked that while she was in love with Harrison, he didn't reciprocate her feelings. "I don't think, until now, he knew the intensity of my feelings," she revealed to The Guardian

"Even in the diary I don't like to admit it, because it's a failure. No, it's not a failure – it's unreciprocated love." 

Ultimately, the affair ended on the set of A New Hope, with the co-stars maintaining a sweet friendship. 

MORE: Harrison Ford and wife Calista Flockhart's combined net worth is staggering

READ: Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart's relationship throughout the years in photos

calista flockhart harrison ford starring and smiling at each other red carpet© Getty

Three marriages

Harrison has been married three times. On June 18 1964, the actor tied the knot with his high school sweetheart, Mary Marquardt. Two years later, they welcomed their first son, Benjamin, and by 1969, they'd welcomed a second, named Willard. 

Married for 15 years, Harrison and Mary decided to divorce in 1979, following his meteoric rise to fame on Star Wars, and subsequent affair with Carrie Fisher. 

After turning his attention to his career, in 1982, Harrison began dating screenwriter Melissa Mathison. Successful in her own right, Melissa famously penned the screenplays for The Black Stallion (1979) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). 

The following year, Harrison and Melissa married. During their 20-year marriage, they became parents to a son, Malcolm, and a daughter, Georgia. An extremely private couple, in 2000 it was reported that the couple were in the process of a trial separation, with Harrison moving out of their Manhattan apartment.

Their divorce was ultimately finalized in 2004 and was one of the most expensive in Hollywood. The pair didn't have a prenuptial agreement, which led to them having to agree on a settlement. 

Melissa was eventually paid $85 million and also negotiated that she would receive some of the Indiana Jones actor's future earnings from films he'd filmed when the pair were still together.

As of 2023, Harrison has been happily married to actress, Calista Flockhart, for 13 years. 

The lovebirds first met at the 2002 Golden Globes in January, where Harrison was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. They were then seen interacting at the Miramax Globes after party.

Harrison and Calista began dating soon after, making plenty of red carpet appearances together. They were also spotted out and about with their son Liam, whom Calista had adopted in 2001. Harrison adopted Liam soon after they began dating.

"I'm in love," the actor confessed to HELLO! in 2003. "Romantic love is one of the most exciting and fulfilling kinds of love and I think there is a potential for it at any stage of your life. I was not surprised that I was able to fall in love, and I wasn't surprised that I did."

It was on Valentine's Day weekend in 2009 that Harrison decided to pop the question. Harrison and Calista said 'I do' a year later, marrying in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the star was filming Cowboys & Aliens.

Enjoying privacy at their massive Wyoming ranch, the duo doesn't ascribe to the world of celebrity and rarely comment on their relationship. Nonetheless, they've been called couple goals time and time again, most recently when Harrison was caught staring in wonder at his beautiful wife, ahead of their appearance at Cannes in May. 

Harrison Ford's vintage plane crashed on a golf course. © Getty

Near-miss plane accidents

A licensed pilot, Harrison has amassed an impressive aircraft collection, but he's also been involved in a few near-miss accidents. Most notably, the Hollywood heavyweight was involved in a 2020 incident at an airport in southern California. 

According to The Federal Aviation Administration, the Bladerunner star had been piloting a small plane which wrongly crossed a runway where another aircraft was landing. While the FAA clarified that there was no actual risk of a crash, Harrison acknowledged that he'd made a mistake, explaining that he'd "misheard" instructions from air traffic control. 

Among Harrison's other air accidents, the father-of-five was injured while attempting to land his vintage World War II plane in 2015. After losing power shortly after taking off, the actor was forced to crash on a golf course in Santa Monica. Following the incident, Harrison was praised for having the ingenuity to land in a less populated area.  

harrison ford black tux red carpet cannes© Getty

Later career

He may be 81, but Harrison isn't interested in retiring – not yet anyway. 

The actor has reprised a number of his most iconic roles in recent years, returning as Han Solo in The Force Awakens (2015) and as Indiana Jones in The Dial of Destiny (2023). 

Among his latest projects, Harrison has also garnered acclaim for his portrayal of senior therapist, Dr. Paul Rhoades, in the comedy series Shrinking. After premiering in January last year, the show was quickly renewed for a second season, which is expected to begin filming.

Furthermore, Harrison will be seen as Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross in the upcoming Marvel movie Captain America: Brave New World, which is slated for a 2025 release.