Don Johnson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Don Johnson
Johnson in 2019
Donnie Wayne Johnson[1]

(1949-12-15) December 15, 1949 (age 74)
  • Actor
  • producer
  • singer
Years active1969–present
  • Unknown spouse
    (m. 1968; annul. 1968)
  • Another unknown spouse
    (m. 1973; annul. 1973)
  • (m. 1976; div. 1976)
  • (m. 1989; div. 1996)
  • Kelley Phleger
    (m. 1999)
PartnerPatti D'Arbanville (1981–1985)
Children5, including Jesse and Dakota

Donald Wayne Johnson (born December 15, 1949) is an American actor, producer and singer. He played the role of James "Sonny" Crockett in the 1980s television series Miami Vice, for which he won a Golden Globe, and received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. He also played the titular character in the 1990s series Nash Bridges. Johnson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996.[2]

Johnson has appeared in films such as A Boy and His Dog (1975), Tin Cup (1996), Machete (2010), Django Unchained (2012) and Knives Out (2019). As a singer, he released the albums Heartbeat (1986) and Let It Roll (1989). His cover version of "Heartbeat" peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born on December 15, 1949, in Flat Creek, Missouri.[3] His mother, Nell (née Wilson; 1933–1975), was a beautician. His father, Fredie Wayne Johnson (1930–2017), was a farmer.[4][5] At the time of his birth, Johnson's mother and father were 16 and 19 years old, respectively.[6] Johnson was raised in poverty in Wichita, Kansas, where his parents relocated when he was six years old.[6]

He graduated from Wichita South High School, where he was involved in the high school's theater program. As a senior, he played the lead role of Tony in West Side Story. His biography noted that he had previously appeared in Burnt Cork & Melody and The Hullabaloo. After graduating from high school in 1967, he enrolled at the University of Kansas as a theater major, but dropped out after one year.[6] He subsequently relocated to San Francisco, California, to attend the American Conservatory Theater.[6]

Acting career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Johnson's first major role was in the 1969 Los Angeles stage production of Fortune and Men's Eyes, in which he played the lead role of Smitty.[7][8][9] The play included a "shockingly realistic prison rape" scene portrayed by Johnson.[10] This exposure led to the quickly forgotten film The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970). Johnson continued to work on stage, film and television without breaking into stardom. His notable films from this period were Zachariah (1971), The Harrad Experiment (1973) (a film in which Johnson displayed frontal nudity),[11][12] Lollipop and Roses (1974) and A Boy and His Dog (1975). In 1976, Johnson was the roommate of actor Sal Mineo at the time Mineo was murdered.[13]

Miami Vice[edit]

In 1984, after years of struggling to establish himself as a TV actor, Johnson landed a starring role as undercover police detective Sonny Crockett in the Michael Mann/Universal Television cop series, Miami Vice.[14] The show ran from 1984 to 1990.[15] Miami Vice made Johnson "a major international star".[16] According to Rolling Stone, "No one had more swagger in the Reagan era than Don Johnson. As Miami Vice's Sonny Crockett, the undercover detective and professional stubble-cultivator who lived on a houseboat with his pet alligator Elvis, he embodied masculine cool in the era of coke binges and Lamborghinis".[17] The Sonny Crockett character typically wore thousand-dollar Versace and Hugo Boss suits over pastel cotton T-shirts, drove a Ferrari, wore expensive timepieces by Rolex and Ebel, and lived on an Endeavour yacht.[citation needed] Miami Vice was noted for its revolutionary use of music cinematography and imagery, and for its glitzy take on the police drama genre.[citation needed] In the show, Crockett's partner was Ricardo Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas.[18]

Johnson's work on Miami Vice earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama, in 1986.[19] Johnson was nominated for the same award in 1987.[20] He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1985.[21][22]

