22 Facts About Mike Rowe’s Awesomely Dirty Career
Mike Rowe, aka “the dirtiest man on TV,” forged his way to fame and success through hard work.
His parents didn’t have wealth or fame, and he wasn’t a prodigy by any means. Instead, he used his baritone voice to get all kinds of jobs. Then he paired that voice with a strong work ethic and got down and dirty with workers responsible for all kinds of unpleasant tasks. That garnered him a large following for his TV show, “Dirty Jobs.”
Currently, he resides in modest (his word) living conditions in San Francisco. Although Rowe reportedly has an estimated net worth of $35 million, he’s lived in the same apartment for more than 14 years. He claims to have a terrific view of Treasure Island and Alcatraz that’s only partially marred by a smokestack.
His tenure on “Dirty Jobs” has made him a strong advocate for blue collar workers, community colleges, trade schools and a bevy of other causes. Let’s follow his journey from birth as the eldest son of two public school teachers to becoming a household name when yucky, distasteful jobs are mentioned.
He Didn’t Come From Wealth
Michael Gregory Rowe made his debut into the world in 1962 in Baltimore, Maryland. His proud parents, John and Peggy Rowe, were both teachers. Later he became the oldest of three boys.
On his Facebook page, the RealMikeRowe, he says his parents frequently lied to their sons to cover up that they couldn’t afford something the boys wanted to do. For example, John told them kids were constantly throwing up on the thrill rides, so why would anyone want to go to a theme park?
Dad also said that their neighbor only had pizza delivered because she was a terrible cook and their mom, Peggy, was wonderful in the kitchen, so they had no need for pizza delivery.
Rowe excelled in drama and singing at Baltimore’s Overlea High School, where he graduated in 1980.
A Teacher Played a Pivotal Role in His Life
Those who have seen and heard Rowe on TV might be surprised to learn that as a boy, he stuttered. Fred King, Rowe’s teacher and choir director in high school, strongly suggested that he audition for the school musical, “Oklahoma!”
Rowe began his tryout stammering through the monologue of his character. King interrupted reminding Rowe that his character didn’t stutter. Rowe worked on getting into character and the stuttering stopped. Who knew it was that easy? Rowe went on to pursue his passion for singing and acting.
He’s an Eagle Scout
While in high school, Rowe earned Eagle Scout status from the Boy Scouts of America. Part of his service project included reading aloud to blind students at the Maryland School for the Blind, which may have initiated his desire to give back.
In 2012 he was bestowed the incredible honor of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award also from the Boy Scouts of America. This award only goes to people who have achieved national fame or eminence in their field and who also received the Eagle Scout award more than 25 years previously.
He Believes in Community College
Rowe believes the education he got at Essex Community College near Baltimore has served him well. It should. He spent six years there, off and on, studying English, communications, speech and music. His schooling has spurred him to be outspoken about the value (not so much) of a four-year college degree and its accompanying debt.
Rowe says spending thousands of dollars for a college education isn’t necessary. He believes high school students should consider other options including community colleges and trade schools, and not go into debt for an advanced education.
He Created the mikeroweWORKS Foundation
Through his foundation, mikeroweWORKS, he provides scholarships to students who want a trade school education. Or as he puts it on his website, the foundation “rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist.”
He Had a (Brief) Singing Career
In high school his choir director, Fred King, praised Rowe’s singing and drama expertise. A few years later, Rowe was inspired to somehow fake his way into the Baltimore Opera to get his union card and meet young women. He did both plus performed in “Rigoletto.” But an operatic performance like that can’t be faked. He has a rich, vibrant voice.
In 2017, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Barbershop Harmony Society. To this day Rowe sings bass/baritone at weddings and funerals.
He Worked in Sales
Using his deep voice for more than singing turned out to be quite lucrative for Rowe. His first big break occurred when he auditioned for a spot on the QVC Shopping Channel. After talking about a pencil for almost eight minutes, Rowe was hired. He worked the graveyard shift at QVC for three years and became an expert at speaking about a product for long periods of time without ever saying anything too important.
His QVC Work Opened Doors
His QVC gig led to hundreds of other jobs as a freelancer. One of those, a stint on “Your New Home” lasted 15 years. Rowe said every Sunday he stood in a model home and interviewed real estate agents and developers. The goal of the show was to get potential home buyers into their cars to go visit the developments profiled.
One of his interviewees vomited on his shoes but kept right on talking.
He Pitched “Dirty Jobs”
A little vomit on his loafers paled in comparison to what he experienced on his TV show “Dirty Jobs” for nine seasons. His iconic foray into the murky world of unsavory employment came about when Rowe pitched a three-hour special to the Discovery Channel. The audience loved it, so Discovery ordered 39 episodes.
Now he had a job, a contract and a commitment.
He Really Got Dirty
Rowe didn’t just narrate these shows. He participated in the jobs, no matter how gross.
His pilot episodes included scavenging through bat caves for their guano (poop) because it was used in the best fertilizer in the world, and he also went underground to retrieve sludge for recycling.
He Didn’t Shy Away From Other Grimy Pursuits
“Dirty Jobs” fan favorite episodes included one where Rowe banded and counted newly hatched herons on poo-covered Vomit Island and when he cleaned skulls and bones using maggots and beetles.
The top five filth-and-danger-soaked careers Rowe remembers most fondly include sewer inspector, snake wrangler (he had to catch a water snake and make it puke), sexing baby chicks (determining if they’re male or female), inseminating horses and being a shark suit tester.
Discovery stopped airing new episodes of “Dirty Jobs” in 2012, but it can still be viewed in reruns.
