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10 Of Our Favorite Pittsburgh Celebrities And Why We Admire Them

ILLUSTRATION BY HUCK BEARD

VisitPittsburgh currently lists 55 famous Pittsburghers on its website. Most of these have passed on — Fred Rogers, Johnny Unitas, Henry Mancini, Billy Eckstine, Jimmy Stewart, David McCullough and August Wilson, to name a few. Some are no longer very active in the fields that made them famous in the first place — Shirley Jones, Joe Montana, Sharon Stone, Christina Aguilera and Rusted Root. Only a few listed are still making their mark — Rob Marshall, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Keaton. Surprisingly, there’s no Billy Porter, Joe Manganiello, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Mark Cuban, Billy Gardell, four-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand or five-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri — on that list and we felt some serious updating was in order.

Also, we want to know who you would put on this list. Share your suggestions here.

Heather Abraham

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PHOTO BY HUCK BEARD

Upbeat and relatable are just two of the words frequently used to describe KDKA-TV host Heather Abraham. She shows up in our living rooms twice a day as co-host of “Pittsburgh Today Live” and her new talk show, “Talk Pittsburgh.” As you may have guessed, conversation drives Abraham — and that’s what she aims to bring to the latter show, which debuted in March.

Abraham often takes to Instagram, asking her more than 28,000 followers to weigh in on hot topics and conversation pieces. She also uses her social media to give folks a peek behind the curtain of her life, sharing family adventures and backstage shenanigans.

After making the morning announcements while attending Shaler Area High School, Abraham was convinced that journalism was the path for her. The Shaler native joined KDKA in 2010 when she returned to Pittsburgh from a stint as a news reporter in New York City.

It’s always been important for Abraham to be involved in her community, joining causes such as Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, Hair Peace Charities, Animal Friends and the KDKA Turkey Fund. The very active mom of three also keeps an eye out for her neighbors. In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Abraham helped organize a neighborhood-safe Light Up Night.

And speaking of her children, they helped her structure “Talk Pittsburgh.” The recurring segment “KD Kid’s Club” was inspired by her daughters, who like to be like mommy and play “the news.” The segment is devoted to spotlighting kids who are doing amazing things.

Sidney Crosby

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Since becoming a Pittsburgh Penguin in 2005, Sidney Crosby has been making history left and right. At 19, he became the youngest team captain in NHL history. “Sid the Kid” made history again in 2009, at age 21, as the youngest NHL captain to take home the Stanley Cup.

When he moved to Pittsburgh from Canada, Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux invited Crosby to live with him for his first five seasons on the team. Since Lemieux retired during Crosby’s rookie year, the pair shared an address longer than they shared time on the ice.

Crosby began playing hockey at age 2, shooting pucks in his family’s basement and then learning to skate the following year. Perhaps as a way to honor his very young start, Crosby started the “Little Penguins Learn to Play Hockey” program in 2008, providing free equipment and lessons to children ages 5 to 9 in the Pittsburgh area. His commitment to children doesn’t stop there, as the Sidney Crosby Foundation was started in 2009 to help charities that improve the lives of disadvantaged children.

With all of his achievements, Crosby does have a couple of peculiarities. He is a somewhat superstitious guy known to have several specific routines that he must follow. For example, his hockey sticks must be cut to a specific length and taped in a specific way, and no one is allowed to touch them after they have been taped.

Sid the Kid makes sure to keep things interesting.

Gisele Barreto Fetterman

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PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK

Gisele Barreto Fetterman is all about making a change. Born in Brazil, she came to the U.S. at age 7. After moving to Pittsburgh and becoming an American citizen in 2009, she devoted her life to revitalizing her Pittsburgh community.

Fetterman is very vocal about her advocacy for marginalized groups, especially the immigrant community. Focusing on nutrition, basic needs and food equity, Fetterman opened The Free Store in Braddock, which distributes household goods, baby items and other necessities to those in need, in 2012. She also co-founded 412 Food Rescue, which collects surplus food from retailers and food events and gets it into the hands of those in need.

It hasn’t been without its challenges. Campaigning with her husband, John Fetterman, who won a U.S. Senate seat for Pennsylvania, kept the family busy enough, but while on the road, her husband suffered a stroke. Shortly after starting his term in January, he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to receive treatment for clinical depression.

During this time, Gisele Fetterman received hateful comments blaming her for John’s health concerns. She speaks candidly about the cruelty she endured in an op-ed for Elle magazine —  and about how she feels when people tell her to toughen up.

“I like my big feelings; the ability to feel so deeply is beautiful,” she wrote in Elle. “My empathy drives my career and provides me with purpose and hope.”

Jeff Goldblum

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

His glance is intoxicating. He oohs and aahs his way through dialogue giving the impression that everything he’s experiencing is wonderous. Jeff Goldblum has been many things on screen — a 6-foot-4-inch fly, a specialist in chaos theory and an ageless elder of the universe, just to name a few.

