RIP – Jan-Michael Vincent (actor)

The troubled actor, most famous for the cult series 'Airwolf', missed out on a predicted big career, but still became a prolific video star in the 80s and 90s...

Jan-Michael Vincent, best known for his role as Stringfellow Hawke in 80s action-series Airwolf, and for a string of 90s action-thrillers has passed away at the age of 74.

He made his on-screen debut in a supporting role in the 1967 tv film The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Chinese Junk, though at the time he went by the name Mike Vincent. Diverse projects followed ranging from multiple episodes of Lassie, Bonanza, the soapy US drama The Survivors and even the Banana Splits Adventure Hour. Many other tv roles followed, but he got big breaks in films such as 1972’s The Mechanic (opposite Charles Bronson)  1976’s Vigilante Force (opposite Kris Kristofferson and Victoria Principal), 1978’s  cult surfing drama Big Wednesday (with Gary Busey and William Katt), alongside Kim Basinger in 1981’s Hard Country and then as the character of Byron in the landmark tv mini-series The Winds of War (1983).

The following year the Airwolf  tv movie immediately spawned a successful series – with Vincent playing Stringfellow Hawke who steals a cutting-edge military helicopter and lends his services out to the government on the condition they help him search for his missing brother. St.John. Vincent famously became one of the highest-paid actors in American television, earning a reported $200,000 per episode. The series, which ran from 1984-1986 co-starred screen legend Ernest Borgnine survived for three seasons and was later revamped for one, lower-budgeted and less-successful run with a totally new cast and the rescued ‘St.John’ (Barry Van Dyke) as the lead.

From that point onwards, Vincent’s career was uneven. He was the prolific star in the number of projects, but they rapidly became the lower-budget, straight-to-video and DVD movies with titles such as Midnight Witness (1993), The Last Kill (1996) Jurassic Women (1996) and the controversial Buffalo ’66 (1998). His last screen role was as Ron Masters in 2002’s White Boy.

Vincent had his fair share of health issues and personal problems. He broke his neck in a car accident in August 1996 which permanently affected his voice and he served short amounts of jail time in 2000 for repeated drunk and disorderly offences and allegations of domestic battery . His serious problems with drink dating back to the 1980s which caused him to gain a reputation for unreliability on set and curtailed what could likely have been a more successful career. He eventually retired to his home near Vicksburg, Mississippi with third wife Patricia Ann Christ.

In 2012 he had the lower half of his right leg amputated because of a leg infection (resulting from complications related to peripheral artery disease). For the remaining years of his life he used a prosthetic right foot and  a wheelchair.  He passed away as the result of cardiac arrest at a North Carolina hospital.