‘Airwolf’ Star Jan-Michael Vincent Dies @ 74

Jan-Michael Vincent, a he-man actor noted for action roles including as Stringfellow Hawke on Airwolf (1984-1987), has died.

Jan-Michael Vincent: July 15, 1944-February 10, 2019 (Image via head shot)

TMZ reports the troubled star, who had suffered from substance abuse-related issues, survived two car crashes and lost his leg to a 2012 infection, died of cardiac arrest February 10 at a North Carolina hospital and was cremated.

Incredibly, for a star of his stature, Vincent's death had gone unreported for almost a month.

He was 74.

Vincent made his U.S. film debut in 1967's The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Chinese Junk, but had already given his first performance in The Bandits, a Mexican/American co-production co-directed and co-written by Robert Conrad (b. 1935), who also starred; the latter film was unreleased in the U.S. until 1979. The Bandits was the first of many projects in which Vincent appeared with older, chiseled tough guys, in whose footsteps he seemed groomed to follow.

Impossibly young on Dragnet 1967 (Image via NBC)

A strapping stunner, Vincent had been recruited into acting when spotted in the California Army National Guard. His discovery led to a contract with Universal Studios. He was frequently hired for his impressive physique, as on the "The Grenade" episode of Dragnet 1967 (1967), on which he played a high school wrestler attacked with acid. He made appearances on Lassie (1968), Bonanza (1968 & 1969) and The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968-1969) before becoming a series regular on the high-profile bomb The Survivors (1969-1970), opposite Lana Turner (1921-1995) and George Hamilton (b. 1939).

He appeared in the John Wayne (1907-1979) starrer The Undefeated in 1969, which would come to characterize the machismo-infused roles he would frequently be given, even if his most effective performances were often those cut with counterculture subversiveness.

Vincent worked steadily on TV and in B movies in the early '70s, but impressed in the TV movie Tribes (1970), in which he played a hippie draftee. In the film Going Home (1971), he played the son of a man (Robert Mitchum, 1917-1997) recently released from prison, scoring a Golden Globe nomination for his nuanced work.

Nanu, Tarzan-like jock, in The World's Greatest Athlete (Image via Disney)

Demonstrating remarkable versatility, Vincent went from the Charles Bronson (1921-2003) actioner The Mechanic (1972) to the Disney farce The World's Greatest Athlete (1973) to heading up the romantic drama Buster and Billie (1974), in which he appeared fully nude, a sensation at the time.

An erotic spin on the good ol' days (Image via Columbia)

His most popular and typical films were coming down the pike, including White Line Fever (1975) and Baby Blue Marine (1976), with the surfer flick Big Wednesday (1978) and Hooper (1978) among his most memorable screen roles.

With Ali MacGraw (b. 1939) in The Winds of War (Image via ABC)

In the '80s, Vincent turned in an admired performance in Hard Country (1981) and was reunited with Mitchum in the blockbuster miniseries The Winds of War (1983), the latter of which earned him his second Golden Globe nomination.

As Stringfellow Hawke on Airwolf (Image via NBC)

Coming off of his greatest successes, Vincent became TV's highest-paid actor ($200,000 per episode) when he was cast on Airwolf opposite Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012). By all accounts, the filming of the series was a nightmare, complicated by Vincent's escalating drug and alcohol abuse, which he confirmed publicly. His candor in speaking about his abuse fit neatly with his image as a bad boy with an introspective streak.

Following Airwolf's cancellation, Vincent's fortunes took a tumble; he was considered difficult and was harder to insure, leading to subpar projects. His later work included the camp classic Ice Cream Man (1996); Red Line (1996), in which he appeared bloated and scarred from a real-life hospital stay; and his final film, the indie White Boy (2003).

Sadly, his laudable efforts as an actor have been overshadowed by the cautionary-tale quality of his life and his decline from being the picture of health and strength to a prematurely enfeebled man. Perhaps his death will inspire a second look at his body of work.

Vincent is survived by his third wife, Patricia, and his daughter Amber by his first wife.

RIP (Image via Warner Bros.)

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