This Honored Military-Man Is Jack Black’s Brother – But The Siblings Look Nothing Alike

Jack Black’s only military experience has come from playing characters in the likes of Tropic Thunder and Mars Attacks!. But older half-brother Neil has been hailed as the Father of the Digital Battlefield thanks to his pioneering work in army technology. Here’s how the two siblings, who look nothing alike, followed very different paths.

It’s perhaps little surprise that at least one of the half-brothers pursued a career in tech. The mother they share, Judy, was a satellite engineer in the Californian city of Santa Monica, as was Jack’s father Tom. Speaking to Newsweek’s Devin Gordon about his mom and pop in 2003, the Jumanji star quipped, “They’re rocket scientists. I’m a rock scientist.”

But at the age of just ten, Jack had to watch his brainy but warring parents get divorced. The impact of the split was significant for the future Hollywood star, in both a positive and negative sense. Desperate for approval, he developed an interest in performing. And within three years Jack had already graced TV screens in an Atari promo.

“I knew that if my friends saw me on TV, it would be the answer to all my prayers, because… everyone would know I was awesome,” Jack told Devin. “And I was awesome – for three days. Then it wore off. But it gave me the hunger.” At the same time, though, Jack was still struggling to deal with the break-up of his parents’ marriage.

Jack actually became something of a bad boy in his teens. He started taking narcotics and even robbed cash from his own family before his worried mother arranged for him to transfer to a different school. There, the youngster underwent counseling for his various issues and was given a vital piece of advice by a tutor: focus on performing.

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Jack took this advice on board. Following his graduation from a private Santa Monica school, he went on to study drama at the University of California. But while the School of Rock star was busy looking toward a career in Hollywood, his older brother Neil was already establishing a name for himself in the world of engineering.

Neil was tipped for academic greatness from a young age. While growing up in Manhattan Beach, he underwent various IQ tests that proved he’d inherited his parents’ intelligence. “I was off the charts on IQ tests,” Neil told Easy Reader in 2019. “Statistically, you will never meet another person with my IQ – if IQ matters.”

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And while Jack would later form his own comedy rock band, Tenacious D, Neil’s musical tastes were slightly more refined. By the age of 12 he was mastering baroque music with the flute his instrument of choice. The engineer revealed, “When other kids were listening to the Beach Boys, I was playing Bach.”

And though he’s far more renowned for his engineering work, Neil still hasn’t given up his musical pursuits. Alongside his wife, the singer and dancer Robyn Friend, he’s performed more than hundreds of gigs across the world. But nowadays it’s traditional Persian and Ottoman instruments that Neil prefers to play rather than the flute.

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Neil went on to study math at both undergraduate and master’s level before achieving his systems engineering Ph.D. at the University of Southern California School of Engineering. And this was the same establishment that his mother Judy had attended several decades previously. At the time, just seven other women had ever completed a degree at the prestigious school.

Sadly, Judy died in 2016 at the age of 82. As a way of paying tribute to their mother’s achievements, Jack and Neil donated over $70,000 to the Society of Women Engineers that she was once a member of. This included the money the High Fidelity star earned during a The Price is Right celebrity special.

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Neil also honored Judy on the USC Viterbi School of Engineering site. He wrote, “My mother usually considered her work on the Apollo program to be the highlight of her career. When disaster struck the Apollo 13 mission, it was the Abort-Guidance System that brought the astronauts home safely.” Judy had been instrumental in creating the aforementioned system’s navigation control that was used in several important programs.

Judy also fought for more female representation in an industry famously dominated by men. And she continued to encourage girls to go after jobs in the STEM sector right up until her death. The USC graduate even set up her own firm to launch a motivational book called You Can Be a Woman Engineer.

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But Neil also made sure that he recognized Judy’s more personal attributes. The engineer noted that she was a “beloved mother, friend and colleague… whose love was unconditional and whose support was limitless.” And he also told a charming story about the day his younger brother Jack was born.

Neil explained how his mother had split from his father Bud in the middle of the 1960s and then wed a man named Tom Black. The pair’s first and only child together, Jack, then arrived toward the end of the decade. But even his impending birth couldn’t stop her from working.

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Yes, Judy still somehow found the time to head for the office on the very day her fourth child was born. “When it was time to go to the hospital, she took with her a computer printout of the problem she was working on,” Neil recalled. “Later that day, she called her boss and told him that she had solved the problem. And… oh, yes, the baby was born, too.”

Before Jack came along, Judy had also given birth to daughter Rachel and another son, Howard, who sadly passed away in 1989. In a 2015 interview with Parade, the Tenacious D front-man revealed that the family struggled to recover from the tragedy. “We were robbed of something precious,” he said. “It was devastating.”

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Jack also revealed the impact his late brother had on him, adding, “I have two gay siblings: my big sister Rachel, and my big brother, Howard. He was a big influence on me. He took me to my first rock concert. I was 11; he was 23. He was so vibrant, creative, amazing. He shaped my taste in music.”

And although they don’t look anything alike, Jack appears to have a good relationship with his other half-brother, too. In 2019 Neil invited the Shallow Hal star to serve as the compere of the first ever TrinityKids Care Layla Paige Nature Walk. The South Coast Botanic Garden event was designed to raise money for the titular program, which is run by the Providence TrinityCare Hospice Foundation that Neil’s a board member of.

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The nature walk was named in honor of Layla Paige, a two-year-old patient at TrinityKids Care who tragically lost her life. In an official statement, Jack revealed how delighted he was at being asked to be compere. He added, “I’m honored to support TrinityKids Care so it can help children and families through some really tough times.”

