One of the best TV shows of all time is the Dukes of Hazzard – and we won’t hear a word against it. Among the great cast members that made the show a success was Tom Wopat who played Luke Duke – and believe it or not, this was his first major role on a television show with only a few credits to his name when he was cast.
This is because Tom Wopat Never Wanted to Be an Actor Before Dukes of Hazzard. Only once Tom became Luke did he truly fall in love with acting and he’s been at it ever since – with his latest credit in a feature film released in 2022.
But how did Tom Wopat get his start? What was his life’s journey and what made him decide to become an actor?
Join FactsVerse to learn more about his life and career…
TOM WOPAT’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Thomas Steven Wopat was born on September 9, 1951, in Lodi, Wisconsin. He was the fifth of eight children and he is of Czech descent. The town of Lodi today has just over 3,000 inhabitants so one imagines that this small town might inspire some of its residents to have big dreams and think beyond their town’s limits.
Such was the case for Tom Wopat. He dreamt of becoming a singer and later in his life he would achieve this. But Tom Wopat never wanted to be an actor – the thought had never crossed his mind.
However, he came of age at just the right time. The 1950s and 1960s were the decades when TV was becoming a huge part of American life. But by the time the 1970s and 1980s came around, you almost had to be on television if you wanted to make a name for yourself.
He secured a few small roles here and there in popular TV shows such as One Life to Live and The Love Boat. He still wasn’t particularly interested in acting but he saw this as a way to enter the entertainment industry and perhaps make some good money.
But his fate changed when he was cast in the role of Luke Duke in an unusual show that premiered on January 26, 1979. We’re, of course, talking about the Dukes of Hazzard.
TOM WOPAT’S CAREER
Tom Wopat’s character Luke Duke in the Dukes of Hazzard is arguably one of the most memorable characters we’ve ever seen on American television. And yet, Tom Wopat never imagined that he’d become a successful actor nor did he care to become one.
But his acting as Luke Duke was so perfect that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role – sorry Johnny Knoxville! What’s even crazier is that Luke Duke was one of the two leads in the role and yet a newcomer like Tom Wopat was chosen from the role. Indeed, this was a huge risk to take.
So how did it happen?
A casting director for the show had seen Tom Wopat perform on stage and felt that he was ideal for the role. Tom auditioned and though he claims he never wanted to be an actor he certainly gave a better impression than the dozens of other aspirants who wanted to become Luke Duke.
Mr. B. Donald Grant, was the programming chief of CBS at the time and he was instrumental in many of the popular aspects of the Dukes of Hazzard including having Tom Wopat in the main role. Often, he would clash heads with other studio executives who were afraid tha the show was too risky and that the premise wouldn’t work.
But Mr. Grant relented and helped this show become a major success.
Tom Wopat played Luke Duke in all 147 episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard as well as a few one-off specials and the short-lived animated series The Dukes. This became one of his most well-known characters and for many fans Tom Wopat and Luke Duke were one and the same. But he didn’t stop his acting journey with the Dukes of Hazzard.
Now let’s look at some of Tom Wopat’s other great career achievements. Toward the end of Dukes of Hazzard, Tom Wopat began looking for roles elsewhere. He acted in a slew of television movies in the mid to late 1980s. One of the most notable ones was the 1987 television movie Christmas Comes to Willow Creek.
He had a lead role in this TV movie and fans were happy to see him in a lead role other than Luke Duke. He proved that he had incredible range as an actor and that he could impress an audience with a different type of character.
This was followed by a role in the short-lived TV series Blue Skies. While the show didn’t go very far, it was a minor success and once again, Tom Wopat was lauded for his role in the show. He played the lead role of Frank Cobb – an ad executive who leaves behind his career and the city life to run a saw mill of all things. This odd role showed that Tom Wopat was eager to try different types of roles and always challenge himself. For someone who never wanted to be an actor – he was certainly taking this acting thing rather seriously!
Blue Skies was followed by another short-lived TV series called A Peaceful Kingdom. This was followed by a television film called Just My Imagination. Then, in 1995 Tom Wopat got another role of a lifetime when he was cast as Jeff Robbins in the series Cybill. Cybill was yet another short-lived show and only lasted for 22 episodes. Yet this sitcom became a huge hit and fans were pleased once again to see Tom Wopat in a meaty role.
He played the main character Cybill’s first husband and while this was a supporting role, he always managed to steal the show and this is recognized as one of his best performances.
He continued to focus on television for much of his career and after Cybill he mostly acted in small roles and bit parts in popular TV shows such as Murder She Wrote, Home Improvement, Smallville, 100 Centre Street, All My Children, and Phineas and Ferb.
Since the 2000s, he has also focused more on his film career. He’s had lead roles and supporting roles in films such as Bonneville, The Understudy, Jonah Hex, Main Street, Django Unchained, Fair Heaven, Lost Cat Corona, County Line, and his latest release County Line: All In – released in 2022. The man is 71 years old and he’s just as busy as ever!
Tom Wopat never wanted to be an actor before Dukes of Hazzard but since the show ended he’s become extremely passionate about acting and is always trying to experiment with new roles.
But despite his busy acting career – he never gave up on his initial passion for music. Tom Wopat has released 12 music albums with his first songs released on The Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack in 1981. His last album was Wopat which was released in 2017. When he’s free he still performs and records new music. Just as he’s been busy with new acting roles we’re eager to hear him release more songs and more albums.
For many fans, his best work remains his work in the Dukes of Hazzard. But he also rightfully got a lot of acclaim in his other TV series such as Blue Skies and Cybill. His film career is relatively recent and so far, there perhaps hasn’t been a film that has exploited his talents as well as his TV roles. But he’s a man full of energy and is always eager to try new things – so we expect there’ll be a film or two that’ll give him a great role just as we’ve been used to seeing in his TV roles.
TOM WOPAT’S LIFE AND LEGACY
Tom Wopat’s first wife was Vickie Allen. Their marriage ended in divorce and he later married Kirsten S. Larvick with whom he’s been married to ever since. He has 5 children.
Tom Wopat has largely lived a life free of controversy though that changed when in 2017 he was arrested while he was working on a play. He had been accused of harassing a female co-star and was also found with cocaine in his possession. He was given one year of probation.
But this hasn’t put a major dent in his career and he continued to receive regular work. While his forte has been in television, it looks like we’ll see him even more in television and when he’s free he’ll perform some songs for us.
But for many of us, we’ll always love him as Luke Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard and its various spinoffs. While he never wanted to be an actor before Dukes of Hazzard he now loves this profession and he’s so grateful for the opportunity. He often makes public appearances where he discusses his experience on the show and in interviews he’s always happy to recollect his experience on the show.
While he’s had a long and fulfilling career it seems that he’s also just getting started…
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Tom Wopat? Did you enjoy his role in Dukes of Hazzard?
We’re glad that he chose a life of acting even though he never wanted to become one before the show.
With that being said, here’s what we want to know:
Do you think that Tom Wopat’s early career is still appreciated?
Or do the TV stars of yesteryear have to always reinvent themselves to stay relevant?