Between seasons on Miami Vice, Johnson gained further renown through TV miniseries such as the 1985 remake of The Long, Hot Summer.[23] During the time he was on Miami Vice, he had set up an hour-long music video/pay cable program with videocassette versions of the programs Johnson had hosted being handled by distributor CBS/Fox Video. The project was a tie-in to his first album Heartbeat, which became available from CBS/Epic Records in 1986.[24]

Nash Bridges[edit]

Johnson later starred in the 1996–2001 CBS-TV police drama Nash Bridges with Cheech Marin, Jeff Perry, Jaime P. Gomez, Kelly Hu, Wendy Moniz, Annette O'Toole, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as his daughter Cassidy, and James Gammon as his father Nick. Johnson portrayed the title role, an inspector (later promoted to captain) for the San Francisco Police Department. In Nash Bridges, Johnson was again paired with a flashy convertible car, a yellow 1971 Plymouth Barracuda.[25]


Don Johnson with Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006

In the fall of 2005, Johnson briefly starred in The WB courtroom television drama show Just Legal as a jaded lawyer with a young and idealistic protégé/partner (Jay Baruchel); the show was canceled in October 2005 after just three of the eight produced episodes aired. In January 2007, Johnson began a run in the West End of London production of Guys and Dolls as Nathan Detroit.[26]

Johnson also had a role in the Norwegian comedy Lange Flate Ballær 2 ("Long Flat Balls II"), directed by Johnson's friend Harald Zwart. Johnson did the movie as a favor to Zwart. The movie was launched on March 14, 2008, in Norway, with Johnson making an appearance at the premiere. He next appeared in When in Rome with Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston and Kristen Bell.[27]

Johnson had a supporting role in Robert Rodriguez's film Machete. Johnson played Von Jackson, "a twisted border vigilante leading a small army". The film was released on September 3, 2010. In October 2010, he began appearing on the HBO series Eastbound & Down, playing Kenny Powers' long-lost father, going by the alias "Eduardo Sanchez". He also reprised his role as Sonny Crockett for a Nike commercial with LeBron James in which the NBA player contemplates acting and appears alongside Johnson on Miami Vice.[28]


In September 2011, Johnson had a cameo in the comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy with Jason Sudeikis.[29] Johnson had a supporting role in the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, playing a southern plantation owner named Spencer 'Big Daddy' Bennett.[30] In 2014, Johnson starred as the character "Jim Bob" opposite Sam Shepard and Michael C. Hall in Jim Mickle's critically acclaimed crime film, Cold in July.[31] In 2015, Johnson began starring in the ABC prime time soap opera Blood & Oil.[32]

In 2018, he starred as the character of Arthur, the love interest of Vivian, played by Jane Fonda in Bill Holderman's romantic-comedy Book Club.[33] In 2019, Johnson played the role of Richard Drysdale in Rian Johnson's murder-mystery Knives Out;[34] and starred as Police Chief Judd Crawford in the HBO series Watchmen.[35]

In 2021, Johnson co-starred on Kenan until its cancellation in May 2022.[36] He also appeared in a Nash Bridges television film with co-star Cheech Marin on the USA Network in 2021.[37]

Music career[edit]

Johnson released two albums of pop music in the 1980s. Heartbeat was released in 1986. Let it Roll was released in 1989. His single "Heartbeat" reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.[38]

"Till I Loved You", a duet with then-girlfriend Barbra Streisand, was a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It was released on the Columbia Records studio album Till I Loved You on October 25, 1988. The song was re-released on the Streisand album Duets in 2002.

