The GEICO Caveman Actor Has a Surprisingly Heartwarming Past
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We are all familiar with the GEICO gecko (his name is “Martin” by the way), but before he became their main brand ambassador, the GEICO caveman was also entertaining TV audiences across the country.
You might remember the bit; a hairy but well-adjusted caveman is navigating life in modern America (attending a therapy session, eating at a restaurant, watching an NBA game), until someone utters the tagline, “GEICO, so easy a caveman can do it.” The caveman gets offended and storms off screen.
The first caveman ads hit our screens in 2004, with actor John Lehr playing the Stone Age renaissance man. The commercials were a hit, and the character would later appear at the Oscars red carpet, on Super Bowl commercials, and even get his own (short-lived) sitcom on ABC.
Read on to learn what has happened to actor John Lehr since he first appeared as the GEICO car insurance caveman, 17 years ago.
We rarely get a glimpse behind the scenes of recognizable actors from commercials.
Who was the GEICO caveman?
As reported by Forbes, John Lehr’s life before landing the GEICO caveman role was far from straightforward.
Born and raised in eastern Kansas, he started experimenting with drugs in highschool. Despite this, Lehr graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago in 1988, and embarked on a career as a teacher.
Lehr calls his past self “crazy”, as he accepted jobs teaching in tough neighbourhoods in Chicago, and later South-Central Los Angeles. He was also doing improv, which is where he was discovered in the late ‘90s, and signed to a holding deal with NBC for $15,000.
From the outset, Lehr was getting roles on TV and in movies, but he continued to abuse drugs and alcohol. Things came to a head when he was pulled over in Ventura County while high on acid. Lehr tells Forbes, “I spent the night in jail on acid. I was looking at serious time in jail. My lawyer told me to get into a program, and I have been sober ever since.”
A couple of years later, Lehr met and married his wife, Jennifer, who he credits with keeping him on the straight and narrow. He also found religion after attending the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, something which continues to give him spiritual fulfillment.
Successful TV career
Lehr’s stint as the GEICO caveman began a few years after his transition into sobriety, and his television career has flourished ever since.
Hosting credits included I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, Clash of the Commercials, and John Lehr’s Movie Club. He wrote and executive produced 10 Items or Less on TBS, and comedy western Quickdraw on Hulu. Lehr also had a starring role in both productions.
Lehr has his own production company, Howler Monkey Productions. Alongside his partner, Nancy Howler, he continues to create unique comedy TV shows, and is currently working on a “huge” project with actress Kirstie Alley.
Away from the silver screen
While the GEICO caveman commercials didn’t launch Lehr’s career all by themselves (he had appeared in an episode of Friends, and was a regular on Jesse with Christina Applegate by then), the money he earned from them helped keep him on his chosen path.
He credits GEICO with enabling him to pay off his house, send his kids to great schools, and do what he loves, which is perform at various sober community events and acknowledge his years of addiction.
While drug and alcohol abuse may seem a strange topic for comedy, he explains to Forbes, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to stay sober. If you can’t find the sweetness and light to life, you’re screwed.’”
And in perhaps the happiest ending of all, John Lehr is still married to Jennifer, and they have two children.