Florida is home to a host of famous personages drawn by the lure of sun-soaked beach retreats thousands of miles removed from the intrusive celebrity culture of the West Coast. Big names like Pharrell Williams, Billy Joel, and presidential candidate Donald Trump (of course) maintain residences from Jupiter Island down to Key Biscayne and everywhere in between. Many other metropolitan areas in the Sunshine State such as Orlando and Tampa can also claim their fair share of famous residents. So what about Ocala in Florida? We’re definitely the first in the state when it comes to celebrities of the four-legged variety, but we’ve got plenty of human stars that are proud to call Marion County home, too! We’ve got that perfect mix of big-city luxury and back-to-nature privacy that makes a perfect home for celebrities looking to dodge the paparazzi (star-stalking is hard when fending off mosquitoes and yellow jackets and triple-digit humidity, y’know?). Here are some of the stars you might glimpse on your next Publix run.
1. John Travolta
You know him from “Grease,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Saturday Night Fever”, and a long list of major motion pictures from the last three decades. He owns other homes around the country, including one in star-studded LA, but he and his family have called Ocala home for over a decade. In addition to being an accomplished actor, Travolta also harbors a love of flying and lives in the local aviation community of Jumbolair. He opened a local downtown Mission in 2011, as a show of gratitude to the community for helping him fulfill his childhood dream of having “a home [with] an airplane in the backyard, and a runway.” You’re welcome, John!
2. Kelly Preston
A major star in her own right as well as a former model, Kelly Preston lives at Jumbolair with her husband John Travolta. She’s starred in such hits as “Jerry Maguire” and “For the Love of the Game.” Preston is a very active philanthropist, supporting several causes focused on the environment and the empowerment of disadvantaged and disabled children. She and Travolta married in Paris in 1991.
3. Bruce Swedien
Bruce Swedien may not be a name you recognize right off the bat, but you’ve definitely heard of the numerous musical talents this Grammy Award-winning producer has worked with. He got his start working with Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons in 1966, and has gone on to do both audio engineering and production work with Michael Jackson (yep, he totally worked on Thriller), Quincy Jones, Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, Muddy Waters and Diana Ross. He has a horse farm and studio here in Ocala.
4. Mel Tillis
Like most country music celebs, Grand Ole Opry inductee and Florida native Mel Tillis has had a colorful life. He developed a stutter at a young age due to a bout with malaria, but he didn’t let that stop him from becoming one of the most celebrated artists and songwriters in American country music. After briefly attending the University of Florida, Tillis dropped out to join the Air Force and while stationed in Okinawa, he formed his own band called The Westerners. When he returned home he used the railroad pass he obtained working for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to catch a ride from Tampa all the way to Nashville, where he auditioned for major publishing firm Acuff-Rose. He eventually moved to Nashville for a time to begin his music career in earnest. He is best known for his hits “Good Woman Blues” and “Coca Cola Cowboy” and has written songs for country greats Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, and Waylon Jennings. Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by his daughter and fellow country star Pam Tillis in 2007, and President Obama awarded him the National Medal of the Arts in 2012. He has a ranch on the edge of the Ocala National Forest and divides his time between Florida and Tennessee.
5. Bobby Goldsboro
Speaking of famous Florida natives, singer-songwriter and all-around polymath Bobby Goldsboro also calls the Ocala National Forest home. Marianna-born Goldsboro attended Auburn university before dropping out to play guitar for Roy Orbison. Soon he hit the top of the charts with his own songs like “Little Green Apples” and “Honey.” His music was also wildly popular with the Northern soul dance scene in Britain in the late 60s, and he continued producing stateside hits into the 70s. Goldsboro’s compositions have been covered by John Denver, Dolly Parton, and Della Reese. Not content to confine himself to the realm of music, Goldsboro hosted a successful variety show from 1973 to 1975 and also created a children’s television series called The Swamp Critters of the Lost Lagoon (once a Floridian, always a Floridian, right?) for which he voiced all characters and performed all music. He is also a talented oil painter and you can see his scenes of Florida flora and fauna in local galleries and displayed at Community Bank.
6. Steve Morse
Widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of our time, Steve Morse’s career has spanned several genres and bands. After graduating from the University of Miami in 1975, Morse formed the popular Southern rock group Dixie Dregs which later morphed into the Steve Morse band. He briefly joined legendary classic rock band Kansas in the mid-80s, and currently plays guitar for Deep Purple as he has since 1994. Interestingly, he also has a brief stint as a commercial airline co-pilot under his belt. His hobbies include spending time with his family, recreational flying, and hay-farming on his property here in Ocala.
So, if your looking to buy real estate where the stars call home or looking to relocate to a more prestigious location, Ocala / Marion County has it all. From the area’ss International Airport to its ties in the arts, you’ll find it all here in Ocala.