Notable Rhode Islanders

Notable Rhode Islanders

From Amazing Royal Crowns to Eddie Zack, Rhode Islanders flavor the world!

Hollywood Walk of Fame Star inscribed 'Rhode Island'
(Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Generator).

We'll claim 'em as one of our own if they 1) were born in Rhode Island, 2) spent a significant portion of their lives in Rhode Island, or 3) made or enhanced their reputations in Rhode Island. Beyond that, we have our own obscure and arbitrary criteria that embraces murderers, embezzlers, and rogues as much as doctors, philanthropists, and heroes.

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Pasquale "Pat"/"Doc" J. Abbruzzi

b. August 29, 1932, Warren
d. June 3, 1998, Boston, Massachusetts

Pat Abbruzzi in Montreal Alouettes uniform

Abbruzzi was an American college and professional Canadian football running back, and a successful high school football coach at his alma mater, Warren High School.

Abbruzzi earned an impressive list of awards and honors during his lifetime and after, including:

  • 1952-'54, New England All-Star
  • 1955, Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Player
  • 1972, University of Rhode Island Athletic Hall of Fame
  • 1976, Rhode Island Football Coaches Hall of Fame
  • 1998, Warren Athletic Hall of Fame
  • 2002, Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
  • 2005, Rhode Island Interscholastic League Hall of Fame
  • Sons of Italy Athletic Hall of Fame

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Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich

b. November 6, 1841, Foster
d. April 16, 1915, New York, New York

Engraving of Nelson W. Aldrich
(The Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886)).

Republican U.S. Senator from Rhode Island (1881-1911) who earned the honorary title "General Manager of the Nation" for substantial contributions to national tariff and monetary policies during his tenure.

Aldrich was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1972.

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George Allen

b. 1939, Quincy, Massachusetts
d. November 16, 2010, Barrington

George Allen headshot

Allen was a radio and TV personality best known for hosting "Dialing for Dollars" from 1979 to 1993 on WLNE.

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James K. and Ezra Allen

b. 1824 and 1840
d. 1897 and 1917

Ezra and James Allen photo
Ezra (left) and James (right). The center man is unidentified. (

These Barrington brothers were pioneers of balloon aviation. James undertook the first balloon ascension in Rhode Island in 1856, and both brothers served with distinction as aeronauts in the Civil War. James and Ezra were inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003, and James was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2006.

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American Burying Beetle aka Nicrophorus americanus

American Burying Beetle, (Andrew Butko/Wikipedia).
A specimen on display in Saint Petersburg Zoology Museum, Russia. (Andrew Butko/Wikipedia).

Although it once ranged from Nova Scotia to Florida, the American Burying Beetle's last native population east of the Mississippi is now found only on Block Island. The inch-long insect was added to the Endangered Species list in 1989, and in the early 1990s a successful program to breed and reintroduce the beetles to selected habitats was initiated at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

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Gianna Amore

b. April 5, 1968, Warwick

Gianna Amore, (

This Warwick native was Playboy's Miss August 1989.

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Peter Anders

b. Peter Andreoni, April 28, 1941, Providence

Anders and Poncia, (
Anders and Poncia, (

Anders was one-half of the Providence-based songwriting team of Anders and Poncia. They had minor hits with "Mr. Lonely" (The Vidals, #73, 1960), "New York's a Lonely Town" (The Trade Winds, #32, 1965), "Mind Excursion" (The Trade Winds, #51, 1966), "There's Got to Be a Word!" (The Innocence, #34, 1966), and "Mairzy Doats" (The Innocence, #75, 1967). The pair, who broke up in 1969, also wrote songs for The Ronettes and The Crystals.

Anders was inducted into the Rhode Island Songwriters Association Hall of Fame in 1997, and Anders and Poncia were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

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Harry Laverne Anderson

b. October 14, 1952, Newport
d. April 16, 2018, Asheville, North Carolina

Harry Anderson, (

Magician turned actor (Night Court (1984-'92), Dave's World (1993-'97)). Anderson lived in at least a dozen states by the time he was seventeen, so his connection to Rhode Island is basically restricted to a brief period following his birth.

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David Lawrence Angell

b. April 10, 1946, Providence
d. September 11, 2001, New York City

David Angell, (Wikipedia).

Barrington-raised Angell penned scripts for Archie Bunker's Place and Cheers and, with his producing partners, created shows like Wings and Frasier. Together the team won twenty-four Emmy Awards from a total of thirty-seven nominations. David Angell and his wife, Lynn, died when their Los Angeles-bound plane was flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

David Angell was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2003.

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James Burrill Angell

b. January 7, 1829, Scituate
d. April 1, 1916, Ann Arbor, Michigan

James Burrill Angell, 100 Years of the Providence Journal, 1929.
(100 Years of the Providence Journal, July 23, 1929).

Editor of the Providence Journal, 1860-'66; President of the University of Vermont, 1866-'71; President of the University of Michigan, 1871-1909; U.S. Minister to China, 1880-'81; U.S. Minister to Turkey, 1897-'98.

Angell was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2008.

