- This article is about the character from the television series. For the movie rendition, see James "Sonny" Crockett (Film).
James "Sonny" Crockett
July 29, 1953
Detective Sergeant James "Sonny" Crockett (born July 29, 1953) was an officer with the Metro-Dade Police Department, working undercover in the Organized Crime Bureau, Vice Division. He was the partner of Detective Sergeant Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs.
Crockett comes across as an aloof, laid-back, Southern policeman but in reality is a very dedicated officer who plays "by the book" and is tenacious to catch the criminals and get them off the street. He is a widower with one child, a son named Billy (born 1978) from his first marriage to Caroline Crockett that ended in divorce.
He was played in the television series by Don Johnson.
Life Before Vice
In his youth, Crockett was a "golden boy," a University of Florida Gators football star, once catching a 92 yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining in a game against Alabama, and catching the winning pass in the Gator Bowl, an act that found him being awarded the game ball. He later sustained a knee injury on the field which put an end to his sports career.
Crockett was subsequently drafted by the US Army at around the age of 20, and he served in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) for two tours in the Vietnam War, or, as he calls it, the "Southeast Asian Conference". During his first tour in 1971 he met Danny Allred, an expert cryptographer with whom he served in Pleiku. At some point during his time in Vietnam he also served with fellow infantryman Robbie Cann, who would remain a close friend after the war and even make Crockett godfather to his newborn son in 1985. Crockett's second tour was in 1975, leading up to the Fall of Saigon, and it was around that time he met combat reporter Ira Stone, who brought him in on a conspiracy being run by a man known only as "The Sergeant", who was using bodybags containing KIA soldiers as a means to smuggle heroin back to the United States in the closing months of the war.
Crockett's experiences in the war gave him great sympathy for fellow Vietnam veterans, particularly those less fortunate than himself, and would always take great care to respect their dignity and issues whenever a case involved them.
Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, Crockett returned to the United States. Wishing to continue to try to make the world a better place, he became a Metro-Dade uniformed patrol officer, then became a detective and came up under Lieutenant John Malone in Robbery. In 1976, as revealed in Leap of Faith, Crockett was shot and wounded in the line of duty for the first time. At some point he must also have taught at the Academy, as this is referenced in "Cuba Libre." Finally, sometime after 1980, he was transferred to the Organized Crime Bureau, Vice Division, and went undercover, utilizing confiscated clothing, cars, and boats to maintain his "cover" - Sonny Burnett, a drug runner & middleman. He had four partners, Frankel, who worked with him until 1980, when he was killed in 1980 by a man who would haunt Crockett throughout his life, Frank Hackman. Later Scottie Wheeler became his partner until he moved to the DEA, he was replaced by Eddie Rivera, who was killed in 1984 by a Colombian drug dealer named Calderone in a car bombing. He would finally team up with Ricardo Tubbs, a former NYPD Armed Robbery detective, with whom they formed a partnership that lasted five years. His compassion for people he feels in his heart can change is rivaled only by his tenacity to put the bad guys away. When he started in Vice he felt he could make a difference, by the end of his career his attitude completely changed to one of a burned out cop who felt ham-strung by corrupt politicians, judges, lawyers, and even law enforcement officials.
Career in Vice
It is established during the events involving Jake Pierson that Crockett idolized the Texas Rangers when he was a small boy, and gave him his first idea to be a law enforcement officer. After Vietnam, Crockett came up the ranks with two fellow Academy graduates, Mike Orgel & Evan Freed. They were, in Crockett's words, "the Three Musketeers", on the streets, "green as hell". Orgel's death at the hands of a suspect (after being outed as gay due to a Vice operation on bars and the fact Crockett said or done nothing about Evan's harassment of his friend) left Crockett with years of guilt until he & Evan were involved in a case together where Crockett was redeemed after Evan saved Crockett's life. After Rivera's death, Crockett began a "temporary working relationship" with Ricardo Tubbs that became a five-year partnership, the two of them helped bring down numerous drug cartels, including the Calderone's and the Revilla's. Their teamwork was a combination of Crockett's by-the-book and keen interest in cases and Tubbs' steady hand and background work. Crockett also backed up the others on his team, helping Trudy Joplin through her first shooting hearing, Gina Calabrese with her first undercover assignment, Stan Switek on his gambling problems, fiercely defending Larry Zito's record from IAD's finding of an overdose after Zito's murder, and his Lieutenant, Martin "Marty" Castillo, when a corrupt politician attempted to frame, then kill him. Crockett was looked on as the second-in-command of OCB, but he would rather work in the field than be behind a desk. Crockett particularly excelled at interrogation, with a disarmingly low-key style. He and Tubbs frequently played the good cop-bad cop roles with suspects or witnesses, but Crockett could and often did play both the good and bad cop himself, first shouting at the witness, then comforting her when a confession was made, a technique particularly noticeable in "Death and the Lady" and "Fruit of the Poison Tree."