Neil later told the Daily Breeze how his brother became involved. He explained, “I’ve been on the board since 2002, and we were looking for a fund-raising opportunity for the children’s pediatric hospice. We wanted to create an event, and we schemed together on the board. I asked Jack if he would be kind enough to do it.”

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Almost 400 people attended the event, which was opened by Jack. “What an amazing day for a beautiful walk,” he told the crowd, “I’m excited to be a part of it.” After hearing more about Layla from her family and medical team, the Year One star added, “I’m impressed to hear your story of courage and grace. The world needs more organizations like Trinity Care.”

As the voice of Kung Fu Panda and star of Gulliver’s Travels, Jack inevitably commanded the attention on the family-friendly day. But Neil’s efforts over the past two decades haven’t got unnoticed, either. In a 2019 interview with Easy Reader, Providence TrinityCare Hospice’s ex-CEO Terri Warren couldn’t stop singing the engineer’s praises.

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“Neil is one of the most interesting and creative people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with,” Terri said. “He is just one of these community supporters that any organization prays to have. He is creative, enthusiastic and passionate. Neil asks the hard questions, thought-provoking ones that push us to think bigger, think broader and do more to help families.”

Of course, Neil will always be more renowned for his engineering work than his charitable endeavors. After completing his education, he landed a job with aerospace company TRW’s defense department in the mid-1970s. And he soon moved up from computer programmer to the tactical systems division’s general manager. But Neil told Easy Reader that he can’t take all the credit for his rapid rise through the ranks.

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“I came along at the right time when computer technology and global positioning was just beginning,” Neil explained. “With the help of some smart people, we put it together and made it work. Engineering is a gigantic team effort… An idea, by itself, is worthless. It has to be developed. The ability to manage all the stakeholders is much rarer than the ability to have great ideas.”

During his lengthy stint with TRW, Neil helped to develop a ground-breaking wireless comms set-up that allowed troops to share vital intel much more rapidly than before. And it eventually became prevalent in the world of military technology. Close to 100,000 combat vehicles have employed the blue force tracker in combat zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Those who’ve used Neil and his team’s pioneering system on the ground are certainly grateful. According to Easy Reader, the engineer is repeatedly informed that “You saved my life” by veterans whenever he’s speaking at a conference. And the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is also mightily impressed with his work. It awarded Neil the Simon Ramo Medal, which is the organization’s highest honor, in 2011 for excellence in his field.

And Neil has also been recognized for his work by several other prestigious organizations. In 2010 he was named CTO of the Year by Northern Virginia Technology Council and two years later was crowned Systems Architect of the Year by ICMG. Then in 2020 the USC graduate was given a fellowship by the National Academy of Inventors.

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Neil admits that his work with the American military “elevated” his existence, describing it as “not just a job but a calling.” But his achievements with TRW, and then the company that acquired it, Northrop Grumman, extended beyond his revolutionary communication system. The USC graduate’s work in data analytics has also helped prevent pharmacists from issuing prescriptions that could be life-threatening and allowed Centers for Disease Control to fight epidemics.

And chances are you’ve already used another piece of technology implemented by Neil several times today. During his stint with TRW, the engineer also developed a digital system that’s been incorporated into each tablet and cell phone out there. As the company’s chief technology officer and vice president, Neil was tasked with overseeing work on government systems undertaken by more than 10,000 great minds.

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Jeannie Benevidez-Hilgere, who also served as VP at Northrop Grumman, told Easy Reader just how valuable the older brother of Hollywood royalty was to the firm. “Chief engineers from across the company would seek Neil’s counsel,” she recalled. “We used to tease him that Pentagon generals had him on speed dial.”

The plaudits didn’t end there, either. An unnamed former colleague hailed Neil as “the man who helped important decision makers make important decisions.” So what did the brainbox get up to once he retired from the aerospace industry back in 2015? Well, he certainly hasn’t been putting his feet up.

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That same year Neil accepted an IBM Professor of Engineering position with the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. And it appears as though the profession suits him well. “I’ve always been an evangelist for attracting and keeping talent,” he told Easy Reader. “Teaching is an extension of that. I love my students.”

In 2019 Neil added author to his list of many talents with the publication of Engineering Project Management, a university textbook. The ex-engineer may well have been inspired to write by the many thousands of books kept at the Rolling Hills home he shares with his wife. Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austen are just a few of their favorite authors.

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And even in his downtime, Neil can’t stop putting his practical skills to good use. The University of Southern California professor is a big fan of both restoring old and making new furniture. In his interview with Easy Reader, the tech innovator stated, “I’m interested in achieving practical results, actually building things.”

Given their wildly different appearances and career paths, many people are left surprised when they learn that Neil Siegel and Jack Black are brothers. But the response always seems to be positive. In a 2019 reddit thread about the unlikely siblings, a poster joked, “Okay, now we need a comedy film about Jack Black as a rock star who becomes an engineer whose outrageous, unconventional ways clash with his straight-laced, genius scientist brother.”

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Another impressed commenter added, “I feel like Jack Black and his brother would be one of those ‘My brother does the coolest stuff’ type of duo. Each one is doing such different things. But they’re both so proud of the other for succeeding, too, they both praise each other to friends. Jack Black, and from what I’m reading on here his brother, just seem that level of wholesome.”

So now that Neil is busy teaching, writing and making his own furniture, what’s his younger brother Jack up to? Well, in 2020 the Hollywood star appeared in a special Zoom retelling of children’s classic The Princess Bride. And he also has a role in Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Adventure in the pipeline.

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But unlike his older brother, Jack doesn’t seem too interested in growing old gracefully. In 2020 he uploaded a video to TikTok in which he performed a water-based dance to Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s number one hit “WAP.” The Goosebumps star sported nothing but a pair of skimpy swimming trunks in the viral clip, which quickly earned well over 20 million views.

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