Don Johnson

Last updated

Don Johnson
Don Johnson TIFF 2019.jpg
Johnson in 2019
Born (1949-12-15) December 15, 1949 (age 71)
  • Actor
  • producer
  • director
  • singer
  • songwriter
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)
Partner(s) Patti D'Arbanville (1981–1985)
Children5, including Jesse and Dakota

Donnie Wayne Johnson (born December 15, 1949) is an American actor, producer, director, singer, and songwriter. [1] He played the role of James "Sonny" Crockett in the 1980s television series Miami Vice , winning a Golden Globe for his work in the role. He also had the eponymous lead role in the 1990s cop series Nash Bridges . Johnson has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [2]


Early life

Donnie Wayne Johnson [3] was born December 15, 1949, in Flat Creek, Missouri, [1] to Nell (née Wilson), a beautician, and Wayne Fred Johnson (1930–2017), a farmer. [4] [5] At the time of his birth, Johnson's mother and father were 17 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 and 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]


Early career

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

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]

Nash Bridges

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 Nash's father, Nick Bridges. 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; this time, the car was a Yellow 1971 Plymouth Barracuda. [24]


Don Johnson with Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 DemiAshtonDon06.jpg
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. [25]

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. [26]


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. [27]

In September 2011, Johnson had a cameo in the comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy with Jason Sudeikis. [28] Johnson had a supporting role in the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained , playing a southern plantation owner named Spencer 'Big Daddy' Bennett. [29] 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 . [30] In 2015 Johnson began starring in the ABC prime time soap opera Blood & Oil . [31]

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 . [32] In 2019, Johnson played the role of Richard Drysdale in Rian Johnson's murder-mystery Knives Out ; [33] and starred as Police Chief Judd Crawford in the HBO series Watchmen . [34]


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. [35]

"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

In 1986, Johnson scored 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. [36]

Personal life

Relationships and family

Johnson in 1989 Don Johnson-1.jpg
Johnson in 1989

Johnson has been married five times to a total of four women. Three of his marriages were brief; the first two were annulled within a matter of days. [1] [37] 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 bimbo." [38] In the early 1970s, Johnson lived with groupie Pamela Des Barres. [39]

During the first half of 1972, Johnson met Melanie Griffith, the 14-year-old daughter of his Harrad Experiment co-star Tippi Hedren. [40] When Griffith was 15, she and Johnson began living together in a rented house in Laurel Canyon. [40] On her 18th birthday they became engaged, and were married in January 1976; they separated that July and divorced in November. [41] [42] They reunited and conceived a daughter close to the start of 1989, [40] Dakota Johnson (born October 4, 1989) and were married again from that year until 1996. [43]

In 1980, Johnson dated Sally Adams, mother of actress Nicollette Sheridan. [44] In January of the following year, he met former Warhol model Patti D'Arbanville at a Los Angeles restaurant. [45] The pair lived together from 1981 to 1985, but never married. [42] Johnson and D'Arbanville have a son, Jesse Wayne Johnson (born December 7, 1982). [46] Cybill Shepherd has written of a liaison with Johnson during the making of the television miniseries The Long Hot Summer (1985). [47]

Johnson next had a relationship with Barbra Streisand, lasting into at least September 1988. [40] Just days after breaking up with Streisand, Johnson, then 38, was linked to 18-year-old Uma Thurman. [48] He was also briefly involved with Dead Bang co-star Penelope Ann Miller before reuniting with Griffith. [48] In 1996–1997, Johnson dated Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, who played his daughter on Nash Bridges . [49] 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, [50] at the Pacific Heights mansion of Ann and Gordon Getty. [51] Actor Robert Wagner served as best man, and Mayor Willie Brown presided over the civil ceremony. [51] Johnson and Phleger have three children together: a daughter, Atherton Grace (born December 28, 1999), [52] and two sons, Jasper Breckinridge (born June 6, 2002), [53] and Deacon (born April 29, 2006). [54] [55]

In November 2002, German customs officers at the SwissGerman border performed a routine search of Johnson's car. [56] Bank statements evidencing US$8 billion in transactions were found in the trunk of his car. [56] [57] [58] 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. [57] Initially it was thought Johnson was involved in money laundering, [58] but he was cleared of wrongdoing. [59]

In May 2008, within hours of losing his Woody Creek, Colorado, home to foreclosure, Johnson paid off his $14.5 million debt. [60]

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. [61] Rysher announced it would appeal the verdict. [61] In January 2013, Rysher settled the suit with a $19 million payment. [62]



1970 The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart Stanley Sweetheart
1971 Zachariah Matthew
1973 The Harrad Experiment Stanley Cole
1974Lollipops, Roses and TalangkaFranky
1975 A Boy and His Dog Vic
1975 Return to Macon County Harley McKay
1981 Swan Lake Benno (voice)English version
1981Soggy 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/Lt. 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 Anderson/The Marlboro Man
1991 Paradise Ben Reed
1993 Born Yesterday Paul Verrall
1993 Guilty as Sin David Edgar Greenhill
1995 In Pursuit of Honor Ken Olin
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
2010 When in Rome Mr. MartinUncredited
2010 Machete Lt. Von Jackson
2011Four Loko Vineyards Mr. Four Loko Short film
2011 A Good Old Fashioned Orgy Jerry KepplerUncredited
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 Lt. G. Calvert
2019 Vault GerryAlso executive producer
2019 Knives Out Richard Drysdale
TBA Shriver T. WassermanPost-production
TBA Rebel Ridge Filming


