Since Forest Gump was released in 1994, numerous people have asked the question of whether or not the titular character was based on a real person. Though there is no one specific person that the character of Forrest Gump was based on, there are numerous real-life people that the character can be seen as somewhat of an analogue for. Also, there are some notable people that were inspired by the film to become real-life Forrest Gumps themselves. Join Facts Verse as the real-life Forrest Gump breaks his silence.
Who Is the Real-Life Forrest Gump?
There have been multiple people over the years that have earned the designation of being “the real-life Forrest Gump”. One of the individuals that are often considered being more deserving of this title than other is a runner by the name of Rob Pope. Rob Pope’s story didn’t inspire Forrest Gump, but Forrest Gump’s story certainly inspired his. In September of 2016, Rob set about recreating Forrest’s iconic cross-country run from the film, and he ended up being successful!
Prior to September of 2016, Rob Pope was an unassuming veterinarian that hailed from Liverpool. Though Forrest Gump was a decidedly American phenomenon, Rob has always identified with the character’s journey. Particularly, Rob has always identified with the chapter later in the film wherein a depressed Forrest decides that the only thing that’s going to make him feel better is going for a run. In the film, Forrest didn’t know that he was going to end up running across America a staggering five times over the course of several years. Contrastingly, Rob Pope when into his similar journey knowing exactly what he was going to do.
Rob Pope took his emulation of Forrest Gump’s cross-country run so seriously that he even started from the same location. In the film, of course, Forrest starts running from his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Not only did Rob start from the same location as Forrest, but he also stopped at an Alabama barbershop beforehand and got his hair cut to resemble the iconic film character. As Rob sat down to get this haircut as his final preparation for the journey, he was incredibly excited. He had put an immense amount of work into preparing for his cross-country run, which included putting in some extreme hours at the veterinary clinic back overseas. Rob was said to have been working 13-hour days in order to prepare for the trip, though this amount of work would be nothing compared to the actual run itself.
Rob Pope Identifies with Forrest Gump for Many Reasons
One of the reasons that Rob Pope has come to identify with the character of Forrest Gump so much in his life is the fact that he, like Forrest himself, was raised by a strong single mother. In the film, Forrest’s mother was played by Sally Field. Rob’s mother in real-life wasn’t a celebrity, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t have a strong and positive impact on him growing up. In 2002, Rob’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and it was only a short period of time after this that she passed away. On her deathbed, Rob’s mother made her son promise that he was going to do something exceptional in her memory. He made good on the promise!
In many ways, Rob Pope credits the death of his mother with inspiring him to run across America like Forrest Gump. It was around the time his mother passed that Rob started making preparations for the journey, though it wouldn’t be many, many years until he was ready. The movie Forrest Gump was based upon a novel that was released nearly a full decade before the film, in 1986. The novel wasn’t all that big of a success, but it did catch the attention of director Robert Zemeckis. Robert was coming off of hit films like Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and he saw massive potential in the story of a low-IQ everyman getting swept up in all the major events of modern history. Many of the iconic adventures that Forrest got up to in the film were taken directly from the book, including the character’s stint in the Vietnam War and his time playing ping-pong in China. However, there was one notable escapade that was added to the book for the film, and that was the cross-country run.
Though it wasn’t part of the original novel, Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks were so adamant about Forrest Gump’s cross-country run appearing in the film that they agreed to fund the filming of the necessary scenes themselves. Given that this required a great deal of location shooting across America, this was a pretty expensive prospect on the part of the two celebrities. Robert and Tom’s insistence paid off. Not only did Forrest’s cross-country run become one of the audience’s favorite parts of the film, but it also went on to inspire people in real life, such as Rob Hope. In the film, Forrest runs across America nearly five times. By the end of Rob’s own journey, he had managed to match Forrest.
Is Running Across America a Realistic Goal?
Forrest Gump’s journey in the film was said to have taken three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours. The idea of someone crossing the country on foot wasn’t taken directly from the source material, but it did have some precedent in American lore. The very first instance of someone crossing American on foot was recording in the late 1800s. The person to do so was a woman by the name of Helga Estby. Helga agreed to travel across the country on foot on a bet, believing the $10,000 she was offered would be enough to help save her struggling family farm. Helga ended up being successful, with her and her daughter making it from Spokane, Washington, to New York City in seven months.
Helga Estby walked around 30 miles a day in order to make good on the bet, and she was said to have worn out several dozen pairs of shoes. Even so, the person whom she had made the bet with tragically refused to pay up the money that she so desperately needed. Several years later, a 70-year-old man by the name of Edward Weston became the second-ever recorded person to make the journey across America on foot. Edward one-upped Helga by starting at one coast and ending at another, whereas Helga had simply used notable inland landmarks as her start and end points.
Edward Weston’s cross-country journey was made under much more positive circumstances than Helga Estby’s, and the elderly man ended up becoming somewhat of a national celebrity on account of his accomplishment. Several decades later, running across the country would become a bit of a phenomenon during the 1970s. Over the course of the decade, a few different people were said to have run cross-country. In 1980, a shoe salesman by the name of Frank Fiannino Jr. ran across the entire country in only two months, which set a record that lasted for three decades.
In 2016, a man by the name of Pete Kostelnick finally beat Frank Fiannino Jr.’s cross-country record. This was the same year that Rob Hope set about on his own journey, and he took a lot of inspiration from record-breakers like Pete and Frank. Whereas those runners were attempting to travel across the country in record time, Rob wasn’t pushing himself to match meet any kind of time limit. Instead, what Rob was intending to do was simply match the incredible distance that Forrest Gump was said to have run in the film.
There Are a Few Other Real-Life Forrest Gumps
Rob Hope ran for years, and his girlfriend was travelling alongside him in an RV for much of the time. Towards the end of Rob’s journey, his girlfriend ended up getting pregnant and having to return back to the United Kingdom. Rob kept running until around the time the baby was set to be born, at which point he returned to the United Kingdom himself to join his partner. Rob then had to return to America after the birth of the baby to finish his journey, which he eventually did! After several years, Rob finally matched Forrest’s accomplishment of running across American nearly five times! During the journey, there were multiple people that Rob encountered who either yelled out of their cars “run, Forrest, run!” or otherwise compared the real-life runner’s journey to that of Forrest in the film. Little did these people know that Forrest Gump was literally Rob’s inspiration.
Mimicking Forrest Gump’s cross-country journey allowed Rob Hope to become the real-life Forrest Gump, but there are also several people who others believe to be deserving of a similar title. One such person is decorated Vietnam War veteran Sammy L. Davis. When Forrest is given his Medal of Honor in the film, what audiences are seeing is actually doctored footage of Sammy L. Davis receiving his own. When Sammy was fighting in the war, his contemporaries made fun of the fact that he shared a name with a popular entertainer. Of course, that entertainer would be legendary crooner Sammy Davis Jr. Nowadays, Sammy is similarly teased for being a major inspiration for Forrest Gump.
Finally, two more people that are often cited as being major inspirations for the character of Forrest Gump are actually childhood friends of the source material’s author. The original novel Forrest Gump was written by a man named Winston Groom, and he dedicated the book to two people that he had grown up with. Those people are named Jimbo Meador and George Radcliff. Though not much is known about either of these real-life individuals, it is believed that many of Forrest’s speech patterns are based off of theirs.
There are many figures that could be considered the real-life Forrest Gump, though runner Rob Hope is arguably one of the most deserving. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that there is a man from Liverpool that was inspired to replication Forrest Gump’s iconic run across America, and that the character of Forrest Gump himself was actually based upon several real-life figures? Comment down below.