"Dead Poets Society" was released 30 years ago on June 2, 1989, and it's a bit of a miracle it got made in the first place. Honestly, how many Hollywood movies have "poet" in the title and offer a Latin phrase — Carpe diem! Seize the day! — as the biggest takeaway? But this film about an unconventional English teacher and his students at a private boys' school during the 1950s became a classic (it also won the Oscar for best screenplay). In honor of this venerable anniversary, we're taking a look at the cast and where they are today…
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Robin Williams played John Keating, the English teacher at Welton Academy (the setting was based on screenwriter Tom Schulman's own experiences attending a private school). His unorthodox teaching methods were at the heart of the story, but it was Robin's performance — including his improvisations that ended up in the final film — that elevated the movie. John Wayne reciting Shakespeare? It's his deftness with comedy that makes Robin a "serious" actor.
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Stand-up comic, sitcom actor, movie star… Robin Williams didn't have one career — he had many. "Dead Poets Society" came in the middle of an incredible streak for the actor that included "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Awakenings." He won a best supporting actor Oscar in 1997 for "Good Will Hunting," and he's starred in dozens of other films, including "Aladdin," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Jumanji" and the "Night at the Museum" film trilogy. Sadly, Robin filmed his final movie, "Absolutely Anything," in 2014. He died by suicide in August 2014 at age 63. He'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few months before his death but an autopsy revealed he actually had a severe case of Lewy body dementia. "Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating?" his widow, third wife Susan Schneider Williams, whom he married in 2011, wrote in the journal Neurology in 2016. Robin, who has a son, Zak, from his first marriage, wed second wife Marsha Garces — Zak's nanny — the same year "Dead Poets Society" came out. They welcomed two children, Zelda and Cody, and divorced in 2010.
Director Peter Weir made a bold casting choice: The teenagers in "Dead Poets Society" were played by actual teenagers. Ethan Hawke was the big discovery of the film, even if his shy Todd Anderson character — who was, of course, brought out of his shell by John Keating — didn't stamp him as the Gen X symbol he would become. Back then, he was still a skinny kid from Austin, Texas.
Ethan Hawke went from playing a shy teen in "Dead Poets Society" to playing a disaffected Gen X slacker (remember those?) in "Reality Bites" to playing a would-be astronaut in 1997's sci-fi flick "Gattaca." He went on to deliver Oscar-nominated performances in 2001's "Training Day" and 2014's "Boyhood." He also received two Oscar nominations for best adapted screenplay for 2004's "Before Sunset" and 2015's "Before Midnight." Ethan more recently starred in 2019's "The Kid" and will appear in the upcoming heist film "Cut Throat City." He married "Gattaca" co-star Uma Thurman in 1998; they have two children together, Maya (who's now an actress) and Levon. The pair divorced in 2005. Three years later, Ethan married former nanny Ryan Shawhughes. The couple have two daughters.
Robert Sean Leonard played Neil Perry, a teenager torn between his own creative drive and his domineering father's demands. He disobeys his father, playing Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and his dad enrolls him in a military school. Instead of obeying his dad, Neil commits suicide, and John Keating is fired. That tragedy is one more reason it's a miracle the movie made it to the screen.
Robert Sean Leonard has acted steadily over the years. In the '90s, he appeared in buzzy films like "Swing Kids," "The Age of Innocence" and "Much Ado About Nothing" before starring as Dr. James Wilson on the hit TV show "House" from 2004 to 2012. He's also appeared in a number of plays and shows including "The Invention of Love" (for which he won a Tony Award in 2001), "Falling Skies," "Arcadia," "The Music Man" and "Camelot." He also founded a theater company, Malaparte, with his "Dead Poets Society" co-star Ethan Hawke. He more recently appeared in the 2018 play "Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo." Robert's been married to Gabriella Salick since 2008. The couple share two daughters, Eleanor and Claudia.
Josh Charles, who had his first acting role in John Waters' "Hairspray" in 1988, played Knox Overstreet, the kid who best learns the John Keating lesson that poetry's best use is "to woo women." He falls in love, writes poetry to a beautiful girl named Chris and gets punched for his efforts. Ah, young love.
Josh Charles played a news anchor on Aaron Sorkin's short-lived cult favorite "Sports Night" in the '90s. He went on to star in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," "S.W.A.T." and "Law & Order True Crime." He earned raves when he played complicated lawyer Will Gardner on the CBS drama "The Good Wife," earning two Emmy nominations for his work. Next up, Josh will star on the drama series "The Loudest Voice" on Showtime. He married ballet dancer Sophie Flack in 2013 and the couple welcomed a son in 2014 and a daughter in 2018.
Dylan Kussman starred as Richard Cameron, a Welton Academy student who blames Neil's death on John Keating to escape punishment for his own participation in the poetry club, in 1989's "Dead Poets Society."
These days, Dylan Kussman is more into writing than acting. He penned 2017's "The Mummy" with Tom Cruise and 2010's "The Steps." He's also continued to act, appearing in "Jack Reacher," "X2," "Leatherheads" and "Flight." Dylan more recently appeared in 2018's "The Mule" and will play David Bailey on the upcoming TV series "Vital Signs." He moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2008 to be closer to his wife's family.
Character actor Kurtwood Smith played Neil Perry's controlling father in "Dead Poets Society."
Kurtwood Smith played Fred, another kind of dad, on the sitcom "That '70s Show" from 1998 to 2006. (Grumpy and sarcastic, Fred had a great big heart buried deep down in there.) Of course, we'd also be remiss not to mention what a brilliant villain he played in 1987's "Robocop." He's never stopped acting over the years, starring in "24," "Star Trek," "The X-Files," "Hitchcock," "Girl, Interrupted" and "The Ranch." In 2019, he'll appear in "Perpetual Grace, LTD" and "Future Man." Kurtwood has been married to "Robocop" co-star Joan Pirkle since 1988. He has a daughter, Laurel Garner, and a son, Shannon Smith.