Most recently, he’s taken to being himself.

The “Independence Day” star, born in West Homestead, calls himself a lifelong jazz aficionado and calls Pittsburgh jazz legend Erroll Garner his first musical idol. After years of playing jazz piano for lucky patrons at random bars, he released his debut album, “Capitol Studio Sessions,” in 2018. Recorded with his longtime band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, the album went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He now tours with his band and has released another album, as well as a new single, “Plays Well With Others,” featuring Kelly Clarkson.

July 13 is a day of celebration here in Pittsburgh — officially “Jeff Goldblum Day.” During the 2019 celebration, the man (the myth, the legend) made a surprise appearance. Fans were overjoyed as he took selfies and assisted in giving tattoos. The hoopla was captured for an episode of his Disney+ show, “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.” On the show, he investigates (with wonder) the history and appeal of everything from sneakers to ice cream to dogs.

The man is a Pittsburgh treasure.

Michael Keaton

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Michael Keaton is definitely a Pittsburgh favorite, whether he’s Beetlejuice, Mr. Mom or your preferred Batman. Born Michael John Douglas in the Robinson area, the actor reminisced fondly about growing up in Western Pennsylvania when he accepted his Emmy for the Hulu series “Dopesick.” When he was a child, his father won a small black-and-white TV set in a raffle, and that was all Keaton needed to get bitten by the acting bug.

When he moved to Los Angeles, he had to come up with a stage name to avoid being confused with the already established Michael Douglas. So, Michael opened a phone book randomly to the Ks, and Michael Keaton was born.

Never far from his roots, he returned to Pittsburgh shortly after the synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill in 2018 and joined the stage with Tom Hanks, Joanne Rogers, Franco Harris and others at a peace rally in Point State Park. “If you want to see a city that’s tolerant, accepting, inclusive and compassionate, you should go to Pittsburgh,” he told the crowd.

The talented actor still has Hollywood calling him up for roles, but he is expanding his repertoire. In 2021, Keaton invested in transforming a former Pittsburgh steel mill into a sustainability based manufacturing plant, partnering with Nexii Building Solutions Inc., a Canada-based green construction technology company; the plant is projected to create about 300 green jobs in the area. During a “60 Minutes” interview, Keaton stated, “You can’t just have an opinion about climate change anymore.” He wants to do something about it.

Michael Keaton will always be Pittsburgh’s Batman.

Wiz Khalifa

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

In 2010, rapper Wiz Khalifa released the song “Black and Yellow,” which was mostly about his yellow Dodge Challenger — but it turned into an unofficial Pittsburgh anthem. With all three of our major league sports teams donning black and yellow, how could it not? None of the song lyrics actually mention sports or even Pittsburgh, but the black and yellow city is very much the star of the music video — the yellow bridges, U.S. Steel Tower and the 12 smokestacks at the Waterfront in Homestead are all very recognizable.

The Pittsburgh Allderdice High School alum was born in North Dakota. His military parents moved the family around a lot, eventually settling in Steeler Nation in the 1990s. That’s when Wiz, born Cameron Jibril Thomaz, began writing and performing his own lyrics. Because he was so good at everything, friends and family would call him “young Wiz.” Khalifa, Arabic for “successor or leader,” was suggested by his Muslim grandfather.

His 2006 debut studio album “Show and Prove” was followed by six more. With his unique style and lyricism, it’s evident that he loves the art of making music. Recently featured on the cover of Men’s Health magazine celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, Wiz said during the interview, “I love to create, so just the act of doing something new inspires me.”

Music isn’t his only passion. An entrepreneur, he introduced Khalifa Kush, his premium marijuana products, in the U.S. in 2015. The 6-foot-4 rapper is also dedicated to his health and fitness, which have helped him to be more focused and patient; Wiz is an 8th-degree red and black belt in the martial art Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Maybe we can look forward to a “Black and Red” track?

Summer Lee

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PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK

When reports of violence from local police and school administrators against students began taking up the news cycle, Summer Lee led a fight to transform her local school board. As a proud alum of the Woodland Hills School District, Lee felt it was her duty to advocate for improvement. Since then, the attorney and passionate activist has been working continually to make change happen in our community.

Running for public office wasn’t in her original life plan. She studied journalism at Penn State with dreams of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey. After earning her law degree from Howard University, she worked as an organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. That job gave her the ambition to organize her own community, which turned around and helped get her organized.

It was Lee’s North Braddock community that urged her to run for State House in 2018. Thanks to grassroots campaigning, she was able to defeat the 20-year incumbent, Paul Costa — becoming the first Black woman from Western Pennsylvania to take a seat in the state Legislature.

