Miami Vice Wiki
Don Johnson


December 15, 1949
Flat Creek, Missouri
Miami Vice Characters
Miami Vice Director
Miami Vice Performer
Years active
Melanie Griffith (1976, 1989-1996)
Kelley Phleger (1999-present)

Donnie Wayne "Don" Johnson (born December 15, 1949), is an American actor with a long career in films and television. He made his acting debut in 1970, but it wasn't until 1984 he landed his defining role as Detective James "Sonny" Crockett in Miami Vice, for which he received a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination. He would later return to the police genre in 1996 for the lead role in Nash Bridges (for which he was also executive producer along with Carlton Cuse, creator of Lost). He has also had a recording, songwriting, and directing career.

As well as his starring role in the show, Johnson's songs "Streetwise" (in "Streetwise") and "No Way Out" (with Tim Truman, in "Freefall") appeared in Miami Vice. His songs "Heartbeat" (on The best of Miami Vice, 1989) and "Tell It Like It Is" (The Best of Miami Vice, 1996) also appeared on the series' official soundtrack albums, despite never actually appearing in the show itself.

Early life

Johnson was born in Flat Creek, Missouri in 1949. His father was a farmer while his mother was a beautician. At the age of 6, he moved from Missouri to Wichita, Kansas, where he graduated from Wichita South High School in 1967 and attended the University of Kansas. In the late 1960s, he was one of the contestants on the popular television show The Dating Game, and was in a psychedelic rock band called Horses. Also in the band were future members of the band Kingfish, which featured Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir. The band put out one self-titled record on the White Whale label in 1969, later re-issued in 2004 & 2005.


Johnson studied drama at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. His first role as Smitty in the Los Angeles stage show Fortune and Men's Eyes led to his film debut in 1970's The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart. He went on to other roles in Zachariah, The Harrad Experiment (where he first met Melanie Griffith), Return to Macon County and the sci-fi cult classic A Boy and His Dog, for which he shared the first Saturn Award (for the scifi/horror genre) for Best Actor with James Caan for Rollerball. He appeared on television police dramas such as The Rookies, The Streets of San Francisco, Police Story and Barnaby Jones, and filmed several pilots for NBC, none of which were picked up. By 1984, Johnson was stuck in obscurity.

Miami Vice

Johnson as Sonny Crockett

Johnson got his big break when he was cast as James "Sonny" Crockett, the leadrole in Miami Vice. Johnson's character was an undercover Vice detective. To maintain his cover as a high dollar drug middleman, he wore Versace and Hugo Boss suits over pastel cotton shirts and shoes with no socks, while maintaining what was known as "designer stubble". He drove luxurious, exotic sports cars, including a Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona and a Ferrari Testarossa, and he lived on a sailing yacht in a Miami harbour called the St. Vitus Dance with his pet alligator Elvis.

His success in the role led to other opportunities such as the 1985 TV remake of The Long, Hot Summer featuring Cybill Sheppard. It also led to a tense salary dispute between the second and third seasons of Vice that disrupted the filming schedule and resulted in Michael Mann issuing Johnson an ultimatum: return to the show or be replaced. Johnson ultimately relented and returned to work for far less money than he had hoped for, but the delay caused the third season premiere, "El Viejo" to be pushed back to later in the season, creating a famous continuity goof regarding his Ferrari Daytona.

While working on Vice, Johnson had a career in powerboat racing and won the APBA World Cup in the superboat class in 1988. Johnson also took an active role in the production of Miami Vice—he directed four episodes of the show (one in each season from the second through to the fifth), and his friendship with Tim Truman was allegedly instrumental in the composer's recruitment to the show as Jan Hammer's replacement for season five. In that final season, Johnson's role as Crockett was reduced to just minor appearances in several of the episodes as he worked on his music career and sought other opportunities due to the series' impending cancellation.

