13 celebs and spices — and one original recipe
Col. Sanders’ image has been synonymous with KFC since the first franchise opened more than 60 years ago. After founder Harland Sanders died in 1980, it didn’t seem like any one person could fill his shoes. Over 30 years later, that philosophy still stands: one person can’t play Sanders, but many people can! Ahead, see all of the celebrities who’ve worn Col. Sanders’ iconic white suit, black tie, and signature facial hair.
Col. Harland Sanders
Col. Harland Sanders did more than found KFC and patent its fried chicken recipe. He was also the spokesperson and brand ambassador, starring in television commercials and making other appearances to promote the franchise. His iconic, unmistakable look and enduring legacy are why the role is still so recognizable today.
Darrell Hammond became a legend on Saturday Night Live for his talent as an impressionist, so he was the perfect choice as the person to bring Col. Sanders back to television. Hammond believed he would be playing the role long term, and did extensive research to do the part justice. In an interview, Hammond expressed disappointment at being replaced, saying he felt “played” by the company.
Another SNL alum, Norm Macdonald’s turn as Sanders made clear that the role would be a rotating gig. His self-aware version poked fun at the campaign, claiming that he himself was the “real” Colonel Sanders and the one who came before was an “impostor.” (In real life, Macdonald tweeted his support for Hammond’s version, saying “KFC made a big mistake” in replacing him.)
Comedian Jim Gaffigan continued the silly self-awareness of KFC’s advertising. His Sanders was introduced waking from a nightmare in which Macdonald’s version was his impostor. Waking up in a cold sweat was this Sanders’ schtick: in another ad, he said after waking up, “Boy, I sure do have a lot of nightmares about chicken.”
George Hamilton’s (The Godfather Part III, American Housewife) Colonel used Hamilton’s image as part of the joke. The famously tanned actor portrayed the “extra crispy Colonel” to promote KFC’s extra crispy chicken meal.
WWE wrestler Dolph Ziggler is sort of a bonus Colonel: he donned the suit for a WWE-specific spot in which the Colonel throws down with a lesser fried chicken mascot.
The third former SNL cast member to play Sanders, Riggle’s version was a more athletic, competitive Col. Sanders. He played the part as the “owner, head coach, and marketing director” of the fictional “Kentucky Buckets” football team.
Vincent Kartheiser of Mad Men fame played the Nashville Colonel, a younger, ’50s-style heartthrob. His appearance was more unconventional; showing up on an album cover or TV-within-TV.
Billy Zane (Titantic) appeared as the “Golden Colonel” to promote KFC’s “Georgia Gold” chicken. His Colonel shared double billing with Rob Riggle in a competitive Super Bowl spot with the tagline, “There can only be one at a time.”
Unlike the Riggle/Zane double billing, Shades of Blue‘s Ray Liotta plays a version of the Colonel as just one man – with two personalities. With demented glee, he battles himself over promoting two different KFC meals.
As a character actor, Christopher Boyer (Lincoln, American Crime Story) is less recognizable than past Colonels, which suited his portrayal of the “Value Colonel.” This version of Sanders explained that instead of hiring any fancy celebrities, the brand saved money to bring consumers KFC’s Value Meal.
The Seinfeld alum fittingly portrays the Colonel in a ’90s sitcom-themed spot. Alexander’s Colonel stars in the psuedo-sitcom “What’s for Dinner” where he cycles through ’90s TV tropes, dressing as everything from a mailman to a nosy neighbor.