John Wayne’s Best Quotes of All Time: Thoughts on Toughness, Integrity, and Success

by Clayton Edwards
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John Wayne was an American icon. The actor embodied what it was to be a man’s man. His career spanned over five decades from silent films to color motion pictures. The Duke’s most iconic roles saw Wayne as either a cowboy in the Wild West or as a soldier in some far-off battlefield. His toughness wasn’t just for show. The man himself was tough as nails. He wasn’t just a big, tall, strong man. He was also mentally tough.

The fact that John Wayne is still an icon forty-one years after his death says more about the success of his career than anything else could.

We’ve put together some of John Wayne’s best quotes.

Top Ten Best John Wayne Quotes

In no particular order, here are the top ten best quotes from John Wayne.

  • “Courage is being scared to death – and saddling up anyway”
  • “Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.”
  • “Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”
  • “I haven’t had a fight since I was eleven. I only won that because she had an asthma attack.”
  • “A goal, a love, and a dream give you total control over your body and your life.”
  • “In my acting, I have to identify with something in the character. The big tough boy on the side of right — that’s me.”
  •  “All I’m for is the liberty of the individual.”
  • “I suppose my best attribute if you want to call it that, is sincerity. I can sell sincerity because that’s the way I am.”
  • “When you come against trouble, it’s never half as bad if you face up to it.”
  • “I’m responsible only for what I say, not what you understand.”

Before The Duke was the kind of man who dropped great quotes in interviews and villains on the silver screen, he was just a kid named Marion from Iowa.

Marion Morrison Becomes John Wayne

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison Winterset, Iowa. His father was a Civil War veteran. According to Biography, Morrison did well enough in high school sports and academics that he won a scholarship to USC. Wayne played football for USC and was working on a law degree. Two years into his college career, an injury ended his scholarship.

After leaving school, Morrison played bit parts in silent films and worked as a prop man. In 1930, he was given his first leading role in a silent western called “The Big Trail.” The film flopped but that wouldn’t stop him from acting.

It wasn’t long before he took on the stage name of John Wayne and started to develop the persona that would define his career.

Wayne on Toughness and Integrity

John Wayne was the toughest man on the silver screen. There’s no disputing that. He carried that toughness with him in the real world, too. He obviously wasn’t driving cattle, getting in saloon fights, and hunting bad guys. However, Wayne stuck to his guns, walked tall, and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.

He was a firm believer that there were certain things a man should do and be. “I define manhood simply: men should be tough, fair, and courageous, never petty, never looking for a fight, but never backing down from one either.” It’s simple and to the point, much like the man himself.

He also believed that it was important to know what you stood for and stick to it. About this, The Duke said, “A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by.”

John Wayne knew the difference between bluff and bluster and real courage. When talking about bravery under fire, he said, “All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be someplace else.”

The American icon was a proponent of sticking to your guns to the bitter, bloody end and firmly believed that if you weren’t doing that you weren’t really living. “When you stop fighting, that’s death.”

John Wayne on Success and His Career

When John Wayne talks about what it takes to be a solid person, you take notice. At the same time, when someone with a career like his starts talking about what helped him make it big, you have to listen.

When all else is stripped away, The Duke knew what it took to succeed in life, “What’s the secret of success? Right decisions. How do you make right decisions? Experience. How do you get experience? Wrong decisions.”

John Wayne knew what it took to set your feet on the right path for success, “A goal, a love, and a dream give you total control over your body and your life.”

He knew that it was always best to listen instead of letting your mouth do all the work. When you do speak, it’s important to choose your words carefully. On this, he said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”

Finally, on what made him stand out from the crowd, he famously said, “All the screen cowboys behaved like real gentlemen. They didn’t drink, they didn’t smoke. When they knocked the bad guy down, they always stood with their fists up, waiting for the heavy to get back on his feet. I decided I was going to drag the bad guy to his feet and keep hitting him.”

Wayne’s Wisdom at a Glance

John Wayne was hard-working, tough as nails, and didn’t mind speaking his mind when he felt he needed to do so. Even if what was on his mind would get him sidelong glances or outright canceled decades after his death. He knew what it meant to stand out and to blaze a trail to success.

To close this out, I’d like to include a quote from John Wayne on how he hoped he would be remembered. “I would like to be remembered, well … the Mexicans have a phrase, “Feo fuerte y formal”. Which means he was ugly, strong and had dignity.”

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