Powerboat racing[edit]

In 1986, Johnson achieved his first motor sport victory. He won a 1,100-mile powerboat race up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis. Characterized by shipmates as an aggressive, fearless pilot who did not make mistakes, Johnson was named the American Power Boat Association's 1988 World Champion of the Offshore World Cup.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Relationships and family[edit]

Johnson in 1989

Johnson has been married five times to four women. Three of his marriages were brief; the first two were annulled within a matter of days.[3][40] The names of Johnson's first two wives have not been made public, though they are said to have been a dancer and a rich woman.[41]

Circa 1971, Johnson lived with self-described "groupie" Pamela Des Barres.[42]

During the first half of 1972, Johnson met Melanie Griffith, the 14-year-old daughter of his Harrad Experiment co-star Tippi Hedren.[43] When Griffith was 15 and Johnson was 23, she and Johnson began living together in a rented house in Laurel Canyon.[43] On her 18th birthday they became engaged and were married in January 1976; they separated that July and divorced in November.[44][45]

In 1980, Johnson dated Sally Adams, mother of actress Nicollette Sheridan.[46]

In January of the following year, he met former Warhol model Patti D'Arbanville at a Los Angeles restaurant.[47] The pair lived together from 1981 to 1985 but never married.[45] Johnson and D'Arbanville have a son, Jesse Wayne Johnson (born December 7, 1982).[48]

Cybill Shepherd has written of a liaison with Johnson during the making of the television miniseries The Long Hot Summer (1985).[49]

Johnson next had a relationship with Barbra Streisand, lasting into at least September 1988.[43]

Just days after breaking up with Streisand, Johnson, then 38, was linked to 18-year-old Uma Thurman.[50]

Johnson and Griffith reunited close to the start of 1989, and Griffith gave birth to a daughter,[43] Dakota Johnson (born October 4, 1989). Johnson and Griffith were involved again from that year until 1996.[51]

Before reuniting with Griffith, Johnson was briefly involved with Dead Bang co-star Penelope Ann Miller.[50]

In 1996–1997, Johnson dated Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, who played his daughter on Nash Bridges.[52] Johnson was 47 at the time while O'Keefe was 18.

On April 29, 1999, Johnson married San Francisco socialite and Montessori nursery school teacher Kelley Phleger, former longtime girlfriend of Governor Gavin Newsom,[53] at the Pacific Heights mansion of Ann and Gordon Getty.[54] Actor Robert Wagner served as best man, and Mayor Willie Brown presided over the civil ceremony.[54] Johnson and Phleger have three children together: a daughter, Atherton Grace (born December 28, 1999),[55] and two sons, Jasper Breckinridge (born June 6, 2002),[56] and Deacon (born April 29, 2006).[57][58]

Johnson was "best friends" with journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote for Nash Bridges,[59] and his daughter Dakota saw Thompson as a "godfather figure."[60]

Legal issues[edit]

In November 2002, German customs officers at the Swiss–German border performed a routine search of Johnson's car.[61] Bank statements evidencing US$8 billion in transactions were found in the trunk of his car.[61][62][63] He was accompanied in his black Mercedes-Benz by three men: an investment adviser, a personal assistant, and a third unknown individual who could not be identified.[62] Initially it was thought Johnson was involved in money laundering,[63] but he was cleared of wrongdoing.[64]

In May 2008, within hours of losing his Woody Creek, Colorado, home to foreclosure, Johnson paid off his $14.5 million debt.[65]

In July 2010, a Los Angeles jury awarded Johnson $23.2 million in a lawsuit against production company Rysher Entertainment, from whom Johnson sought a share of profits commensurate with his ownership of half the copyright of Nash Bridges.[66] Rysher announced it would appeal the verdict.[66] In January 2013, Rysher settled the suit with a $19 million payment.[67]