In "Miami Squeeze," Crockett explained his undercover style as "The only way to get over on [the players] is to make them want to be you. You've got to hypnotize them. You've got to make them think that if they were you, they'd be a little more hip than what they are." This style could be said to have boomeranged on him, however, with Frank Hackman. Becoming obsessed with Crockett (as is shown by his later taking the name "Crockett"), Hackman engineered an elaborate plot to have Crockett undertake his release from prison, only to reveal that his repentance had all been an act. Hackman obviously enjoyed showing up Crockett, driving away in a convertible kissing his girlfriend and being cooler than Crockett. When Crockett went on to marry a rock star and become a tabloid celebrity, Hackman was again outclassed and seems to have killed Caitlin in revenge. He was clearly revelling in his imagined discomfiture of Crockett when Crockett came to see him in his island exile. However, by dispassionately executing Hackman, Crockett retained his claim to being the coolest—and even, in this case, the coldest.
Frequently investigated by IAD for wrongful deaths, Crockett was always exonerated. However, he retained a reputation with them as a "cowboy," which was somewhat justified by his willingness to use his fists to gain information or occasionally just because someone pushed him too far. He was noticeably more likely to hit someone than his partner Tubbs. In fact, some of his actions could be said to verge on police brutality, although always in defense of the innocent. When he and Tubbs were undercover, they would often pose as a team in which Tubbs did the talking while Crockett portrayed the impatiently threatening muscle in the background.
Crockett survived being shot once in the line of duty, by the girlfriend of a dealer. He always carries his primary sidearm in an underarm holster, as well as a backup gun strapped to his right ankle. His Vietnam training and his ability to shoot "military-style" serves him well in the often confrontational world of Vice policing. His subsequent police training, and his relationships with his former Robbery Department partners (such as Lieutenant John Malone, Detective Ebersole and others), helped ensure he could rely on more than just his prowess with firearms to solve the cases that came across his desk.
Despite his blond good looks ("What are you going to protect me with--a blowdryer?" asked Caitlin Davies when he first became her temporary bodyguard), Crockett was surprisingly tough. In "Viking Bikers From Hell," he survived being strangled by a psychopathic powerhouse, falling from a very high deck, and hitting his head on the side of the ship on the way down, then swimming to safety. In addition to such feats as shooting down aircraft with a handgun, he routinely and at times single-handedly dispatched large numbers of highly trained opponents, from organized criminals to ex-CIA and other military and paramilitary operatives. Perhaps his very appearance led his opponents to underestimate him, usually fatally.
In addition to his experience, tenacity, and physical abilties, many breakthroughs were made in Crockett's cases by his "police intuition," as Lieutenant Castillo called it. This was shown when he realized that he and Tubbs were being watched in "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" ("I think that Crockett may have a genuine sixth sense," Tubbs told Castillo) and his instant identification of the Savage on a crowded street. It was seen at its strongest in "Shadow in the Dark," when Crockett deliberately used this awareness to get into the Shadow's mind, risking his own sanity in the process.
Crockett's mindset can perhaps best be described by an incident he tells Ira Stone in "Back in the World," when in the Vietnam War he saw a man shooting to death two beautiful dogs because they had been trained to be too dangerous to be brought back to the United States. He thought, he says, that "Maybe I should blow him away for the same reason. And then somebody should blow me away." Given his career when he believes himself to be Burnett, he may be right that his training has been too violent for civilian life. However, he is obsessive about using his dangerous tendencies to protect the innocent, blaming himself severely for any unintentional casualties. As he tells Margaret in "Prodigal Son," "I don't want to be that dangerous guy."
