In the late 1970s, Larry Wilcox rose to the top of the pop culture heap as the straight-laced California motorcycle officer Jon Baker on the wildly successful "CHiPs" (NBC, 1977-1983). The show, which paired him with Erik Estrada's ultra-macho Frank Poncharello in lightweight, occasionally campy action-drama scenarios, afforded Wilcox a five-year stint in the spotlight, but he left the show in 1982 to pursue a career as a producer. After overseeing the award-winning "Ray Bradbury Theater" (HBO/USA Network, 1985-86/1988-1992), Wilcox moved into a string of ill-defined businesses, which led to his conviction on securities fraud conspiracy in 2010. His sentencing in 2011 was a low point for the well-regarded TV star, whose affable presence on an era-defining program earned him a lifetime of small screen fans.
Born Aug. 8, 1947 in San Diego, CA, Larry Wilcox's parents divorced shortly after he was born. His mother relocated to Rawlins, WY where she raised him and his three siblings on their grandfather's ranch. Wilcox's father, a bartender, died shortly after the divorce. After graduating from high school, Wilcox headed for Los Angeles, where he worked odd jobs while dabbling in acting. In 1967, he joined the United States Marine Corps as an artilleryman and saw action in Vietnam during one of its most grueling conflicts, the Tet Offensive. Wilcox reached the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1970. Upon his return to the United States, he briefly considered dentistry before returning to acting lessons.
Blessed with height and all-American golden boy looks, Wilcox found work in commercials and with guest shots on episodic television before landing his first role as a series regular on a revival of "Lassie" (CBS, 1969-1974). More appearances on weekly programs followed, as well as his feature film debut in the ultra-violent Western "The Last Hard Men" (1976) with Charlton Heston and James Coburn. The following year, Wilcox was cast as Officer Jon Baker on "CHiPs." A show about California Highway Patrol partners who keep the L.A. freeways and surrounding streets safe from evildoers, it became a massive, generation-defining hit, especially with future Generation-X, who carried "CHiPs" lunchboxes to school, hung pin-ups of their favorite officer in their lockers, and whistled the iconic theme song ad nauseam. Wilcox's role on the series was largely relegated to playing the straight man to the flamboyant, toothsome Erik Estrada, who drew the lion's share of the fans as the ever smiling Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncharello. Wilcox accepted his less flashy position on the show, but the on-set relationship between the two leads was immediately marked by a friction that rarely abated during the show's network run. Tensions seemed to be relieved in 1979 when Wilcox came to the aid of his co-star after Estrada was critically injured in an on-set motorcycle accident that he was not expected to survive. But the antagonism between the two actors resumed immediately after Estrada's hospitalization, with both men conspicuously failing to invite the other to their respective weddings. By the show's sixth season, Wilcox had tired of playing second banana and quit the series in 1982.
After "CHiPs," Wilcox continued to log airtime on episodic TV, but began to focus his attentions behind the camera as a producer. He had launched his second career in 1981 when David Begelman, president and CEO of MGM, which had produced "CHiPs," encouraged him to option several properties. Wilcox served as executive producer on "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" (NBC, 1981), a biopic based on the short and unfortunate life of the former Playmate-turned-actress (Jamie Lee Curtis) who had died at the hands of her obsessive husband. The story had particular significance for Wilcox, whose sister had also been murdered by her husband. He soon launched Wilcox Productions, which oversaw the critically acclaimed "Ray Bradbury Theater," which earned him a CableACE award for Best Dramatic Series in its final season. Wilcox also continued to act during this period, including a rare lead in the low-budget action film "Mission Manila" (1990).
In 1993, Wilcox reunited briefly with Estrada for the broad slapstick comedy "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon." The two men had apparently patched up their past differences to the point that they co-starred and co-produced "CHiPs '99" (TNT, 1998), a two-hour TV-movie that brought Ponch and Jon together to solve a string of car robberies. However, Wilcox's primary concern during this period was UC Hub Group, a company that appeared to invest in mining and precious metals, as well as acquisitions for its shareholders. However, officials from the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commissions soon discovered that the company was dealing with corrupt stockbrokers and pension fund managers to manipulate the volume and price of penny stocks. Wilcox had apparently turned to the illegal dealings as a means of saving the company, which had fallen on hard times. After discovering that he was the focus of a federal investigation, Wilcox assisted federal officials in the identification of two other participants in the scheme. In November 2010, he plead guilty to securities fraud conspiracy before filing for bankruptcy. In January 2011, the actor faced five years of prison, but was sentenced to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service.