“TV actors are bigger than movie actors these days. More people see them, more people recognize them; the salaries in TV are rivaling those in feature films.” Don Johnson
Film and television star Don Johnson gathered appreciation and became famous while portraying the pastel-wearing Florida detective Sonny Crockett in the NBC instant hit series “Miami Vice” (1984-1989). Delivering a brilliant turn as a sturdy and stunning cop, Johnson was handed a Golden Globe Award, as well as earned an Emmy nomination. The Golden Globe winner is also well-remembered as Ben Quick in the made-for-TV movie The Long Hot Summer (1985) and as the star of the TV weekly “Nash Bridges” (1996).
On the wide screen, after making his debut with the title role in the unremarkable The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970), Johnson came to prominence and received critical raves for his bravura performance in the sci-fi cult hit A Boy and His Dog (1995), for which he took home a 1976 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Award. Johnson cemented his position as a film star when he was hired to support Kevin Costner as conceited golf pro David Simms in the Ron Shelton-directed hit film Tin Cup (1996).
As an accomplished musician, Johnson released his debut album Heartbeat in1986 and its title track became a Top 5 hit in 1986. His duet with Barbara Streisand, “Til I Loved You,” also knocked on the Billboard chart. Johnson’s next album, Let It Roll, was launched in 1989.
Off screen, Johnson is an avid golfer. He once had a ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, but in 2004, his 17-acre ranch was reportedly for sale for $21 million after bankruptcy filing and lawsuits claimed Johnson, or his company, owed more than $948,000. As for his romantic life, the Missouri-born actor is now the husband of Kelley Phleger, a former debutante whom he married in 1999. Before the marriage, Johnson tied the knot with Melanie Griffith in 1976, but divorced in 1977, and then remarried her in 1989, but again filed for divorce. He was also linked with a number of women like celebrity rock groupie Pamela Des Barres (dated in the late 1960s), Kari Whitman, actress Patti D'Arbanville (together from 1981-1985), Tanya Tucker, actress/singer Barbra Streisand, Nash Bridges co-star Jodi Lyn O'Keefe and Jeanne Anderson (briefly engaged in 1996). Johnson is the father of three, a son named Jesse (born in 1982; mother Patti D'Arbanville) and two daughters, Dakota Mayi (born in 1989; mother Melanie Griffith) and Atherton Grace (born in 1999; mother Mary Kelley Phleger).
Childhood and Family:
Born Donald Wayne Johnson on December 15, 1949, in Flat Creek, Missouri, Don Johnson grew up on his grandfather’s farm before relocating with his family to Wichita, Kansas, when he was 6. Soon after, his parents divorced. Don is the oldest of four children to a farmer farther and a beautician mother. He has two brothers, KC and Greg, and one sister named Linda, a singer whose stage name is Jamie Skylar.
Moving back to Missouri with his mother, young Don began to get into trouble. At age 12, he was arrested and sent to a boy’s reformatory for stealing a car. As a teenager, he became involved with older women and even moved in with a 25-year-old woman when he was just 16.
A Wichita South High School graduate, Don went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, on a drama scholarship. Here, Don became interested in acting and spent two years working with plays. He next headed for San Francisco and joined the American Conservatory Theatre.
Don has been married five times. The first marriage happened when he was 19, but later was annulled. Just like the first, Don’s second youthful marriage also was cancelled. In 1976, he tied the knot with actress Melanie Griffith, but they divorced a year later. After a 12-year separation, the couple remarried on June 26, 1989, but again divorced. Don and Griffith share a daughter named Dakota Mayi (born on October 4, 1989). On April 29, 1999, Don began a new family by marrying fiancé Kelley Phleger, an ex-debutante who was born in June 1968. The union welcomed their first child, daughter Atherton Grace, on December 28, 1999. Don also has a son, Jesse (born in 1982), from his relationship with actress Patti D'Arbanville. Aside from his five marriages, Don has always managed to be in the company of beautiful women and earned the nickname Don Juanson.
A Boy and His Dog
A qualified actor by his late teens, Don Johnson began singing and acting in high school and performed in a number of plays at the University of Kansas. He then made his way to San Francisco and worked with the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT). Soon after, Johnson kicked of his professional stage career with the ACT production of the musical “Your Own Thing.” His performance was so impressive that director/actor Sal Mineo landed Johnson a major role in the1969 Los Angeles stage production of “Fortune in Men’s Eye,“ which featured a realistic rape scene in a men’s prison. His performance in the controversial play won Johnson a contract with MGM and he quickly made a jump to the big screen with the title role in the forgettable The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970).