Later Career and Burnout
Crockett's belief in law enforcement began to erode as he encountered more and more corruption in the justice system he was working to uphold, feelings exacerbated by the wealth of lawyers and politically-minded senior police officials who were all too eager to handcuff his attempts at combating the influx of drugs into Miami if they felt it might advance their own career. Repeated personal tragedies only increased Crockett's growing distaste for his job; eventually, and perhaps inevitably, he began to burn out and question his once total commitment to the police force. Perhaps the biggest blow to his faith in justice occurred when an explosion left him with amnesia, leading him to mistakenly adopt his criminal alias Sonny Burnett and go to work for the very dealers he was fighting so hard to destroy. The whole sequence of events left him traumatised at what he had done, and struggling to regain the trust and loyalty of the rest of the Vice team.
The seemingly never-ending tide of cartels pouring into the city were also beginning to take their toll on the once idealistic officer. It became increasingly apparent to Crockett that no matter how hard he worked, every time he busted a major dealer, several more were simply waiting in the wings to replace them. Crockett's feelings of hopelessness and betrayal by those above him came to a head when he and Tubbs were sent to rescue the despot General Borbon from Central America, ostensibly so that he could testify against major drug producers in his home country, only to find out subsequently that the whole affair was a set-up to ensure Borbon's silence regarding corruption in the very highest levels of the American government. Finally unable to take the deceit that was crippling their ability to dispense justice in Miami, both Crockett and Tubbs quit the force in disgust, despite Castillo's (perhaps improbable) claims that they could continue to fight the good fight.
Crockett shared a heartfelt goodbye with Tubbs, quipping that he would keep his "stolen" Ferrari, and vowed to head "somewhere further south, where the water is warm, the drinks are cold... and I don't know the names of the players."
Raised in a family with a largely absentee and possibly alcoholic father, Crockett had an older brother, Jake, who protected him from bullies in their youth. He also had a cousin, Jack. Young Crockett idolized Jack and his motorcycle, although he would never take Crockett for a ride, later claiming that he was afraid he would corrupt the family's "golden boy." As he grew, Jack got into all kinds of get-rich-quick schemes, frauds, and finally the bait-and-switch that got him (and Sonny) into trouble with the mob and a drug dealer. Sonny got them out of the fix Jack caused and sent him on his way with $50,000 in counterfeit currency. Sonny's boyhood hero-worship of Jack seems to have given him a soft spot for conmen, whom he seldom arrests, as seen in "Phil the Shill" and "The Cows of October". It also may be the reason that when Crockett finally agrees to take some vacation time after Caitlin's death, he chooses to rent or buy a motorcycle and take off on it, like Jack. Unfortunately, in this case Jack's influence is again negative, as the motorcycle takes Crockett into the vacation from hell.
Before the series begins Crockett is married to Caroline, with whom he had his son, William "Billy". Years of the Vice lifestyle (including a hit-man nearly killing all of them) caused their marriage to end in a painful divorce. Crockett began an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow Vice cop Gina Calabrese, usually when one or both needed comfort or someone to talk to. His other relationships were with a high-profile architect named Brenda, which caused him to sway from his duties, resulting in Tubbs being beaten up by a suspect. Then he moved on to Margaret, a New York woman who turned out to be working for someone trying to kill him, followed by Sara Davis, a flight stewardess who kept him company on her return flights to Miami (and died after one of the cocaine balloons in her GI tract came open); Dr. Theresa Lyons, who was a drug addict that he got help for in another state; Christine Von Marburg, who turned out to be a madam. He later met singer Caitlin Davies on assignment; after some friction they fell in love and married in a whirlwind romance, but she was killed over a year later by Frank Hackman. Upon hearing that Caitlin was pregnant, Crockett was driven to kill Hackman in cold blood. After Caitlin's death, Crockett had no further relationships aside from a brief affair with Kathleen Gilfords, but as his alter-ego, Sonny Burnett, he had flings with Miguel Manolo's art director Polly Wheeler, and Oscar Carrera's trophy wife Celeste. In his Crockett persona, he seems to prefer intelligent professional women, including those who are better educated than he is.
His many romances show how suceptible Crockett could be to women. Indeed, he seemed to have a strong need to protect them. This was particularly seen in "Death and the Lady," when Glantz's sadism towards women enraged Crockett, first into saying, "You know what really turns me on? The idea of you in a room with all the fathers of all the girls you've turned out." By the end of the episode, he was so eaten up by knowing that Glantz had gotten away with murder that he crossed the line and beat Glantz, saying, "Is that sexy? Do you like that?" Similarly, in "Junk Love,' he didn't even try to stop Rosella from shooting her abusive father and showed more sympathy for her than Tubbs even before he knew what her true situation was. This unusually strong need to protect women may have stemmed from his childhood; if his father was, as was suggested in some episodes, alcoholic and frequently absentee, he may also have been abusive, giving Crockett a drive to protect other women as young Crockett could not protect his mother.
