Where Are They Now? The Story of Wilson the Volleyball

We see it all too often. Overzealous parents living out their failed dreams through their offspring. Hollywood’s beckoning finger brings a young child into stardom before they’ve made their first friend in kindergarten. It’s a tale as old as time, and it rarely ends well. 

But what happens when an inanimate object is thrust into the spotlight? How can it process the endless judgment, the extreme highs and the debilitating lows? 

This is the true story of Wilson, the volleyball.

Everyone knew that Wilson was destined to be a star. It was obvious from the first time he was inflated. Unfortunately, his parents wanted to believe it more than anyone.

“He was such a good ball. Not too soft, but not hard on the arms either. We knew Hollywood would dig him,” joked Mrs. Wilson. 

Auditions for Cast Away were held in the spring of ‘99, and the writers weren’t sold on which object would capture Tom Hanks’ affection for what would feel like an eternity on that deserted island.

“I remember being in the waiting room, looking at all my competitors. There was a coconut, a dead rabbit, and a piece of driftwood. Sure they seemed talented, but this was a non-speaking role. It was all about the look, and I knew I had it,” Wilson recalled. 

To no one’s surprise, Wilson booked the role of a lifetime at the age of five—and the rest was history. 

The cast and crew began filming on location in Fiji, and the life of glamour had truly begun to carry Wilson away.

“Sure, we filmed long hours. But we were in paradise. Who was I to complain? I was in a situation where I was able to learn so much from Tom, and then when we wrapped for the day, I would go soak in the island sun. I came to believe that the Hollywood lifestyle would always be like this.”


Wilson and Hanks sit courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game (2003).

After all the Oscars invites dried up and fan letters stopped flooding in, that island wave came crashing down upon Wilson. Tom Hanks stopped returning his calls. Casting directors stuck with the line “There’s no need for a volleyball in our movie.”

Reality was starting to set in.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2000, when Wilson was sure he’d book a role in the iconic pool volleyball scene in the Ben Stiller comedy, Meet the Parents.

“I was the premier volleyball actor in the world at the time. I’m not even sure why I had to audition. But my agent calls me one day and tells me the writers are going with a Mikasa. A F#$%# MIKASA? I couldn’t believe it.”

After a childhood devoid of rejection, Wilson was not properly equipped to handle the tribulations that Hollywood would inevitably spring upon him. 

For years, he hid in the shadows of depression and addiction.


Wilson after his release from Los Angeles County Jail (2009).

“Once I got my hands on that pump, I was helpless. It felt like every day I was inflating myself, just to feel something. I saw Tom [Hanks] on the street one day and asked him for a dollar, but he didn’t even look at me.”

Today, Wilson lives a quiet life in Hermosa as a practice ball for a Manhattan Beach U-14 club volleyball program. 

“I’ve got my act together now. Finding health and happiness meant leaving that crazy lifestyle in the past. When one of the students picks me up to serve me, they’ll sometimes ask, ‘Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?’ And I reply ‘No, that’s not me… anymore.’”