Actor Jan-Michael Vincent, who starred in the 1980s action series “Airwolf,” has died. He was 73.
Vincent, whose film credits include “Hooper” (opposite Burt Reynolds and Sally Field), “White Line Fever,” and “The Mechanic” (opposite Charles Bronsons) passed away Feb. 10 in an Asheville, North Carolina hospital. The death certificate signed by a doctor says he died of natural causes and no autopsy was performed. It wasn’t clear why it took several weeks for news of the death to surface before it was first reported Friday by TMZ.
The actor, born in 1945 in Denver, Colorado, began his rise to fame in the 1960s and 1970s with film roles, including the cult classic surfing/coming-of-age film “Big Wednesday” (opposite Gary Busey and William Katt), and guest spots on numerous TV series. But fame came hard and fast thanks to his starring role as Stringfellow Hawke, the daring and handsome pilot of the Airwolf high-tech military helicopter in the CBS series, which co-starred Ernest Borgnine. In 1983, Vincent had a co-starring role in the epic TV miniseries “Winds of War,” for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination.
Despite being one of the highest-paid actors on television at the time, his career soon began its downward spiral in the late 1980s as Vincent’s off-camera battle with cocaine and alcohol abuse played out in the public arena. In 1996, a drunken Vincent was involved in a violent car crash resulting in a broken neck. In 2012 a serious infection resulted in part of his right leg being amputated. He was also charged in 1980s barroom brawls, receiving probation in one and an acquittal in another. In a separate case, he was acquitted in 1986 of hitting a woman. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail in 2000 in Orange County, California, after he admitted to violating his probation by appearing drunk in public and assaulting his then-girlfriend.
In a 1984 AP interview, Vincent described his passion for being on the water. He said he spent three months after wrapping up “Winds of War” sailing the Caribbean. He also said he was a longtime surfer.
“I was a traveling surfer for years. … I’ve been all over the world surfing,” he said. “I’ll be 40 in July and I still like to surf.”
In the AP interview, he described trying to find the right way to loosen up his “Airwolf” character, who could pull-off aerobatic crime-fighting maneuvers but also play the cello.
“The character is stiff,” he says, “but as we’ve gone along we’ve been able to loosen him some. Now you’ll sometimes see him crack a smile and say something funny. Even Clint Eastwood is mellowing, although I’ll never be Burt Reynolds.”
Contributing: Associated Press