Johnson went on to take roles in movies like Zachariah (1971), The Harrad Experiment (1973), Lollipops and Roses (1974) and Return to Macon County (1975), but it was the sci-fi cult classic A Boy and His Dog (1995), based on a novella by sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison, that made the young actor a star. The film was certified a hit and, as an actor, Johnson received critical and popular acclaim for his bright portrayal of Vic. He also netted an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Actor.
Following his much-talked-about performance, Johnson worked almost exclusively on TV. He had his TV movie debut with Law of the Land (1976) and then performed in the TV films The City (1977), Cover Girls (1977), Pressure Point (1978), the amazingly dull Ski Lift to Death (1978),The Two-Five (1978), Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold (1978), the cancer drama First, You Cry (1978), Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979), and made his TV miniseries debut in “The Rebels” (1979). Johnson finally returned to film with the 1980 Soggy Bottom, USA after a five years absence, but soon was back on the small screen to play a regular on the short-lived series “From Here to Eternity” (1980), opposite Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey and William Devane. He was then seen in the miniseries “Beulah Land” (1980), appeared in the made-for-TV movie Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980), was cast as Elvis Presley in the NBC movie Elvis and the Beauty Queen (1981) and portrayed Bob Howard in The Two Lives of Carol Letner (1981). Johnson also had a supporting role in the drama film Melanie (1982). Unfortunately, almost none of his work did much to increase his status as an actor.
Johnson bounced back in 1984 when he landed the role of Florida detective Sonny Crockett in Michael Mann’s trendy cop drama “Miami Vice.” Paired with Phillip Michael Thomas, Johnson charmed audiences with his tough, glamorous and well-dressed character. His sexy and humorous performance also contributed to the series’ phenomenal success. During his five-year tenure, Johnson’s outstanding achievements included a 1986 Golden Globe for Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Drama and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in 1985. Following the massive victory, Johnson became a TV icon for the 1980s.
At the height of his popularity, Johnson branched out to singing by launching his debut album, Heartbeat, in 1986. He scored a success with the album’s title song when it reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. His second studio album, Let It Roll, hit the music shelves two years later. Johnson also collaborated with Barbara Streisand for the hit track “Til I Loved You.”
While working on Miami Vice, Johnson offered a notable performance as Ben Quick in the TV movie remake of The Long Hot Summer (1985). He also appeared on film with Cease Fire (1985), where he was cast as a war veteran who is haunted by his war experiences. As Miami Vice came to an end in the late 80s, Johnson’s star began to fade. He made a series of big screen duds like Sweet Hearts Dance (1988), John Frankenheimer thriller Dead Bang (1989), Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot (1990) and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991). His next efforts, with wife Melanie Griffith, were Paradise (1991) and the remake of Born Yesterday (1993). Both were box office failures despite his good performances. Even a partnership with well-known director Sidney Lumet proved disappointing when the courtroom drama Guilty as Sin (1993) was considered ordinary and under-plotted.
Johnson regained his celebrity status when he was cast in the supporting role of narcissistic golf pro David Simms in the Kevin Costner hit Tin Cup (1996), helmed by Ron Shelton. On television, the actor enjoyed a career recovery as a quick-witted detective in the cop series “Nash Bridges” (1996). The show was a solid performer but was axed after its 6th season. Johnson then made a rare film appearance in Goodbye Lover (1998), playing tricky, treacherous advertising executive Ben Dunmore. Although the movie earned lukewarm reviews at Cannes, Johnson received a big boost when Variety called it “enjoyable as long as Don Johnson is in it.”
Withdrawing from the screen for almost five years, Johnson resurfaced as Benjamin Tyson in the made-for-TV movie Word of Honor (2003). In 2005, he played Grant Cooper in the series “Just Legal” (2005), and appeared on the silver screen as a male guest in The Dying Gaul (2005).
- Sho West: Male Star of the Year, 1988
- Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama, “Miami Vice,” 1986
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Golden Scroll-Best Actor, A Boy and His Dog, 1976