Celebrity Then And Now
Bill Nye
Famous For: Bill Nye the Science Guy and Bill Nye Saves the WorldCurrently Known For: Mechanical Engineer, Science Communicator and Television
Bill Nye
Famous For Bill Nye the Science Guy and Bill Nye Saves the World
Currently Known For Mechanical Engineer, Science Communicator and Television

“Bill Nye, the Science Guy.” Dreaming of changing the world by making science fun for people of all ages, Bill Nye is best known as the host of PBS’s Bill Nye the Science Guy from 1993 to 1998 where the bow-tied engineer made science easier to understand and a lot more fun! Over the years, he’s earned 25 Emmy Award nominations and 19 wins for his work while making guest appearances on popular shows like Dancing with the Stars, The Big Bang Theory, and Inside Amy Schumer. Most recently, he’s returned to television as the host of Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World, which has introduced Nye to a new generation of fans! So, how exactly did he make the move from a mechanical engineer in Seattle, Washington to a television star? Let’s take a look!

William Sanford Nye was born on November 27, 1955 in Washington, D.C. to a World War II codebreaker and a contractor who spent four years as a Japanese prisoner of war where he was imprisoned without electricity and was forced to learn how to use a shovel handle to tell time. Once Nye’s father returned home, he shared his passion for mechanics and sundials with his son as Nye studied at Lafayette Elementary School, Alice Deal Junior High School, and Sidwell Friends high school. After high school, Nye’s enthusiasm for science skyrocketed when he moved to Ithaca, New York and enrolled at Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. One astronomy class with Carl Sagan was all it took to seal Nye’s fate as a scientist as he graduated with his degree in mechanical engineering in 1977.

After graduation, Nye applied to NASA’s astronaut training program but, after being rejected, he took a job as a mechanical engineer at the Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington. He was rejected to NASA’s training program three more times but found great success at Boeing where he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on Boeing 747 airplanes. During this time, his career took a different turn when he won a Steve Martin look-alike contest in 1978 and tried his hand at stand-up comedy. “At this point in our story, I was working on business jet navigation systems, laser gyroscope systems during the day, and I’d take a nap and go do stand-up comedy by night,” he said.

Nye left Boeing in 1986 to focus on his comedy career and saw his dreams of launching a science television program come to life after talking with his longtime idol, Carl Sagan, at his 10-year college reunion. Sagan’s advice was simple, “Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science rather than technology.” Nye did exactly that as he worked as a writer and actor on the sketch comedy series Almost Live in the late 1980s. Before long, his science segments became the most popular part of the show and earned him the nickname, “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

With his growing popularity, Nye wrapped up Almost Live and made appearances on numerous educational shows before he developed his own series, Bill Nye the Science Guy. He pitched the show in 1993 and spent the next five seasons as the host of one of the most-watched educational television shows in the United States where his whacky sense of humor, lab coat, and love of bow ties attracted audiences of all ages. His ability to make science fun earned Nye outstanding critical praise with 23 Emmy Award nominations and 19 wins.

As Nye became a staple in science classrooms around the country, he published several books and also signed on with Walt Disney where “Bill Nye the Science Guy” became part of Walt Disney World parks and resorts. After Bill Nye the Science Guy wrapped in 1998, he focused on catering to more adult audiences with The Eyes of Nye, but the show was never picked up. “I tried wearing a straight tie,” Nye later joked of the flop. “It was nothing. We were trying something new, but it wasn’t me.”

Making His Way Back to Primetime Television: From The Big Bang Theory to Bill Nye Saves the World

Over the next decade, Nye focused on science advocacy and appeared on a variety of programs, series, and films including BattleBots, Numb3rs, America’s Most Smartest Model, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. In 2010, he was named the face of the science exhibition at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California where he educated visitors on clean energy and climate change. Then, in 2013, he returned to primetime television as himself on “The Proton Displacement” episode of The Big Bang Theory.

In the episode, Sheldon befriends Nye and asks him to teach Leonard a lesson alongside Bob Newhart as Professor Proton. After a few jabs from Professor Proton about Bill Nye the Science Guy, Sheldon and Nye leave and Leonard receives a selfie of the two enjoying smoothies together, but things quickly take a turn for the worse as Sheldon begs Leonard for a ride home. Later, the truth comes out as Sheldon admits that Nye ditched him and served him with a restraining order that prevented Sheldon from making contact or coming within 500 feet of him!

After The Big Bang Theory, Nye toyed around with the idea of returning to television and saw that dream come true in 2016 when he was invited to host a new series, Bill Nye Saves the World, on Netflix. The series premiered in April 2017 and has been a huge hit for the 62-year-old mechanical engineer who hopes to make science fun again. “Change the world. That’s the goal,” Nye said of the series. “Our six-and-a-half hours of television are going to change the course of human history. We’re going to do that by promoting science literacy, showing people that the issues we’re discussing can be thought about from a scientific point of view, and by helping people to reach logical and well-reasoned conclusions about those same issues. And of course, it’ll be fun.”

Life Behind the Lab Coat and Bowtie

Continuing his work as a science advocate and the host of Bill Nye Saves the World, Nye’s life both in front of and behind the cameras is, characteristically, all about science! He has homes in Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle and even competes with one of his neighbors—environmental activist and actor Ed Begley, Jr.—to see who has the lowest carbon footprint. As you can imagine, Nye’s homes are all science-friendly with his California home running on solar panels that often make his electricity meter run in reverse!

As for his personal life, Nye is incredibly private but found love in 2006 when he married musician Blair Tindall. However, the romance was short-lived as Nye annulled the marriage seven weeks later. A year later, he filed a protective order against his ex-wife when she killed his garden, broke into his home, and stole his laptop. With Tindall later impersonating Nye via email, Nye filed suit against Tindall for violating the protective order and asked for $57,000 to cover his legal fees.

Today, Nye is happily single and buries himself in his work as a scientist, engineer, author, and television personality. He’s set to release the third installment of his children’s book, Jack and the Geniuses, and recently signed on to write another book with coauthor Gregory Mone. In 2017, he saw the release of the PBS documentary Bill Nye the Science Guy and has hinted that he plans to work on another film! “I have another movie I want to make. My full-time residence is in Studio City, and you have to have a screenplay, or they give you a ticket,” he jokes.

Beyond that, the 62-year-old is proud of his efforts to bring science to life for of all ages and encourages his fans to embrace being a nerd. “You have got to be into something—you have to be passionate about something,” he says. “I like tinkering, I’m a tinkerer. So, I became a mechanical engineer. But I can imagine people are nerdy about all sorts of things and we want you to take that passion and do something great with it. Save the world!”