In the world of Hollywood leading men, David Naughton exemplified the ideal switch artist. The classically trained actor transformed from an obscure stage performer into one of the 1970s most popular personalities in a variety of genres. Naughton exuberantly sang and danced his way into fame as the star of the popular "Be a Pepper" ad campaigns for the Dr. Pepper soft drink. With cheeky, over-the-top dance numbers and that ubiquitous jingle, "I'm a Pepper, she's a Pepper," Naughton seemingly converted an entire nation into Dr. Pepper fans. He parlayed his newfound success - and heartthrob status - into a starring role on the short-lived sitcom "Makin' It" (ABC, 1979) as well as sang the 1979 gold single of the same name. Naughton then went from pretty boy to a brutal beast in the cult horror film "An American Werewolf in London" (1981), a story of two American college boys who were attacked by a werewolf while backpacking in London. The iconic gore fest saw Naughton play against type, show off his physical prowess and deadly bicuspids, and cemented his place as one of the most definitive actors in the horror film genre.
David Walsh Naughton was born on Feb. 13, 1951 in Hartford, CT. He had a brother, James Naughton, who was also a stage and film actor. Growing up, the future star spent most of his time playing soccer and performing in school talent shows. Naughton nurtured both of his interests through college. He earned a soccer scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, but he chose to study drama instead. After graduating in 1973, he bolstered his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After two years in London, Naughton moved to New York City to jumpstart an acting career. Like many aspiring actors, Naughton worked as a waiter in between gigs. He made his professional debut in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of "Hamlet," and found steady work in various other local productions.
In the late 1970s, Naughton went to a dance audition for a soda campaign, in spite of the fact that he reportedly did not think his dance skills were up to par. Much to his surprise, he was cast as the lead singer and dancer in the "Be a Pepper" ad campaigns for the Dr. Pepper soft drink. Considered some of the most successful and creative commercials at the time, Naughton performed Broadway musical-like dance moves while cheerfully handing out bottles of the fizzy drink to passersby. Naughton had the entire country humming the catchy jingle, "I'm a Pepper, she's a Pepper. Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?" During his extended contract with the soda company, Naughton not only appeared in a series of commercials, but he also toured the country as its spokesman. The commercials put Naughton on the map as well as turned the shaggy-haired actor into a bona fide heartthrob.
As a result of the ubiquitous commercials, Naughton found himself starring in his own sitcom, "Makin' It," where he played a character named Billy Manucci, a young man whose day job is at an ice cream parlor, but whose real passion is disco dancing. While there was much hype surrounding the charming star, the show only lasted one season. He also sang the show's theme song of the same name. Released in 1979, the single "Makin' It" peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart. With his career in full gear, Naughton easily landed roles on the big screen, including the comedy "Midnight Madness" (1980), as one of the college students participating in a wild and crazy race held in various spots throughout Los Angeles.
In 1981, Naughton left his wholesome image behind when starred in the comic horror film "An American Werewolf in London," as a backpacking college boy-turned-ravenous beast, alongside his buddy who was not as lucky (Griffin Dunne). To prepare for the role, Naughton endured grueling makeup sessions with special effects artist Rick Baker, who masterfully transformed the actor's body into a hairy monster and contorted his face with a wolf's snout. The physically demanding role had a naked Naughton running around in frigid London in bare feet for those scenes in which he was transforming into a werewolf. For one scene, he spent time in a cage with real wolves, which turned out to be an ordeal in and of itself. All his efforts paid off; John Landis film was not only a box-office success but also received critical acclaim, including an Academy Award for Baker and company for Best Makeup in 1982. Fans of the movie still remembered their experiences watching it for the first time, a testament to Naughton's acting skills and the film's enduring qualities.
Following the success of "Werewolf," Naughton kept up his television and film appearances. He was a frequent guest star on some of the decade's most popular shows such as "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) and "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996). Naughton took another stab at acting in sitcoms with a regular role on "My Sister Sam" (CBS, 1986-88), where he played Pam Dawber's goofy ex-boyfriend. The series enjoyed high ratings during its first season, but its ratings declined during the second season, resulting in it the show's cancellation. Contrary to rumors, "My Sister Sam" was not canceled because of the untimely death of one of its stars, Rebecca Schaeffer, who was murdered in 1989 by a deranged fan. After her death, Naughton and a few of his co-stars appeared in a public service announcement about violence prevention. Ironically, Naughton was arrested in early 2008 in Nevada for domestic violence. According to police reports, the actor, who was arguing with his third wife, grabbed her and threw her around.
In the wake of the "My Sister Sam" tragedy, Naughton extended his career with guest stints on many hit shows like "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) and "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1990-1998), starring on the latter as Julia Louis-Dreyfus' recovering alcoholic boyfriend, among many others. In 2010, Naughton showed that he was still a big fan of Dr. Pepper when he joined a flash mob that invaded the New York Stock Exchange and sang the soda's jingle he made popular in the late 1970s. The hardworking actor also appeared on the drama series "JAG" (NBC, 1995-96; 1997-2005), where he played a detective, as well as on "Psych" (USA Network, 2006- ), as a sociopathic doctor.