He’s Received Nominations and Awards
The TV show “Dirty Jobs” was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award several times, including three years in a row from 2008-2010, but it never won. The program did win the Critics Choice Television Award in 2011.
For three years in a row (2010-2012) Rowe was selected by Forbes as one of the top ten most trusted celebrities. Late last year the Independent Women’s Forum honored him as a Gentleman of Distinction.
He Suffered Side Effects Doing His Mucky Work
Since Rowe chose to work side-by-side with the real people whose occupations he was highlighting on his TV show “Dirty Jobs,” and he was a novice to the work, he suffered quite the litany of injuries. Here’s the short list:
* Thrown from a horse
* Kicked by cows
* Bitten by an ostrich
* Bitten by catfish
* Pecked by chickens
* Stung by bees
* Smashed fingers and toes with hammers and sledgehammers
* Cut his arm on a rusty nail
* Burned his eyelashes off from a blacksmith’s furnace
* Got dehydrated
* Got infections, sprains and burns.
The good news: His eyelashes grew back, sort of.
His Voice Is Omnipresent
If you think you hear a familiar voice narrating “How the Universe Works,” “Deadliest Catch” or “Shark Week,” but can’t quite place it, you can bet it probably belongs to Rowe. He’s also reported on “American Chopper,” Ghost Lab,” “Ghost Hunters” and “American Hot Rod.”
It’s estimated that Rowe has narrated 1,000 hours of television. If you’ve flown American Airlines, you may have experienced the in-flight video he hosted. He’s also appeared in commercials for Tylenol and the Ford Motor Company, and played a role in the TV show, “Last Man Standing.”
He Wrote a Book
In 2014 “Profoundly Disconnected: A True Confession from Mike Rowe” was published. The book, which challenges “the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success,” served as a fundraiser for his foundation, mikeroweWORKS. One-hundred percent of the profits go there.
Rowe credited Caterpillar for paying for the book’s production, so all the proceeds could benefit his charity.
He’s Passionate About Sharing Career Advice
From all the time Rowe spent with blue collar workers across the nation (he filmed for nine years in all 50 states), he felt he’s earned to right to share his opinions about the work world.
In an interview with Inc., he shared the following lessons:
* There are no dream jobs, only jobs that pay what is needed and fulfills the worker.
* Everyone should lower their expectations when it comes to careers.
* Job satisfaction increases exponentially if you don’t expect more than a paycheck from it.
* There’s no secret to success. Take responsibility for what you do, and you’ll succeed.
He Created S.W.E.A.T. Pledges
Several years ago, while drinking a brew in his kitchen, Rowe came up with documents he calls the “Skill and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo” or S.W.E.A.T. pledges. These papers outline the value of a work ethic, how to be personally responsible, the importance of delayed gratification and the benefits of a positive attitude. He derived them from the Boy Scout Law and 12-step recovery programs, but mostly from what he observed and learned while filming “Dirty Jobs.”
Those applying for his Work Ethic scholarship must sign the pledge; he also sells them to fund those scholarships. He said they now hang in schools, factories, construction sites and office cubicles all over the U.S. However, not everyone agrees with the principles postulated in these pledges. Still, Rowe engages with his critics.
He Gives Back
In the summer of 2017, Rowe started a series on Facebook Watch titled “Returning the Favor.” For this show, Rowe and his crew take to the road seeking out do-gooders to meet and ultimately, surprise.
One of those well-deserving people was Ginger Passarelli, founder of the Soup Ladies. Passarelli’s Soup Ladies, based in Buckley, Washington, feed first responders hot meals in case of a natural disaster, crime scene investigation or search-and-rescue operation.
And the surprise? A vintage trailer, made into a mobile soup kitchen, so the Soup Ladies could deliver the freshest soup and entrées.
In July 2018, Facebook renewed “Returning the Favor” for a third season.
He Hands Over His Blog to His Dog Freddy
At the end of the week, when Rowe runs out of things to say, he lets his dog take over his blog. Rescued as a puppy after living on the streets of San Francisco, Freddy opines about his human who he calls his “biped,” his views of the world and sometimes he contemplates poetry. This terrier mix turned five this year, so he has a lot of history to back up his theories. At least in dog years it’s a lot.
His Comedic Genes Came From His Mom
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Mike Rowe is very funny. And that might be genetic. In 2018, Mike’s mother, Peggy Rowe, published her humorous memoir, “About My Mother: True Stories of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and her Baseball-Obsessed Mother.”
To be clear this humorous book is about Mike’s grandmother and to a certain extent his mother reveals herself because she wrote the book. The book is not about Mike nor is it written by Mike. He did, however, pen the forward.
If you want to experience more of Peggy’s belly-laughing humor after reading her book, tune in when Mike reads a text or letter from his mother on his website.
He’s Become a Spokesperson Again
Earlier this year, Rowe signed on as the spokesperson for Marketplace Events, the largest producer of business-to-consumer home shows across the country. In this role, for the next three years, he’ll appear in Marketplace Events’ advertising campaigns and go on stage at select shows. Marketplace Events says it will work closely with Rowe’s foundation.
He Keeps Busy. Very Busy.
In addition to his Facebook show and his spokesperson commitments, Rowe continues to raise money for his foundation and he does a podcast titled “The Way I Heard It,” which features him telling good stories that take the form of a unique look at current events.
He also hired some of the crew from “Dirty Jobs” to do a show titled “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” which focuses on personalities who have “a passion and a calling” to make the world a better place.
Just like Rowe himself.