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James Newell Arnold

b. August 3, 1844, Cranston
d. September 18, 1927, Providence

James Newell Arnold, Providence Public Library, undated.
(James N. Arnold Collection, Rhode Island Collection, Providence Public Library).

Arnold was a collector of historical and genealogical data, and by the time of his death had published twenty-one volumes of The Vital Record of Rhode Island (1636-1850). His transcriptions of gravestones from 1,500 cemeteries are the basis of the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Database.

Arnold was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2007.

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b. Edward Irving Wortis, December 23, 1937, New York City, New York.

Avi, ( Ward).
( Ward).

Avi is the popular author of more than seventy-five books for children and young adults, including Something Upstairs and Finding Providence: the Story of Roger Williams. Avi lived in Providence from 1987 to 1997.

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Natalie Babbitt

b. July 28, 1932, Dayton, Ohio
d. November 1, 2016, Hamden, Connecticut, of lung cancer.

Natalie Babbitt headshot.

Babbitt was an author and illustrator of children's books, most notably Tuck Everlasting (1975), which has twice been made into a movie. She and her husband, Sam, lived for a time just off Benefit Street in Providence.

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Rocco Dan Baldelli

b. September 25, 1981, Woonsocket

Rocco Baldelli baseball card.

Baldelli was an outfielder and designated hitter for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Boston Red Sox from 2001 to 2010, when medical problems forced his early retirement at age 29. Early in his career, he earned the nickname "The Woonsocket Rocket" because of his size and speed.

Baldelli was inducted into the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame in 2004.

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Sullivan Ballou

b. March 28, 1829, in "the outlands of Providence" (Smithfield)
d. July 29, 1861, Manassas, Virginia, of a wound from a cannonball

Sullivan Ballou engraving.
(The Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886)).

Ballou was a major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers during the Civil War. He is perhaps best known today for his moving battlefield letter to his wife, Sarah, used to good effect in Ken Burns' documentary, The Civil War.

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George Bancroft

b. October 3, 1800, Worcester, Massachusetts
d. January 17, 1891, Washington, D.C.

George Bancroft photo.

Historian (The History of the United States (1834–'74)) and statesman (United States Secretary of the Navy, 1845-'46; United States Minister to the United Kingdom, 1846-'49). In the later years of his life he summered at Rose Cliff, forerunner of the current Rosecliff mansion, in Newport. The property was named for the American Beauty roses that Bancroft was fond of cultivating.

Bancroft was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1984.

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Joseph Michael Banigan

b. June 7, 1839, County Monaghan, Ireland
d. July 28, 1898, Providence

Joseph Banigan portrait
(Brown University portrait collection).

Irish-born businessman and industrialist, co-founder of the U.S. Rubber Company and its president from 1893 to 1896, and a prime benefactor of Rhode Island's Catholic churches.

Banigan was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Edward Mitchell Bannister

b. November 1828, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
d. January, 9, 1901, Providence, of a heart attack

Edward Bannister photo

Bannister was a black painter of mostly pastoral subjects who, in 1870, moved to Providence, where he was one of the founders of the Providence Art Club and served on the board of the Rhode Island School of Design. Largely forgotten after his death, his legacy was resurrected during the civil rights movement of the 1970s.

Edward Bannister was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1976.

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Marvin Jerome "Bad News" Barnes

b. July 27, 1952, Providence
d. September 8, 2014, Providence

Marvin Barnes photo

Barnes was a tremendously talented basketball player who played for Central High School and Providence College before going on to a professional career with several teams from 1974 to 1986. He co-holds (with MarShon Brooks) PC's single-game scoring record of fifty-two points, and was named American Basketball Association Rookie of the Year in 1975. His nickname, "Bad News," stems from his numerous violations of the law, including attempted robbery of a bus (while wearing a state championship jacket with his name on it), and assault of a teammate with a tire iron.

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Michael Ray "Mike" Barrowman

b. December 4, 1968, Asunción, Paraguay

Michael Barrowman photo
(Team USA, U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), 1988).

This former member of the Cumberland-Lincoln Boys Club (where he set several Rhode Island and New England youth records), earned a gold medal for the 200-meter breaststroke in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. He broke the world record for that event six times, holding the record for more than thirteen years.

Barrowman was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1997, the Rhode Island Aquatic Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2004.

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William Barton

b. May 26, 1748, Warren
d. October 22, 1831

William Barton engraving
(The Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886)).

William Barton was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. On the night of July 10-11, 1777, Major Barton led a raid on British headquarters at Overing Farm in Portsmouth, during which he captured British Major General Richard Prescott.

Barton was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1999.

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Elizabeth Lyon Beisel

b. August 18, 1992, South Kingstown

Elizabeth Beisel photo
(Facebook, October 1, 2021).

Olympic swimmer from Saunderstown who took home silver in the 400-meter individual medley, and bronze in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Between 2009 and 2014 Beisel won a total of nine medals in major international competition.

On September 25, 2021, Beisel completed a swim from Matunuck to Block Island in about five-and-a-half hours. She's thought to be the first woman to perform the feat.

