Tributes have been paid to Jan-Michael Vincent, the news of whose death has renewed interest in both his film and TV career and his lingering decline.
“God bless you Jan-Michael Vincent in the spiritual realm,” tweeted fellow actor Gary Busey, who appeared with him in 1978 surfing film Big Wednesday.
Writer-producer Larry Karaszewski also marked his passing, saying Vincent had been “so huge” when he was growing up.
Vincent died on 10 February aged 74 but his death only became public last week.
Born in Colorado and raised in California, Vincent rose to fame in the 1970s and appeared in films alongside such stars as Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson and Robert Mitchum.
He achieved his biggest success in 1980s TV series Airwolf, in which he played a daredevil pilot recruited to fly a hi-tech helicopter prototype.
Yet his years in the limelight were dogged and probably curtailed by his addiction to drugs and to alcohol. Both Vincent’s father and grandfather also struggled with alcoholism.
He was involved in three car accidents in the 1990s, one of which resulted in a broken neck and permanent damage to his voice.
In 2000 he was arrested for an altercation with his third wife Patricia. Later that year he was sentenced to 60 days in jail for parole violation.
Another car accident in 2008 led to an infection that resulted in his lower right leg being amputated in 2012.
In 2014 he told the National Enquirer that “one thing after another” had left him feeling as if he had been “beaten with a whip”.
In an interview for Australian television two years later, he said he was “just laying low” and could not remember much about his acting career.
According to Vincent’s biographer Donald Grove, Airwolf creator Donald P Bellisario once asked the star why he was so intent on destroying himself.
“I’m a drunk,” Vincent is said to have responded. “I’ve always been a drunk and that is all I want to be.”