1971 Serge Deloy CoopersmithEpisode: "The Combatants"
1972 Young Dr. Kildare Ted ThatcherEpisode: "House Call"
1972 The Bold Ones: The New Doctors Ev HowardEpisode: "Endtheme"
1973 Kung Fu NasheboEpisode: "The Spirit-Helper"
1974 The Rookies Al DeveringEpisode: "The Teacher"
1976 The Streets of San Francisco Officer Larry WilsonEpisode: "Hot Dog"
1976 Barnaby Jones Wayne LockwoodEpisode: "Renegade's Child"
1976Law of the LandQuirtTelevision film
1977 The City Sergeant Brian ScottPilot
1977 Cover Girls Johnny WilsonTelevision film
1977 Nashville 99 Mike WatlingEpisode: "Sing Me a Song to Die By"
1977 Eight Is Enough DougEpisode: "Trial Marriage"
1977 Big Hawaii GandyEpisode: "Gandy"
1977 Police Story Lee MorganEpisode: "Trigger Point"
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? EdgarEpisode: "Class Crusader"
1978 The American Girls Everett SimmsEpisode: "A Crash Course in Survival"
1978Pressure PointTelevision film
1978Ski Lift to DeathMike SloanTelevision film
1978The Two-FiveCharlie MorganTelevision film
1978 Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold GuntherTelevision film
1978 First, You Cry Daniel EastonTelevision film
1979Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and GrillCowboyTelevision film
1979 The Rebels Judson Fletcher2 episodes
1980 Beulah Land Bonard DavisEpisode: "Part I"
1980 Revenge of the Stepford Wives Officer Andy BradyTelevision film
1980 From Here to Eternity Private Jefferson "Jeff" Davis Prewitt13 episodes
1981 Elvis and the Beauty Queen Elvis Presley Television film
1981The Two Lives of Carol LetnerBob HowardTelevision film
1982 Matt Houston Terry SpenceEpisode: "The Woman in White"
1983 Six Pack Brewster BakerPilot
1984–1989 Miami Vice Detective James "Sonny" Crockett Main role, 111 episodes
1985 Tales of the Unexpected Reeve BakerEpisode: "People Don't Do Such Things"
1985 The Long Hot Summer Ben QuickTelevision film
1988; 2015 Saturday Night Live Himself2 episodes
1990 Seriously...Phil Collins HimselfTelevision film
1995 In Pursuit of Honor Sgt. John LibbeyTelevision film
1996–2001 Nash Bridges Inspector/Captain Nash BridgesMain role, 122 episodes; also executive producer
2003 Word of Honor Lt. Benjamin TysonTelevision film; also co-executive producer
2005–2006 Just Legal Grant H. CooperMain role, 8 episodes
2010Southern DiscomfortPilot
2010–2011 Glenn Martin, DDS Grandpa Whitey (voice)4 episodes
2010–2012 Eastbound & Down Eduardo Sanchez Powers5 episodes
2011A Mann's WorldAllan MannPilot
2014–2015 From Dusk till Dawn: The Series Sheriff Earl McGraw5 episodes
2015 Blood & Oil Hap Briggs10 episodes
2016 TripTank Johnny Bahama (voice)Episode: "The Director"
2017 A Series of Unfortunate Events Sir 2 episodes
2017 Sick Note Kenny West6 episodes
2018 LA to Vegas Jack SilverEpisode: "Jack Silver" [63]
2018Daddy IssuesRomanPilot
2019 Watchmen Chief Judd Crawford4 episodes
2020 Home Movie: The Princess Bride [64] HumperdinckEpisode: "Chapter Seven: The Pit of Despair"
2021–present Kenan Rick NobleMain role, 10 episodes


Studio albums

TitleDetailsPeak chart positions
AUS [66] AUT
Heartbeat 1744353207347
Let It Roll
  • Release date: September 20, 1989
  • Label: Epic Records
  • Formats: CD, cassette
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums

The Essential


YearSinglePeak positionsAlbum
AUS [66] AUT
"Heartache Away"56223125
1987"Voice on a Hotline"59
1989"Tell It Like It Is"13626684Let It Roll
"Other People's Lives"465753
"A Better Place" (with Yuri)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart
YearSingleArtistPeak chart positionsAlbum
1988"Till I Loved You"Don Johnson and Barbra Streisand 25342226416 Till I Loved You


Awards and recognitions

1975Winner Saturn Award Best Actor [82] A Boy and His Dog
1985Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series [83] Miami Vice
1986Winner Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama [84]
1987NominatedBest Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama [84]
1988WonAPBA Offshore World CupSuperboat class [85]
1996Awarded Hollywood Walk of Fame Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame [2]

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Further reading