At the age of 19, William “Billy” Zabka found mainstream success after portraying Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) rival Johnny Lawrence in the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Zabka was an unknown actor at the time, and the iconic martial arts movie was his first film. However, he did have a connection to the entertainment industry.
Both of Zabka’s Parents Were Employed at NBC
Zabka’s parents, Nancy and Stan, were employed at NBC for several years. In a 2019 interview with The Union, Stan Zabka discussed his lengthy career. The publication noted that he served as “a director of NBC’s Tonight Show for 22 years.” In the mid-1960s, he was first introduced to his wife, Nancy, who was “a production assistant” at The Tonight Show.
“Nancy worked with me in the control room of the Tonight Show. I sat next to her five days a week for quite a while. Finally I asked her if she’d like to have dinner, she said ‘yes,’ and nine months later we were married,” stated Zabka.
While speaking to Uproxx in June 2019, the Cobra Kai star briefly discussed his parents’ careers.
“I was born in New York City, lived in Long Island for 10 years. I moved to California when I was 10. My dad worked for NBC. He was a director on The Tonight Show and a lot of different shows. So did my mom, she worked at NBC. And my dad got transferred to California,” said the actor.
He went on to say that his move to the San Fernando Valley caused him to identify with Daniel’s storyline in the first installment of the Karate Kid franchise.
“I was Daniel LaRusso really, coming out here. I was a fish out of water with the weird accent and the funny bike, and I had to make my way in the first couple weeks and months of California and try to blend in,” explained Zabka.
Zabka Revealed That He Was Able To Defend Himself Against Potential Bullies
During a 2018 Vanity Fair interview, alongside his Cobra Kai co-star Ralph Macchio, Zabka also spoke about having difficulty fitting in when he first arrived to California.
“When I moved from New York to California, I was 10 years old and the new kid. My dad used to put a bowl on my head to cut my hair. I had the bell-bottom jeans, a ‘Pinball Wizard’ shirt, and a banana-seat bike. I rode into a Motocross, knobby tire, O.P., Vans, California-type thing,” recalled the actor.
He stated while he felt like an outsider, he was able to defend himself against potential bullies.
“[B]ut coming from New York, I grew up throwing fists and getting hit. I stood my ground, and gained their respect,” said the actor.
Zabka also noted that his father “taught [him] how to fight really young.” He told the publication:
He’d take me down to the basement and let me punch him in the jaw, to let me know what it felt like to hit someone. He wanted me to learn to not be afraid. It sounds harsh, but it was the 70s, man.
To see more of Zabka, be sure to watch Cobra Kai, available on Netflix.
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