Blessed with a classically handsome profile and a knack for playing charming rogues, actor Dirk Benedict entered the pantheon of historic television personalities as not one, but two iconic characters. After making an inglorious entry into film with B-movie fare like the reptilian horror tale "Sssssss" (1973), Benedict landed one of his two most enduring roles when he was cast as the devil-may-care fighter pilot Starbuck on "Battlestar Galactica" (ABC, 1978-79). Although the show met with an early demise, the actor quickly went on to even greater stardom as conman Templeton "Faceman" Peck on the action-adventure "The A-Team" (NBC, 1983-87). During and after "The A-Team," Benedict took on occasional film work, in such roles as a down-on-his-luck manager in the pro-wrestling comedy "Body Slam" (1986) and as a downed pilot whose only hope of survival lies in his two young children locating him in time in the rugged family adventure "Alaska" (1996). Though his star dimmed over the ensuing years, Benedict remained busy on American and international television, most notably on a controversial season of the U.K.'s "Celebrity Big Brother" (BBC One/Channel 4, 2001- ). Although he was a vocal critic of the series reboot of "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci Fi Channel, 2004-09), Benedict showed his approval of the feature film version of "The A-Team" (2010) by making an appearance alongside actor Bradley Cooper, taking over the role of Faceman. With a pair of beloved, classic television series to his credit, Benedict long ago had earned the adoration of generations of fans.
Born Dirk Niewoehner in Helena, MT on March 1, 1945, he led by all accounts an idyllic childhood in the rural town of White Sulphur Springs, MT. Football appeared to be among his primary interests until he auditioned on a dare for the spring musical at Whitman College and won the lead in a production of "Show Boat." He intensified his acting studies after graduation through a two-year program with acclaimed teacher John Fernald, and began appearing in repertory theater productions across the United States. During this period, he adopted his stage surname, which was reportedly inspired by a breakfast of Eggs Benedict with his agent. He made his Broadway debut opposite Diana Rigg and Keith Michell in the short-lived 1971 play "Abelard and Heloise" before launching his onscreen career with the obscure Swedish drama "Georgia, Georgia." The latter was distinguished by its screenplay, which was penned by the poet Maya Angelou. More film and television roles followed, including the unusual horror film "Sssssss" (1973), in which legendary character actor Strother Martin played a mad scientist who turns Benedict into a man-sized cobra. By then, he was dividing his time between Hollywood and Broadway, which included starring roles in "Butterflies are Free" with silent screen legend, Gloria Swanson. His first turn as a series regular came with "Chopper One" (ABC, 1974), a little-seen police drama about California officers who use helicopters to fight crime.
That same year, Benedict was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but reportedly cured the affliction through a macrobiotic diet which was given to him by Gloria Swanson and overseen by author and educator, Michio Kushi. The details of his battle with the disease and his eventual recovery were recounted in his autobiographical book, Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy: A True Story of Discovery, Acting, Health, Illness, Recovery and Life. In it, he also discussed his career struggles, as well as the benefits he gained from the macrobiotic diet for over 30 years. Benedict's film and television career remained constant if unremarkable until 1978, when he was cast as Lt. Starbuck on producer Glen A. Larson's TV space opera, "Battlestar Galactica," a kind of low-budget, small screen "Star Wars" (1977) rip-off. A classic rogue with an eye for card games and the ladies, Starbuck was nevertheless the best pilot in the Galactica fleet, and could be counted on to support or even take over for the show's main hero, Apollo (Richard Hatch). Benedict's good looks and self-deprecating sense of humor helped to make the character popular with both male and female viewers; the latter was particularly instrumental in keeping the actor on the series after network executive threatened to fire him for smoking too many of Starbuck's trademark cigars onscreen. An avalanche of cigars from his ardent female fans kept the character alive until the show was unceremoniously cancelled in 1979, though he did reprise the role for the final episode of "Galactica 1980" (ABC, 1980) as well as a 2003 video game based on the program.
After "Galactica," Benedict appeared in a handful of largely ignored features, and made a few guest appearances on programs before landing his most widely-seen role as Templeton Peck on "The A-Team." A cartoonishly violent action series about a quartet of Vietnam veterans-turned-soldiers-for-hire, Peck hewed closely to Starbuck in regards to his appetite for the high life, as well as a childhood spent in orphanages. But Peck disdained the brawling and shootouts that were part of the A-Team's bread and butter, preferring instead to gain the upper hand through elaborate schemes, con games and his own silver tongue. A massive hit with male viewers in nearly all demographics, "The A-Team" brought Benedict considerable fame during its four-year network run. But Benedict was again unable to capitalize on a hit show's success to give his career a boost. After "The A-Team" petered out in its fifth season, he returned to regular rotation in episodic television and made a much-publicized return to the stage in a 1987 production of "Hamlet" that was roundly panned by critics. In 1994, he made his directorial debut with the short "Christina's Dream." Seven years later, he directed and wrote his first feature, "Cahoots" (2001), a quirky and well-received buddy picture with Keith Carradine and David Keith as longtime friends who have very different ideas about picking up their former hell-raising ways.
Though Benedict's career in the United States seemed relegated to TV and the occasional low-budget feature, he remained exceptionally popular in Europe, where he enjoyed something of a second career. In 2005, he starred in "Goldene Zeiten," a comedy by director Peter Thorwarth, who cast him as a former '80s TV star and his lookalike double, who earned a living by imitating the actor at events. Two years later, he appeared as himself in the BBC reality series "Celebrity Big Brother," which brought together a motley crew of TV celebs from both sides of the Atlantic to live together in a house under the watchful eye of an unseen moderator. Benedict, who finished third in the competition played his "A-Team" past to the hilt by arriving at the house in the show's trademark van and smoking Face's cigars throughout the show. His dry humor also helped to dispel some of the unpleasant allegations of racial abuse heaped on some of his fellow contestants, who lobbed inflammatory comments at housemate and actress Shilpa Shetty.
Benedict raised the eyebrows of old and new fans alike when he penned an article for the British sci-fi magazine Dreamwatch, in which he derided producer Ronald D. Moore's reimagined series adaptation of "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci Fi Channel, 2004-09). Highly critical of what he called an "un-imagining" of the show, Benedict bristled at the recasting of Starbuck as a woman and an overall tone that he found not only to be anti-masculine, but "despairing, angry and confused." Less opposed to Moore's take on the material was former co-star Richard Hatch, who enjoyed a prominent role on the acclaimed new series as political schemer Tom Zarek. A project Benedict was more than pleased to participate in, however, was "Bring Back...The A-Team" (Channel 4, 2006), a U.K. documentary that attempted to reunite the surviving members of the iconic action series. That same year, the actor appeared in "Earthstorm" (Sci Fi Channel, 2006), an apocalyptic science fiction adventure, co-starring Stephen Baldwin, followed by a turn as an American pilot on a dangerous mission behind Axis Power lines in the World War II aerial adventure "Recon 7 Down" (2007). To the delight of longtime fans, Benedict made a cameo in the big-budget feature adaptation of "The A-Team" (2010), featuring Bradley Cooper as Faceman. Helmed by writer-director Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson as Hannibal, the box office hit proved that yet another of Benedict's former TV properties still held sway over the imaginations of fanboys of all ages.