Music career

In the late 1970s, Johnson co-wrote two songs that appeared on the Allman Brothers Band's album Enlightened Rogues. During Miami Vice's run, Johnson recorded his first solo album, Heartbeat, featuring the title track and his cover of "Tell It Like It Is" (the original version of which by Aaron Neville featured in Miami Vice). The album's title track reached the Billboard Top 10 in 1986 while the album went gold. He released a duet with then-girlfriend Barbra Striesand, Till I Loved You, which reached the Top 30 in 1988, and his final solo album, Let It Roll was released in 1989 and did not chart, though his remake of "Tell It Like It Is" was a minor hit in Europe. Johnson also performed a song, "Streetwise", for the the episode of the same name, featuring Olivia Brown and Whoopi Goldberg on backing vocals, and sang on a Tim Truman song, "No Way Out", used in the series finale "Freefall".

After Vice/Nash Bridges

After Miami Vice was cancelled in 1989, Johnson once again returned to films, appearing with then-wife Melanie Griffith in Paradise and Born Yesterday, and with Rebecca De Mornay in Guilty as Sin. In 1996, just as his marriage to Griffith was ending, he returned to television in the starring role of Carlton Cuse's Nash Bridges, as well as co-Executive Producer. Bridges was a detective in the San Francisco Police's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), alongside Cheech Marin. Johnson once again got a sports car to drive, a 1971 Plymouth HemiCuda. Philip Michael Thomas reunited with Johnson in two episodes, playing a DEA agent from Miami. The series ran for six years until CBS cancelled it in 2001. In 2005, the WB network brought Johnson back in a series, Just Legal, as a veteran lawyer paired with a young partner, although the show was cancelled after just three episodes. Afterwards Johnson moved to London for the West End production of Guys and Dolls, appearing as Nathan Detroit in 2007, then returned to television in the cable series Eastbound & Down (2010-2013) and From Dusk to Dawn: The Series (2014-2015, with Esai Morales), then to network television in the series Blood & Oil in 2015, Watchmen(with David Andrews) in 2019, and in 2021 he starred in the series Kenan, then reprised his role as Nash Bridges in a TV movie.

Sonny Crockett in Nike's 2010 commercial

Johnson's more recent roles have been notably tongue-in-cheek. In 2010, he appeared in a Nike commercial with basketball star LeBron James, sporting James "Sonny" Crockett's trademark white blazer, pastel pink T-shirt and "designer stubble"; although he went unnamed in the advert, the prominent use of "Crockett's Theme" for background music left no doubt as to who the character was supposed to be. Later in the year, Johnson returned to cinema with a role as a US border vigilante in Robert Rodriguez's Machete—despite still enjoying lasting fame for his role as Crockett more than 25 years before, the film's opening credits humorously stated that it was "introducing Don Johnson", as if for the first time. Johnson's notable recent movie roles were in 2012's Django Unchained, 2014's Cold in July, The Other Woman and Alex of Venice, and 2018's Book Club.

Personal life

Johnson met Melanie Griffith in 1973 during filming of The Harrad Experiment, which also starred Griffith's mother, Tippi Hedren. They were married briefly in 1976. Johnson was also involved with Lynn Whitfield and famous rock groupie Pamela Des Barres in the 1970s. In 1981, he began a four year relationship with Patti D'Arbanville that would produce a son, Jesse Johnson, in 1982. After Johnson & D'Arbanville's relationship ended, Griffith appeared in the Miami Vice episode "By Hooker by Crook", and the steamy love scene rekindled their romance, though it took two years to foster. In 1988, Johnson had a relationship with Barbra Streisand, during which she had a uncredited walk through role in Vice. In 1989, Griffith and Johnson remarried, and had a daughter, Dakota (Fifty Shades Trilogy). They would divorce again in 1996 and while Griffith married Antonio Banderas, Johnson later met and married his current wife, Kelley Phleger, a San Francisco socialite. With Phleger he has three children: daughter Atherton Grace (born 1999) and sons Jasper (born 2002) and Deacon (born 2006). In 2008, Johnson barely avoided foreclosure on his Colorado home, paying off a $14.5 million debt less than 24 hours before the property was to go under the auctioneer's hammer.  In January, 2013, Johnson was awarded $15 million after a long legal battle with the company (Rysher Entertainment) that produced Nash Bridges.  Johnson was originally awarded $50 million by a jury in 2010 but that award was appealed and the settlement was reached.