Year Title Role Notes
1970 The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart Stanley Sweetheart
1971 Lollipops and Roses Franky
1971 Zachariah Matthew
1973 The Harrad Experiment Stanley Cole
1975 A Boy and His Dog Vic
1975 Return to Macon County Harley McKay
1981 Swan Lake Benno (voice) English version
1981 Soggy Bottom, U.S.A. Jacob Gorch
1982 Melanie Carl
1982 Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp Wazir's Son (voice) English version
1985 Cease Fire Tim Murphy
1987 G.I. Joe: The Movie Lieutenant Vincent R. Falcone / Lieutenant Falcon (voice) Direct-to-video
1988 Sweet Hearts Dance Wiley Boon
1989 Dead Bang Jerry Beck
1990 The Hot Spot Harry Madox
1991 Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man Robert Lee Edison / The Marlboro Man
1991 Paradise Ben Reed
1993 Born Yesterday Paul Verrall
1993 Guilty as Sin David Edgar Greenhill
1996 Tin Cup David Simms
1998 Goodbye Lover Ben Dunmore
2007 Moondance Alexander Dante Longpre
2007 Bastardi Sante Patene
2008 Long Flat Balls II Admiral Burnett
2008 Torno a vivere da solo Nico Johnson's voice is dubbed by Roberto Pedicini
2010 When in Rome Mr. Martin Uncredited
2010 Machete Von Jackson
2011 Four Loko Vineyards Mr. Four Loko Short film
2011 A Good Old Fashioned Orgy Jerry Keppler Uncredited
2011 Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star Miles Deep
2012 Django Unchained Spencer 'Big Daddy' Bennett
2014 Cold in July Jim Bob Luke
2014 The Other Woman Frank Whitten
2015 Alex of Venice Roger
2017 Vengeance: A Love Story Jay Kirkpatrick
2017 Brawl in Cell Block 99 Warden Tuggs
2018 Book Club Arthur
2018 Dragged Across Concrete Lieutenant G. Calvert
2019 Vault Gerard 'Gerry The Frenchman' Ouimette Also executive producer
2019 Knives Out Richard Drysdale
2022 A Little White Lie T. Wasserman
2022 High Heat Ray
2023 Book Club: The Next Chapter Arthur
2023 The Collective Liam
TBA Rebel Ridge TBA Post-production
TBA Unit 234 TBA Post-production; also executive producer[68]


Year Title Role Notes
1971 Sarge Deloy Coopersmith Episode: "The Combatants"
1972 Young Dr. Kildare Ted Thatcher Episode: "House Call"
1972 The Bold Ones: The New Doctors Ev Howard Episode: "Endtheme"
1973 Kung Fu Nashebo Episode: "The Spirit-Helper"
1974 The Rookies Al Devering Episode: "The Teacher"
1976 The Streets of San Francisco Officer Larry Wilson Episode: "Hot Dog"
1976 Barnaby Jones Wayne Lockwood Episode: "Renegade's Child"
1976 Law of the Land Quirt Television film
1977 The City Sergeant Brian Scott Pilot
1977 Cover Girls Johnny Wilson Television film
1977 Nashville 99 Mike Watling Episode: "Sing Me a Song to Die By"
1977 Eight Is Enough Doug Episode: "Trial Marriage"
1977 Big Hawaii Gandy Episode: "Gandy"
1977 Police Story Lee Morgan Episode: "Trigger Point"
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Edgar Episode: "Class Crusader"
1978 The American Girls Everett Simms Episode: "A Crash Course in Survival"
1978 Pressure Point Unknown Television film
1978 Ski Lift to Death Mike Sloan Television film
1978 The Two-Five Charlie Morgan Television film
1978 Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold Gunther Television film
1978 First, You Cry Daniel Easton Television film
1979 Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill Cowboy Television film
1979 The Rebels Judson Fletcher 2 episodes
1980 Beulah Land Bonard Davis Episode: "Part I"
1980 Revenge of the Stepford Wives Officer Andy Brady Television film
1980 From Here to Eternity Private Jefferson 'Jeff' Davis Prewitt 13 episodes
1981 Elvis and the Beauty Queen Elvis Presley Television film
1981 The Two Lives of Carol Letner Bob Howard Television film
1982 Matt Houston Terry Spence Episode: "The Woman in White"
1983 Six Pack Brewster Baker Pilot
1984–1989 Miami Vice Detective James 'Sonny' Crockett Main role, 111 episodes
1985 Tales of the Unexpected Reeve Baker Episode: "People Don't Do Such Things"
1985 The Long Hot Summer Ben Quick Television film
1988; 2015 Saturday Night Live Himself 2 episodes
1990 Seriously...Phil Collins Himself Television film
1995 In Pursuit of Honor Sergeant John Libbey Television film
1996–2001 Nash Bridges Inspector / Captain Nash Bridges Main role, 122 episodes; also executive producer
2003 Word of Honor Lieutenant Benjamin Tyson Television film; also co-executive producer
2005–2006 Just Legal Grant H. Cooper Main role, 8 episodes
2010 American Dad! Mr. McCormick (voice) Episode: "Don't Look a Smith Horse in the Mouth"
2010 Southern Discomfort Unknown Pilot
2010–2011 Glenn Martin, DDS Grandpa Whitey (voice) 4 episodes
2010–2012 Eastbound & Down Eduardo Sanchez Powers 5 episodes
2011 A Mann's World Allan Mann Pilot
2014–2015 From Dusk till Dawn: The Series Sheriff Earl McGraw 5 episodes
2015 Blood & Oil 'Hap' Briggs 10 episodes
2016 TripTank Johnny Bahama (voice) Episode: "The Director"
2017 A Series of Unfortunate Events Sir 2 episodes
2017 Sick Note Kenny West 6 episodes
2018 LA to Vegas Jack Silver Episode: "Jack Silver"[69]
2018 Daddy Issues Roman Pilot
2019 Watchmen Chief Judd Crawford 4 episodes
2020 Home Movie: The Princess Bride[70] Humperdinck Episode: "Chapter Seven: The Pit of Despair"
2021–2022 Kenan Rick Noble Main role, 20 episodes
2021 Nash Bridges Nash Bridges Television film


