Is Forrest Gump based on a true story?

Cameron Frew
Tom Hanks in Forrest-Gump
Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump followed Tom Hanks as he ran through some of the biggest moments in US history, from Elvis’ Hound Dog dance to the Vietnam War – but is the film based on a true story?

Released in 1994 to critical and commercial acclaim, Forrest Gump was an all-accounts winner for Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis. It won Best Actor and Best Picture, and has become one of the most well-known movies of all time through every new generation.

That said, it’s had its fair share of controversy in recent years; some believe the film has deep-rooted conservatism, and its sweetness is a guise for indifference towards serious social and political issues. Zemeckis himself described it as a “party to which everyone can bring a bottle.”

The movie has Forrest obliviously traverse through decades of essential US history, no more eventful to him than passing another everyman on the streets of Greenbow. While those events are real, is the film based on a true story?

Is Forrest Gump based on a true story?

While Forrest Gump includes several real-world events, fictitiously impacted or influenced by Forrest’s unwitting interference, Forrest himself isn’t a real person. However, he was inspired by a small number of real people.

In the film, we find out that he’s named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. While this scene is presented as a bit of a joke, this was a real Confederate general and his KKK ties are well-documented, although he tried to distance himself from the white supremacist group in his final years.

Forrest Gump’s war wound is inspired by a real Vietnam veteran

Later in the film, we see Forrest fighting in the Vietnam War, where meets – and loses – Bubba in an ambush. While trying to save him from a hail of bombs carpeting the trees, he’s shot in the butt, and later shows his wound to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Sammy Lee Davis has been described as the “Real Forrest Gump,” as his story was the direct inspiration for the war segment of the film. He was awarded the Medal of Honor after rescuing three wounded American soldiers with a broken back, having sustained several gunshot wounds – including on his butt.

Footage of Davis’ award ceremony was used in the film, with Forrest’s head superimposed over his – although he never showed the president his backside.

Forrest Gump’s original author dedicated it to two men

Forrest Gump is an adaptation of Winston Groom’s novel. The author, who passed away in 2020, dedicated his book to two men: Jimbo Meador and George Radcliff, two childhood friends key to much of Forrest’s story.

Following Forrest Gump’s success, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. became a successful business. In an earlier interview with Distractify, Groom explained how Forrest and Lt. Dan’s endeavor stemmed from a years-old conversation with Meador.

“Although he never did any shrimp farming, [Meador] was always interested in it, and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp,” he said.

“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?'”

Radcliff, similarly to Meador, had a speech pattern similar to Forrest’s in the film, and many of his life’s adventures served as a loose inspiration for the movie’s jaunting through history.

In an earlier interview with Mobile Bay Magazine, Radcliff recalled going to the premiere and arm-wrestling a “little Englishman” in the pub afterwards. “I slammed him,” he said. That man turned out to be Paul McCartney.

Remember: stupid is as stupid does – and that’s all I have to say about that.

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