As the voice for working families, it’s refreshing to find a politician so relatable and down to earth. The activist focuses on immediate needs such as worker’s rights, police accountability, reproductive rights and gender and racial equity.

In 2022, the Democrat made history again by getting elected as the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, for the 12th District. Not one to back down from a fight, Lee is the homegrown hero that many of us want fighting for our human rights.

Kenny Pickett

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PHOTO: KARL ROSER | PITTSBURGH STEELERS

New Jersey-born Kenny Pickett initially had his college sights set on Temple University. But when it came down to it, he decided to take his talents to the University of Pittsburgh. While he was playing for the Panthers, the Steelers were able to keep a close eye on his progress. A college player rarely chooses to stay in the same city, but Pickett chose Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh chose him back. In 2022, the Steelers used their first-round draft pick on the quarterback, hoping he could one day lead them to the Super Bowl.

In his still-new NFL career, Pickett is already making heads turn. Recently, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky praised the Heisman trophy finalist for being an intelligent player who knows what he’s doing. In every game, Pickett shows improvement and growth, giving fans hope for a tremendous season. And he started the latest season with a little spring in his step, having just gotten married to Amy Paternoster in June.

There is one question that fans have for Pickett. Why two gloves? Apparently, this football player has smaller than average hands for an NFL quarterback, at 8½ inches, and chooses to glove them both. It’s not unusual for a quarterback to put a glove on his throwing hand, but most signal callers leave it at that. In an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” he explained, “I tried it once in my sophomore year, but I really stuck with it after the game versus North Carolina. I’ve been wearing them ever since. I just feel more at ease with it.”

Hey, do what you have to do to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl.

Billy Porter

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Barrier-breaking Billy Porter has taken on stage and screens both big and small. He is an award-winning actor, singer, director, composer and playwright. Who has the time? While growing up in Homewood, he graduated from Allderdice and Pittsburgh CAPA high schools and Carnegie Mellon University. If you visited Kennywood during the summers of 1985 to 1987, you might have been treated to the “Kinky Boots” star performing with entertainment groups “Spirit” and “Flash.”

The massive talent took home an Emmy for his role as Pray Tell, grandfather to the ballroom children, in the FX hit series “Pose.” The critically acclaimed show, centered around ballroom culture and the gay and trans community during the ’80s and ’90s, ran for three seasons. “Pose” wasn’t just about voguing, it also tackled heavy topics such as the AIDS crisis. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, Billy opened up about living with HIV since 2007. His role as Pray Tell helped him “walk through the shame.”

As a way of giving back to Pittsburgh, Porter recently partnered with local real estate developers and celebrity chef Rachael Ray to explore purchasing the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum in Homewood, currently owned by the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. The goal is to create a community space that would include arts education, a roller rink and a culinary arts and jobs program.

Porter’s iconic gender-fluid fashion sense has made him the highlight of red carpets and magazine covers, such as Essence and Allure. His commitment to being fierce made him the obvious choice to play the Fabulous Godmother in Amazon Prime’s “Cinderella” remake.

Keep an eye out for more to come — he is only an Oscar win away from being an EGOT.

Sally Wiggin

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PHOTO COURTESY WTAE

Sally Wiggin came to Pittsburgh in 1981 from Birmingham, Alabama, where she worked in television and radio. During her time at WTAE, she was a news anchor on weekends and later, weeknights; from 1993 until 2017 she also was host of the Pittsburgh Steelers pre-game shows. Perfect placement for the avid sports fan.

After nearly four decades dedicated to covering stories in and around the Pittsburgh area, Wiggin earned a well-deserved retirement from WTAE in 2018. She still lends her distinctive and recognizable voice to moderating and emceeing local events, but she does not miss reporting the news. (Although she could probably be persuaded to return for some of those Kennywood corn dogs, her favorite Pittsburgh treats.)

She helped elevate awareness of women and heart health after she shared her personal journey with coronary heart disease in the early 2000s. Both of her parents died at relatively young ages of heart attacks, and she got the diagnosis before age 50. She served as spokesperson for the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Working Hearts initiative.

Since retiring, she’s had more time to dedicate to advocacy for wildlife and community needs. The award-winning journalist has been on the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium board since 1995 and enjoys helping to feed the penguins. She remembers having a special place in her heart for animals since she was 3, and that simple love for furry creatures turned into advocacy after a visit to Africa in 1989. She also serves on the board of directors for the Urban League of Pittsburgh, southwestern Pennsylvania’s largest social service/civil rights organization.

She no longer really watches the news, but she keeps up with her beloved sports teams by having ESPN on the TV from morning to night.

Kahmeela Adams-Friedson is a photographer, producer, podcaster, writer and overall cinephile who enjoys sharing her opinions. Kahmeela has designed a career that allows her to create in multiple areas of media and still keep up with her shows.

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