Ultimately, Crockett is defined by his passion -- for justice, for protecting the innocent, and for those he loves.
Outside of the Show
Owing to the immense popularity of the character, Crockett has also made several official appearances outside of Miami Vice. In 1985, Ridley Scott directed a commercial for Pepsi featuring Don Johnson as Crockett, alongside Glenn Frey (who had appeared as Jimmy Cole in the episode "Smuggler's Blues" the previous year). Frey's song "You Belong to the City", which had originally been written specifically for Miami Vice, was also used.
Crockett appeared in a commercial again in 2010, this time for Nike, featuring in a sketch with basketball star LeBron James (who played for the Miami Heat). The scene used "Crockett's Theme" as background music.
Appearance and Style
In a vague sense, Crockett's appearance and style do not change much; He is always known to have blonde hair and a sun tan, and is usually seen sporting a 5 o'clock shadow and wearing a loose fitting suit over a T-shirt, paired with deck shoes or loafers without socks. However, over the seasons various aspects of Crockett's appearance change; in the first season Crockett's hairstyle is short and parted over on the side; in the second season it becomes slightly longer in the front and becomes a combed back bouffant-like style; in the third season Crockett's hairstyle becomes short and spikey, and gradually grows out in the back, making it mullet-like; in the fourth season Crockett's hairstyle reverts to being bouffant-like in the front and remains mullet-like, and grows out as the season progresses; for the fifth season Crockett is first portrayed with a stylish ponytail until he regains his memory, after which his hairstyle becomes long and parted over on one side and continues to grow to its longest length.
In the first two seasons Crockett's suits and shirts are tailored in pastel colors, while they are instead dark neons for the third season; In the fourth season Crockett's clothing style becomes a mixture of his first two looks; In the fifth season Crockett wears darker shades different from the other seasons and also begins being seen half the time with stonewashed blue jeans and/or a jean jacket paired with sneakers or cowboy boots. Don Johnson originally wanted Crockett to dress more like an urban cowboy, with leather boots, jeans and buttoned shirts, It was only when he arrived in Miami and felt the constant heat and humidity that he changed his mind and followed Michael Mann's ideas of a pastel linen suit look for Crockett.
In the very early portion of the first season, Crockett wears brown Carrera 5512 Large sunglasses and Alpina TR 4 glasses; for most of the first season and all of the second season, Crockett wears tortoise shell Ray-Ban Wayfarers. In the third season, Crockett wears black Persol Ratti 69218 glasses. For the fourth and fifth seasons, Crockett wears black Ray Ban Wayfarers, however he wore blue mirrored Revo sunglasses while masquerading as Sonny Burnett.
In season 1-2, Crockett was a chain smoker, something that was initially considered by some fans to be one of his trademarks. Some episodes (such as "Brother's Keeper" and "Calderone's Return (Part II)") showed that he preferred unfiltered Lucky Strikes. Throughout season 3, Crockett was no longer seen smoking, and by the season 4 episode "Death and the Lady", he reveals that he has quit altogether. This change was a result of real-life pressure from censors in 1986 during the height of Miami Vice's popularity, as they expressed concern that young men who tried to emulate Crockett would take up smoking.
As an interesting bit of trivia, Sonny Crockett's fashion was allegedly inspired by John Taylor of Duran Duran, who, in the video for "Hungry Like the Wolf" is seen wearing a white sportcoat and white slacks with no shirt and slip-on shoes. As the show was in development at the time of the video, this idea was noted. Conversely, Don Johnson maintains that his not wearing buttoned shirts or socks with his suits, as well as the often rolled up sleeves, were simply due to the intense heat he encountered in Miami during filming of the episodes, which caused him to remove items of clothing to be comfortable.