Studio albums[edit]

Title Details Peak chart positions
Heartbeat 17 44 3 5 3 20 7 34 7
Let It Roll
  • Release date: September 20, 1989
  • Label: Epic Records
  • Formats: CD, cassette
23 17 15 2 19 35 6
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Details
The Essential


Year Single Peak positions Album
1986 "Heartbeat" 5 26 3 4 6 10 5 16 6 46 Heartbeat
"Heartache Away" 56 22 31 25 126
1987 "Voice on a Hotline" 59
1989 "Tell It Like It Is" 13 6 2 6 6 84 Let It Roll
"Other People's Lives" 46 57 53
"A Better Place" (with Yuri)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Featured singles[edit]

Year Single Artist Peak chart positions Album
1988 "Till I Loved You" Don Johnson and Barbra Streisand 25 34 22 26 4 16 Till I Loved You


  • 1987: Heartbeat - Full Length Video (VHS) - (Release date: May 10, 1987)

Awards and recognition[edit]

Year Result Award Category TV/Film
1975 Winner Saturn Award Best Actor[88] A Boy and His Dog
1985 Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series[89] Miami Vice
1986 Winner Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama[90]
1987 Nominated Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama[90]
1988 Won APBA Offshore World Cup Superboat class[91]
1996 Awarded Hollywood Walk of Fame Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame[2]


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  88. ^ "Awards Database: Don Johnson". The Envelope: The Awards Insider. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
  89. ^ "Advanced Primetime Awards Search". Academy of Television Arts and Science. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  90. ^ a b "Miami Vice". Hollywood Foreign Press Association/Golden Globes. Archived from the original on February 15, 2008. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  91. ^ Friedman, Jack; Cindy Dampier (May 28, 1990). "With Kurt Russell and Chuck Norris in Tow, Don Johnson Risks His Neck on a New Miami Vice—superboat Racing". People. Vol. 33, no. 21. pp. 101–102.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hershkovits, David. Don Johnson, in series, 2M Communications Production[s]. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. ISBN 0-312-90165-8
  • Latham, Caroline. Miami Magic: Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, the Inside Story of the Stars of 'Miami Vice' [and of their other television and film work]. New York: Zebra Books, 1985. N.B.: The subtitle given, lacking on the t.p., is from the pbk. book's front cover. ISBN 0-8217-1800-2

External links[edit]