R.I.P. Jan-Michael Vincent of Airwolf and The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
Images: The Everett Collection / Warner Bros.
The Eighties were known for their action heroes. Arnold, Bruce and Stallone flexed their muscles on the big screen. Television had no shortage of studs, either, what with Michael Knight, B.A. Baracus and Sonny Crockett battling the bad guys every week. Airwolf certainly belonged in that mix.
Jan-Michael Vincent starred as ace pilot String Hawke, who flies the futuristic stealth helicopter known as Airwolf. The hit 1984–87 series was a highlight in that "guys and their awesome vehicles" genre that became so popular in the Reagan Era, action spectaculars like Blue Thunder, Top Gun, Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Riptide, etc.
With his blonde hair, tanned skin and rugged good looks, Jan-Michael Vincent became the poster boy of this sort of entertainment. He was certainly no stranger to playing a handsome, beachy type.
Back in 1969, the actor, then simply billed as Michael Vincent, landed his first regular role as "Link" on Danger Island, a live-action serial from Hanna-Barbera that aired as a segment of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The tropical adventure is perhaps best remembered for its gibberish-spewing wild-man Chongo. "Uh oh, Chongo!" became the catchphrase of the short films, which were directed by Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies). But Vincent certainly stuck in the memory, too, considering he spent most of the series shirtless. The young actor quickly became a regular in teen magazines.
Throughout the 1970s, Vincent continued to appear on television in guest roles, popping up on everything from Gunsmoke to Marcus Welby, M.D.
Airwolf transformed him into an action star, as he continually appeared in low-budget shoot-'em'-up movies like Deathstone and Alienator in subsequent years.
Vincent passed away on February 10 from cardiac arrest, according to The Hollywood Reporter, though news of his death did not break until a month later. He was 73 years old.