The real people who inspired ‘Forrest Gump’
(Credits: Alamy)


The real people who inspired 'Forrest Gump'

Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is one of the most celebrated American movies of all time, remembered for its quotable lines and loveable characters. It’s a humourous story about one man’s unbelievable luck, managing to be present for some of the most significant moments in history. Meanwhile, he must deal with personal issues, like the loss of friends and family, resulting in a tale that reflects on the meaning of being human, finding connection, and exploring the world.

At the Oscars that year, Forrest Gump won several of the main prizes, such as ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’, with Tom Hanks also taking home the ‘Best Actor’ award. Since then, it’s remained a staple part of many people’s childhoods, a nostalgic and quintessentially American movie that provides a bittersweet and romanticised view of some of the biggest events in the country’s history, including the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. 

For this reason, some viewers consider Forrest Gump overly sentimental rather than heartwarming, with certain critics even calling the film American propaganda. The titular character cannot help but find himself in the midst of turning points in American history, with the film minimising their impact by inserting the loveable character into these scenarios and making them all about him. Whether you love the film or despise its sickly sweet take on surviving life’s hardships, which, according to Gump, is like a box of chocolates, it is impossible to ignore the film’s legacy in cinema history. 

The movie, which is available to stream on Netflix, is perhaps so beloved because it incorporates real-life events into its fictional narrative. Popular figures such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and various presidents appear in the film, while key parts of American history, such as the hippie movement, Hurricane Carmen, and the Watergate Scandal, also feature. Thus, viewers feel a sense of connection to the film, enjoying a nostalgic trip through events that happened in many people’s lifetimes, even those that are less enjoyable to reminisce on. 

Since these scenes are all rooted in events from real life, some audiences have wondered whether Hanks’ character is also based on a real person. The movie was based on a novel by Winston Groom, who supposedly took inspiration from several of his childhood friends —Jimbo Meador and George Radcliff. Apparently, these friends spoke with a similar cadence to Gump. According to Groom, “There’s more than just a little of Jimbo and George in Forrest Gump. These guys are the two biggest idiots I know”. Meador was an expert on shrimp, which led Groom to incorporate this into Gump’s character. 

Groom shared: “He’s an old friend from Mobile, Alabama. For 20 years, he worked as the general manager of Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama. Although he never did any shrimp farming, he was always interested in it, and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp. We used to have lunch about once a week, and it occurred to me after one of these conversations while I was writing Forrest, ‘What better thing to do than make Forrest a shrimp farmer?’”. While Gump was not strictly based on Meador, he clearly provided a large amount of inspiration for the character. 

Another real-life person who supposedly inspired the film was Sammy Lee Lewis, a Vietnam War veteran whose story reportedly influenced the part of the movie where Gump goes off to war and manages to survive, even when he gets shot in the “buttocks”. While Lewis didn’t get his cheeks out to show President Lyndon B. Johnson his scar, he did meet him, with clips from their actual meeting being used in the film, with Hanks carefully edited in.