After he was finished protecting the citizens of fictional Angel Grove, Calif., on the 1990s phenomenon Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Austin St. John couldn't be stopped from serving the public in his off-camera life.
St. John, who portrayed Jason Scott, the original Red Ranger, was a contract paramedic for the U.S. Department of Defense for four years. For the Power Ranger-turned-real-life-public servant, it was destiny.
"I come from a long line of family servants," St. John says. "My dad's a Marine, Mom was a cop, my younger brother's a Marine. I've got grandparents that were all in the service. It's just kind of who I am."
St. John, who will be making his first appearance at the annual Lexington Comic and Toy Convention this weekend, credited his lifelong martial arts training for enabling him to manage the workload required to become a paramedic.
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"It helped provide me with the discipline to study," he said. "To get through the classes, the education is insane. It was a thousand hours of CEUs (continuing education units). It's like two full-time jobs. The discipline I had from the arts and the ability to focus I think were some of the only ways I got through it."
To St. John, serving alongside U.S. forces wasn't just a means of adding to his family's record of public service but a much-needed escape from the Hollywood system in which he started at 17. He wanted to step outside of that world and make a career out of something that didn't involve showbiz, which he says wasn't the right place for him to grow up.
"I wanted to go be real. So I went and did that," he says.
But now he's returned to the States and is staying busy. He's started an IndieGoGo campaign for a film called Survival's End, billed as a thriller that will examine an Earth two years after an Ebola strain has wiped out most of its population. He's also founded and sits on the board of directors for Heartland Image Foundation, a charity based in Lima, Ohio, that works with children, aids community projects and makes films.
St. John also spent a great deal of time on the convention circuit, meeting fans of all ages who share fond recollections of watching him yell out, "It's morphin' time!"
For the actor, the stories Ranger Nation shares resonate. He spoke of a man who told him he'd lost his parents in a car accident as a child. The man recalled sitting down with his parents to cheer on and laugh with the Power Rangers.
"And I remember," St. John continues, "this guy looked at me and he says, 'So now I sit down to watch the show with my boys and I celebrate my new family and remember my old family, and it's one of the greatest memories I have now.' I just get goose bumps thinking about that story."
St. John considers it a "genuine thank you" when people open up about the effect he's had on their lives.
"We knew the show was big, but even when we figured out how big it was, we didn't realize — or at least, I didn't realize — what a massive impact we were going to have even 20 years later, how deep that impact was running even then.
"It's been an amazing trip."