With his blond, surfer-boy looks, Jan-Michael Vincent seemed destined to be a leading man, but with his tough demeanor and bad-boy eyes, he usually essayed men with an edge, misunderstood except by the women who love them. In real life, Vincent has lived up to his image, combining substance abuse and arrests for abusing his female companions to bring down a career that had begun with promise.
Born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in central California, Vincent began acting in films in 1967 with the Mexican "Los Bandidos" and found steady employment in American TV on episodic shows such as "Dragnet" and in children's series like "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour". In 1968, he was one of the young men from Texas itching for a fight in the Civil War in "Journey to Shiloh", his first American feature. In 1970, Vincent made his first TV-movie, the acclaimed "Tribes" (ABC), in he played a longhaired hippie being whipped into a marine. That film not only made Vincent's career, it was subsequently released theatrically overseas. The following year, Vincent was Robert Mitchum's son in "Going Home" and he co-starred with Charles Bronson in "The Mechanic" (1972). He brought Disney's live-action division back to some stability with the comedy "The World's Greatest Athlete" (1973) and firmed his position as one of the leading young actors of the decade with "Baby Blue Marine" (1976), as a corps dropout mistaken for a hero by his hometown. Vincent played opposite Kim Basinger in "Defiance" (1981), but by the early 80s changing tastes, plus Vincent's already emerging penchant for substances and trouble, had hurt his film career.
TV saved the day. Vincent was again cast as Mitchum's son, this time as Byron Henry in "The Winds of War", the ambitious 1983 ABC miniseries based on the Herman Wouk novel. Although both Vincent and his love interest in the piece, Ali MacGraw, where too old for their parts, their devil-may-care attitude as they dashed through Poland on the eve of World War II and were married and separated by the events of the world helped make the miniseries a success. Vincent had first appeared as a regular in a primetime series on the short-lived "The Survivors" (ABC, 1969), as Lana Turner's teenaged son. In 1984, CBS made him a series star with "Airwolf", in which Vincent was operating a state-of-the-art helicopter while doing good deeds and searching for his missing brother. The show lasted until the end of the 1986 season; its demise partly was due to the star's cocaine abuse.
After a period of rehabilitation, Vincent returned to TV-movies as one of the "Six Against the Rock" (NBC, 1987), trying to break out of Alcatraz and as Brightmore, who finds Tarzan and brings him across the Atlantic in "Tarzan in Manhattan" (CBS, 1988). But further personal problems haunted Vincent. He was again in the news for substance abuse and allegedly beating his female companion. While his feature film output continued, it was in decidedly low-budget productions, such as "Deadly Avenger" (1992) and the terrorizing "Ice Cream Man" (1995).