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Brenda Bennett, nee Brenda Mosher

b. 1952, Warwick

Apollonia 6 photo
Apollonia 6; Apollonia Kotero, Brenda Bennett, and Susan Moonsie, circa 1984. (

Brenda Bennett began her recording career in 1973 singing with Rhode Island band Ken Lyon and Tombstone. In the early '80s she was a member of the Prince protegé bands Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6, and appeared in the movie Purple Rain. It's her voice singing the "Oh-ooo-woh"s in the chorus of the Bangles hit "Manic Monday." More recently, she released solo albums in 2011, (A Capella), and 2020, (Once Again). She resides in Jamestown.

Bennett was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Official website

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Robert Howard "Bob" Bennett

b. August 9, 1919, Providence
d. December 13, 1974

Robert Bennett photo

Olympian. Graduated from Brown University in 1948, and the same year won a bronze medal in the hammer throw at the London Olympics. He returned to Brown in 1954 as assistant track coach.

Bennett was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968.

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George Berkeley

b. March 12, 1685, County Kilkenny, Ireland
d. January 14, 1753, Oxford, England

Berkeley portrait by Smybert, 1727
Portrait of Bishop George Berkeley by John Smybert (1727). (Wikipedia Commons).

Berkeley was an Anglican Bishop and a philosopher. He lived in Middletown (then part of Newport) from 1729 to 1731 at a plantation he called Whitehall, the main house of which still stands and is open to the public. During his brief sojourn in Rhode Island, he wrote a book (Alciphron), gave sermons at Trinity and St Paul's Churches, and founded the Philosophical Society in Newport, a precursor to the Redwood Library.

Berkeley was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1998.

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Maximilian Delhinus Berlitz

b. David Berlizheimer, April 14, 1852, Muhringen, Germany
d. April 6, 1921, New York City, New York

Portrait of Maximilian Berlitz

Linguist and founder of the Berlitz Language Schools, the first of which he established in Providence in 1878. The Berlitz Method teaches language through immersion rather than focusing on grammar or strict translation.

Berlitz was Inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2007.

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Joseph Anthony "Joe B" Bevilacqua, Sr.

b. December 1, 1918, Providence
d. June 21, 1989, Boston, Massachusetts

Headshot of Joseph Bevilacqua Sr., 1976
(Rhode Island Report on the Judiciary, 1976/Wikipedia).

Bevilacqua entered political life in 1955, serving as a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He rose to the positions of majority leader in 1966 and Speaker in 1969, then was elected Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1976. But then a 1984 Providence Journal investigation brought to light Bevilacqua's deep and long-standing ties to organized crime, which lead to impeachment proceedings and his resignation in 1986.

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Nadia Alexandra Bjorlin

b. August 2, 1980, Newport

Nadia Bjorlin photo

Actress, singer, and model; has played Chloe Lane on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives since 1999.

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William Blackstone aka William Blaxton

b. March 5, 1595, Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England
d. May 26, 1675, Lonsdale, Lincoln/Cumberland

William Blackstone depiction

Clergyman; first European settler in what is now Boston (1623), and later, he became Rhode Island's first settler as well (1635).

Blackstone was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1995.

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Wesoly Bolek

b. William J. Borek, July 19, 1941, Woonsocket
d. May 13, 2006, Hollywood, Florida, after a long battle with cancer

Wesoly Bolek Wild Polkas album cover

Rhode Island's "Polka Clown" formed the Wesoly Bolek band in 1958 and toured the United States, Canada, and Poland for the next five decades. During that time the band recorded ten albums of full-tilt polka music. Bolek was inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame in 2008.

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Augustus Osborn Bourn

b. October 1, 1834, Providence
d. January 28, 1925, Bristol

Augustus Bourne photo
(History of Providence County, Rhode Island, edited by Richard M. Bayles, 1920).

Bourne was a pioneer in the manufacture of rubber goods and founder of the National Rubber Company in Bristol, a state representative (1876-'83, 1886-'88), governor (1885-'87), and U.S. consul general to Italy (1889-'93). Bourne was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Claus von Bulow

b. Claus Cecil Borberg, August 11, 1926, Copenhagen, Denmark
d. May 25, 2019, London, England

Claus von Bulow headshot

Bulow was one of the world's most famous and cultured accused murderers. He was tried in 1982 for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny, and found guilty. A second trial in 1985 came to the opposite conclusion. Bulow lived at Clarendon Court in Newport from around 1970 to 1987, when he returned to Europe.

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Charlie Peckham Day

b: February 9, 1976, New York, New York

Charlie Day yearbook photo, 1994
Day's 1994 Portsmouth Abbey yearbook photo.

Actor (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses, Pacific Rim, The Lego Movie). Day spent most of his childhood in Middletown. His father was a professor of music history at Salve Regina College/University and his mother was a piano teacher at The Pennfield School. Day attended the Pennfield School and the Portsmouth Abbey School.

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Jacqueline Nolis

b. Jonathan Adler, 1987

Jacqueline Nolis headshot (

Mathematician, third season winner on the TBS series King of the Nerds. Jacqueline is a great-grandchild of Adler's Hardware founder Fred Adler. She grew up in Barrington and graduated from Barrington High School.

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