Crockett drove the confiscated cars of high-rolling criminals that Metro-Dade took down, mainly expensive sports cars to fit in with his undercover drug dealer personality. He has a particularly affinity for Ferraris, and five out of the six vehicles he is seen using are black. His cars included:
- A black 1978 Porsche 911 SC Targa (opening sequence of "Forgive Us Our Debts")
- A black 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona (seasons 1-2 and two episodes of season 3)
- A black 1981 Ferrari BB 512i (1985 Pepsi commercial)
- A black 1959 Chevrolet Task-Force Apache 31 (briefly, after the Daytona was blown up)
- A white 1986 Ferrari Testarossa (seasons 3-5)
- A black 1986 Ferrari 328 GTS (rented in LA in "Rock and a Hard Place")
As a significant amount of smuggling in Miami involves moving contraband over the water, Crockett also owned several high-speed cigarette boats during the course of the series. Furthermore, his permanent residence was a sailboat moored in one of Miami's many harbours, which he shared with his pet alligator Elvis. His boats included:
- A white and blue 1984 Chris Craft Stinger 390x (season 1)
- A silver, blue and black 1986 Wellcraft SCARAB 38' KV (season 2-5)
- The St. Vitus Dance (whole series; portrayed by a Cabo Rico 38 in the pilot, an Endeavour 40 in season 1, and an Endeavour 42 in seasons 2-5)
Many of Crockett's vehicles appear in the video games Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (both of which featured Philip Michael Thomas voicing the character Lance Vance), including his Ferrari Daytona (as the "Stinger"), his Testarossa (as the "Cheetah"), his Stinger speedboat (as the "Squalo") and the St. Vitus Dance (as the "Marquis"). Both games were heavily inspired by Miami Vice and can be seen as homages to the show.
Crockett's signature weapon was the high-tech, stainless steel pistol he carried as his primary sidearm, and he carried three such weapons during the course of the series. However, the first handgun he is seen with, in the pilot episode, is a SIG Sauer P220 chambered in .45 ACP (known in the United States at the time as the Browning BDA 45, after it was imported and re-branded by Browning). It was only used in this one episode, and when the show was picked up Crockett switched to the style of handgun that he would become famous for throughout the series with his adoption of the then-state-of-the-art Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten chambered in 10mm Auto. The use of the Bren Ten on Miami Vice was the first media appearance of the gun, and it generated such consumer interest that Dornaus & Dixon were unable to meet the demand and the company went out of business two years later. As a result, Crockett switched to a 2nd generation Smith & Wesson automatic, the model 645 in .45 ACP, at the start of the third season. At the beginning of the 5th and final season, Crockett was issued the brand new, updated version of the 645, the 4506, also chambered in .45 ACP.
Over the course of the series, Crockett also armed himself with a backup weapon in an ankle holster. In the pilot, this was a Detonics Pocket 9 in 9mm Parabellum, although, as with his primary weapon, this was changed when the show was picked up, to a Detonics Combat Master chambered in .45 ACP. This lasted until the start of season 4, when, in keeping with Crockett's tendency to use Smith & Wesson firearms in later seasons, he started using a Smith & Wesson 6906 chambered in 9mm Parabellum as his backup.
The selection of Crockett's personal weaponry was dictated by Michael Mann and other firearms experts on the show, who felt that he should use the most "modern" firearms available. It was also decided that any weaponry Crockett used had to fit with his drug-dealing alter-ego, and therefore needed to be superior to traditional police-issue firearms in terms of both expense and styling. As a result of these ground rules, the two Smith & Wessons he used during the series were brand new additions to the firearms market, while his Bren Ten was the first (and, for some time, only) handgun to fire the 10mm Auto round.
Crockett also used heavier weapons when the occasion called for it, including an Heckler & Koch MP5A3 in "Calderone's Return (Part II)", a Steyr AUG in the episode "Out Where the Buses Don't Run", and an Armsel Striker 12 gauge in the final episode, "Freefall". During his time as the "real" Sonny Burnett in seasons 4 and 5, Crockett armed himself with a distinctive two-toned SIG Sauer P220, with a black slide and silver frame.
- As is obvious from its title, the Jan Hammer track "Crockett's Theme" served as the show's theme tune for Crockett, appearing in numerous episodes that focused on the character. It went on to become perhaps the most famous piece of music Hammer composed for the show after his "Miami Vice Theme". It was first used in "Calderone's Return (Part I)".
- Given the length of time that Crockett's Burnett cover name was in operation, it seems strange that not a single criminal in Miami was ever aware of Burnett's true identity until after they had entered into business with him. To give just one example, when Mario Fuente escapes prosecution at the end of "Payback", he is actually aware that Burnett is really a cop and intends to hunt him down, and yet Crockett continues to use the cover name for the rest of the series and never encounters anyone who knows that he is in fact an undercover cop.