Is Johnny Lawrence Based on a Real Person?

William Zabka

Getty William Zabka talks on a panel during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con.

The character Johnny Lawrence (William “Billy” Zabka) was introduced in the 1984 martial arts film “The Karate Kid.” In the movie, he constantly harasses Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) because he is interested in his ex-girlfriend Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). Eventually, Daniel learns martial arts to defend himself and the teenagers face off at the 1984 All Valley Tournament. Unfortunately for Johnny, the New Jersey native takes home first place. 

 In the show “Cobra Kai,” Johnny is presented as more likable. While he still has somewhat of a bully mentality, he is continually trying to better his life. He also genuinely cares about his karate students, even though they are not people he would have associated with when he was a teenager. 

 As Johnny is a multifaceted character with plenty of realistic flaws, some fans may be curious if he is based off of a real person. 


One of the Creators of ‘Cobra Kai’ Shared That Real-Life Bullies Served as Inspiration

According to Showbiz Cheat Sheet, one of the show’s creators and executive producers of “Cobra Kai,” Jon Hurwitz discussed Johnny’s character during a virtual panel in April. While it does not appear that the Eagle Fang owner is based off of one specific individual, Hurwitz noted that people who bullied him did serve as inspiration to humanize the character. 

The executive producer shared that his fellow co-creator “Hayden [Schlossberg] and [he] went to high school together” and they became friends with the show’s other creator Josh Heald during college. 

We all loved ‘The Karate Kid’ growing up and really connected to that underdog story of the bullying stories from that initial film. And you know, we would think about Billy’s character Johnny, but also some of the other roles Billy had played in the ’80s, you know, the iconic bully characters,” said the writer. 

Hurwitz went on to say that when they “were in [their] early 20s,” the show’s creators began to have discussions “about the bullies from [their] own high school.” 

“We were starting to be young adults and have some perspective on those kids that we knew who gave us a hard time and started to realize where they came from,” said Hurwitz. “And realized oh, that kid didn’t have a particularly great home life going on or had his own problems. We started thinking about wouldn’t it be interesting to explore these themes through one of the most iconic high school bullies of all time, Johnny Lawrence?”


William Zabka Recently Discussed Johnny’s Character Growth

During a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Faction Talk “The Jim Norton & Sam Roberts Show,” William “Billy” Zabka discussed that his character had a redemption arc. He noted that in “Cobra Kai” season 3, Johnny had a less than ideal life. 

“We get to meet this guy flat on his face, Coors banquet in his hand, and trying to fix a television, kind of a hermit all to himself,” said Zabka. 

The actor went on to say that after he decides to help Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) stand up for himself, he becomes “sort of a Miyagi.” He went on to say that he enjoys playing the character because “he’s an antihero now.”

He’s not the quintessential villain of the story of ‘The Karate Kid.’ He’s a three-dimensional person. So in many ways, Johnny Lawrence is a brand new character,” said Zabka. “He’s Johnny Lawrence today. You know, we’ve changed since high school, so he’s got 35 years in him so it’s really like playing a brand new character altogether, with the history of ‘The Karate Kid,’ as his built-in backstory that everybody’s along for on that ride. And it gives it a lot of depth and that’s why it’s working.”

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