Family & Companions
A tall, dark, down-to-earth leading man, typically in streetwise parts, Ken Wahl had no previous acting training or experience when he auditioned for, and landed, the role of street gang member Richie Gennaro in Philip Kaufman's "The Wanderers" (1979). His subsequent film work has been sporadic and uneven. Wahl was well-cast as Paul Newman's partner in Daniel Petrie's unsatisfying cop drama "Fort Apache, The Bronx" (1981). He was teamed romantically with Bette Midler in the aptly named "Jinxed!" (1982), their off-screen animosity spilled onscreen. While "The Soldier" (1982) offered his first leading role in an action pic, Wahl fared no better, delivering a rather one-note wooden performance. In Sidney J. Furie's "Purple Hearts" (1984), Wahl was successfully repositioned as a romantic lead, portraying a doctor in Vietnam who falls for a nurse (Cheryl Ladd). His reteaming with Furie, 1991's "The Taking of Beverly Hills" was meant to cast the actor as an action hero, but the results were pallid. As was his second feature with Daniel Petrie, "The Favor" (filmed in 1990; released in 1994), in which he was object of desire of both Harley Jane Kozak and Elizabeth McGovern.
Wahl gained his highest profile and is perhaps best known as the tough but troubled undercover agent Vinnie Terranova in "Wiseguy" (CBS, 1987-90). During his three year tenure on the series, he brought nuanced shadings to his character who often found himself attracted to the individuals he was investigating. During the first season, the interplay between Wahl and villain Ray Sharkey was multi-layered. Wahl established similar rapport with actors as varied as Kevin Spacey and Joan Severance, Stanley Tucci, William Russ and Patti D'Arbanville. Wahl's early TV credits include the short-lived crime series "Double Dare" (CBS, 1985) and the TV-movies "Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission" (NBC, 1985) and "Gladiator" (ABC, 1986). In 1990, he left "Wiseguy" in a dispute with the producers, but his career failed to take off as he had hoped. His subsequently returned to the small screen opposite Lisa Hartman Black in "Search for Grace" (CBS, 1994), a drama that more than owed a debt to Kenneth Branagh's feature "Dead Again." In 1996, Wahl reprised his role of Vinnie Terranova in "Wiseguy" (ABC), but the results were somewhat disappointing.
Health problems were among the factors that have slowed Wahl's career. He was critically injured in motorcycle accidents in 1984 and 1992, and in 1993 was rumored to have a brain tumor (which he subsequently denied). Recurrent spinal surgeries have kept him in headlines but away from the cameras for the most part.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Made feature film debut in "The Wanderers"
Made television debut as Anthony Valentine in TV-movie, "The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission"
TV series debut as Ken Sisko in the short-lived CBS crime drama, "Double Dare" opposite Billy Dee Williams
Began playing leading role of Vinnie Terranova in CBS action serial, "Wiseguy"; also worked as supervising producer; received an Emmy nomination in 1989 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Left cast of "Wiseguy"; series continued without him
Returned to features with "The Taking of Beverly Hills"
Admitted in TV interview that he is an alcoholic; claimed that only vodka could help him deal with the physical pain that resulted after a motorcycle accident
Final film appearance to date, reprising the role of Vinnie Terranova in the ABC TV-movie "Wiseguy"
Arrested after allegedly threatening bartender with a knife; released on $150,000 bail
Sentenced to undergo treatment for alcohol addiction after pleading no contest to charges stemming from his 1996 arrest