Did you grow up watching the drama and comedy series Black Sheep Squadron? The series ran for 2 seasons and had 36 episodes, aired from September 23, 1976 to April 6, 1978. While a short-lived show, it was nonetheless a popular show and one that has become perhaps one of the most important shows in American television history.
The show was a success due to its excellent writing and direction. But it’s the Black Sheep Squadron cast members who really made the show memorable – and they are the reason why we still love the show today.
Sadly, many of the Black Sheep Squadron cast members have since passed away. Their lives and careers should be an inspiration to us all.
Join FactsVerse to learn about the Black Sheep Squadron Cast members who died too soon…
Robert Conrad was born as Conrad Robert Falk on March 1, 1935, in Chicago. He dropped out of school as a teenager and took on different odd jobs to support himself. Most notably, he was a driver for a milk truck and also loaded trucks Consolidated Freightways as well as Eastern Freightways.
But it was clear that he was destined for more and he desired to do something more meaningful with his life – something that would make him remembered. He eventually enrolled in Northwestern University where he studied Theater Arts with the goal of becoming an actor.
His mother had contacts in show business and would help him land gigs here and there but he still had to struggle to find roles in films and television shows. He had also studied singing and even recorded a few singles.
He was eventually cast in Hawaiian Eye as Detective Tom Lopaka and this is what helped him catapult his career. By the time he was cast in Black Sheep Squadron, he was already one of TV’s biggest stars.
In the show, he played Pappy Boyington – a portrayal of the real-life WWII fighter pilot. He won much acclaim for his role in the show.
His career went from strength to strength afterward and he mostly appeared in television shows with the occasional film role. He also worked as a producer of TV shows later in his career.
His final TV role was in an episode of Nash Bridges released in 2000 and his final film role was in the feature film Dead Above Ground released in 2002.
He died from heart failure on February 8, 2020. He was 84 years old.
Robert Ginty was born on November 14, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York.
He became interested in music at a young age and eventually became a prominent drummer. He played alongside notable artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Carlos Santana. However, while he loved music – it seemed that acting would be his true calling.
He studied at the prestigious The Actor’s Studio and here he honed his craft – hoping that it’d lead to great roles in films and television. His hard work certainly paid off.
Upon moving to California in the 1970s, to call him ‘busy’ would be an understatement. He appeared in several popular TV shows in bit parts, small roles, and the occasional recurring role.
His role in Black Sheep Squadron as First Lieutenant TJ Wiley is what made him a star. Though the show was short lived and as a result so was his character – it was enough for him to get the attention of audiences, critics, and producers alike.
It was all uphill from there and he had a prolific and versatile career in both film and television. While Black Sheep Squadron was the show he was most known for he also appeared in shows such as The Love Boat, Diff’rent Strokes, Simon and Simon, and In The Heat of the Night.
He also acted in films such as Gold Raiders, The Act, The Alchemist, Mission Kill, Loverboy, Lady Dragon, Taken Alive, and The Prophet’s Game.
He sadly left us too soon when he died at the age of 60 on September 21, 2009, due to cancer.
Jeff MacKay was a character actor known for his work in film and television. He was born on October 20, 1948, in Dallas, Texas. His first acting credit came when he was 26 and he appeared as Culley Joe in the feature film Hot Summer in Barefoot County.
This was a comedy and action film that involved a cop trying to go after a gang of women involved in selling moonshine. The film was a huge hit and it brought immediate attention to Jeff MacKay despite the fact that he had a supporting role.
His career couldn’t have started better and it seemed that the work never stopped coming in.
His first character on television would also become hugely popular – talk about having all the luck, eh?
He played Gordie Masterson – first in The Krofft Supershow and later in the series Dr. Shrinker. Immediately after this hit show came to an end, he was cast as First Lieutenant Donald French in Black Sheep Squadron and this became one of his best-known roles.
Later in life, he became popular once again with his role as Lieutenant McReynolds in Magnum PI. His final TV series was the show JAG on which he appeared in 12 episodes – playing different characters each time. His final film was the 2010 film December, where he played the lead role.
He left us too soon at the age of 59 on August 22, 2008, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He died from liver failure.
Charles Napier was one of our most well-known and well-loved character actors.
He was born on April 12, 1936, in Mount Union, Kentucky. He did many jobs during his adult life including being a basketball coach, working for a bridge company, and even for an advertising firm. But he was eventually persuaded to pursue acting and he studied the craft at graduate school.
This proved to be the best decision he ever made. He loved studying acting and he was eager to pursue it as a career. His first major role was in the Russ Meyer film Cherry, Harry, and Raquel – in which he played the lead role of Harry. This exploitation film was one of Russ Meyer’s earliest hits and it was all uphill for Charles Napier going forward.
He became well-known mostly for his roles in B-movies especially those made by Russ Meyer. But just as his movie career was growing so was his TV career and it seemed there wasn’t a TV show in syndication where he didn’t have a bit part or even a recurring role.
In Black Sheep Squadron he played Major Red Buell in two episodes. He was so popular by this time that his appearances in the show boosted the ratings and many die-hard fans of the show feel his episodes are some of the best.
He was such a hardworking actor that his final credit was in 2011 – the same year he died. Charles Napier died at the age of 75 on October 5, 2011, in California. His cause of death wasn’t released but he had collapsed the day before and he had suffered from deep vein thrombosis the previous year.
Anne Francis was born on September 16, 1930, in New York.
She began her career in show business as a child – first working as a model at age 5 and later debuting on Broadway when she was only 11. Her film career began in the late 1940s and it wasn’t long until she became a leading lady and a sex symbol.
As the 1950s came to a close, the film offers decreased but she was able to migrate to acting regularly in television shows.
On Black Sheep Squadron she played Lieutenant Commander Gladys Hope – who was the head nurse. Her appearance on the show was welcome and many fans were pleased that one of the biggest and most iconic actresses of yesteryear was appearing on this great show.
She worked prolifically throughout the decades – even till the early 2000s.
She died at the age of 80 on January 2, 2011 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.
Soon-Tek Oh was born on June 29, 1932, in present-day South Korea. Just before the Korean War began, he and his family emigrated to the United States.
He began his acting career in 1966 though for much of his early career he appeared in uncredited roles – often playing smaller roles which was the norm for Asian-American actors of the time.
However, as the 1970s and 1980s approached he began getting meatier roles – mostly playing supporting roles in feature films and TV movies. His most notable films include One More Train to Rob, Good Guys Wear Black, The Man With the Golden Gun, Death Wish 4, The Letter, and The Final Countdown.
He had two small roles on Black Sheep Squadron where he played Lieutenant Miragochi in the episode “Divine Wind” and Colonel Tokura in the episode “Poor Little Lambs.” Later in his career, he was probably best known for voicing the character Fa Zhou in the Disney animated film Mulan.
His final credit was in the 2006 feature film Les formidables.
He died on April 4, 2018, due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 85 years old.
Are you a fan of Black Sheep Squadron? The show was a mix of drama and comedy and told us the important story of fighter pilots during the Second World War.
Now, here’s what we’d like to hear from you:
Do you think that a sitcom or drama series focused on the military would be popular today?
Or do today’s audiences not enjoy or care for themes related to the military and wars?