Family & Companions
Though he received a great deal of acclaim early in his career for his performance as Buddy Holly in "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978), actor Gary Busey let his best work become overshadowed by increasingly bizarre personal behavior and speculation that a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1988 had rendered him with a degree of brain damage. Adding fuel to the fire was a long struggle with cocaine and alcohol abuse, and occasional descents into violent behavior, which led Busey to embody an unsettling persona both on and off the screen. With film roles like the psychotic henchman Mr. Joshua in "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and an aging detective in "Point Break" (1991), the actor worked steadily in a wide array of popular movies and usually stole every scene he was in. Following solid supporting turns in "Under Siege" (1992) and "The Firm" (1993), Busey seemed destined to have a long, lucrative career as a talented character actor. But his increasingly troubled public appearances, which were marked by rambling bouts of armchair spirituality and sudden shifts in demeanor, generally earned more attention. While consistently working as a B-movie villain throughout the following decades, Busey occasionally winked at his public perception, as he did with his recurring stint as a crazier version of himself on "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-11). Though he seemed to confirm his troubled personal life with an appearance on "Celebrity Rehab" (VH1, 2008-12), Busey nonetheless remained one of the most - if not the most - unique performer working in Hollywood.
Gary Busey was born in the east coast Texas town of Goose Creek (now Baytown) on June 29, 1944 and grew up in Tulsa, OK, where his father worked in construction. A born entertainer, Busey's first outlet was music, and he constructed a drum set out of oatmeal canisters before driving his family truly crazy with a set of Ludwigs. He also sang at the Christian camp where he spent summers and broadened his interests to include acting after he was mesmerized by a matinee of Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah" (1949). As a teen, Busey cultivated an athletic build while working on local ranches and excelled at football, landing an athletic scholarship to Pittsburg State University in Kansas. When a serious knee injury sidelined his sports aspirations, Busey turned his attention to drama, eventually joining the theater department at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. While a student there in 1966, Busey co-founded a bluesy rock band called Carp. After several years of playing local parties and biker bars, they headed to Hollywood in search of a record deal, landing one with Epic and releasing a self-titled album in 1969. When Carp failed to generate much commercial success, most of the band's members went on to become studio musicians, while Busey took advantage of his new locale to revive his earlier acting efforts.
Busey landed his first small screen role in a 1970 episode of the Western "The High Chaparral" (NBC, 1967-1971) and the following year made his big screen debut as a hippie in the low budget Roger Corman biker flick "Angels Hard as They Come" (1971). In 1972, he returned to Tulsa, where he became a regular performer on a local sketch comedy show and appeared in the locally filmed "Dirty Little Billy" (1972) before snaring a high profile role alongside Jeff Bridges in "The Last American Hero" (1973), about NASCAR racer Elroy Jackson, Jr. That same year he earned the unusual pop culture distinction of being the last character ever to die on "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973). Busey joined the fine supporting cast (including Bridges, again) of Michael Cimino's feature directing debut "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974) before enjoying a brief stint as series regular Truckie Wheeler of "The Texas Wheelers" (ABC, 1974-75). Busey returned to the music business in 1975 touring as drummer for Oklahoma songwriter Leon Russell, who had first become a fan of Busey through his popular Tulsa TV character Teddy Jack Eddy. Busey also played drums on Russell's classic album Will o' the Wisp that year, in addition to recording with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kinky Friedman, and contributing the song "Since You've Gone Away" to Robert Altman's epic film "Nashville" (1975).
Busey's music background proved key to truly igniting his film career. His turn as the road manager who keeps Kris Kristofferson in line in "A Star Is Born" (1976) brought him his first widespread attention, though his title role in "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) made him a star. Busey had always felt a special spiritual kinship with the iconic Texas songwriter-guitarist who died tragically young in an icy plane crash, and his spot-on portrayal of the man and his music earned Busey a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his efforts. Despite his highly acclaimed leading role, Busey's ensuing career consisted mainly of charismatic supporting roles, his potential possibly compromised by a new cocaine addiction that he would battle for decades. He was convincing as a small time carnival hustler in the atmospheric road movie "Carny" (1980) and provided able country boy-support as the protégé of a legendary outlaw (Willie Nelson) in the well-received "Barbarosa" (1982). In one of his rare appearances in a comedy Busey played one of a crew of misfit taxi drivers in "D.C. Cab" (1983) and also contributed the song, "Why Baby Why" to the soundtrack.
His sports prowess and ability to crank up the high-drama masculine energy made for strong performances as Alabama State football coach Paul Bryant in "The Bear" (1984), and as a baseball playing icon in "Insignificance" (1985), Nicolas Roeg's gloriously cinematic examination of fame in America. But Busey's highest profile role of the era was as a nasty drug dealing Vietnam vet in "Lethal Weapon" (1988). His Mr. Joshua had ice in his veins, and though the ruthless albino killer was the actor's first screen villain, it would certainly not be his last. Busey would go on to make a name for himself with supporting characters that were truly terrifying. His career was interrupted, however, by a motorcycle accident in 1988 that fractured his skull. The actor received a lot of press during his recovery for defending his choice not to wear a helmet and for his claim of a roadside, near-death experience. Doctors feared Busey had suffered brain damage, and his increasingly strange ramblings and pseudo-philosophy while making public appearances seemed to support that theory.
Busey returned to the screen to co-star with Danny Glover in the minor sc-fi hit "Predator 2" (1990) and the absurd but blockbusting caper/extreme sports hybrid "Point Break" (1991) starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. He was a little too good as the disturbed former psychiatric patient in the routine thriller "Hider in the House" (1991) and continued his villainous run as the evil thug plotting to steal nuclear weapons in Steven Seagal's mega-hit actioner "Under Siege" (1992). Busey enjoyed a supporting role as a private investigator in the legal thriller "The Firm" (1993) before returning to the sports genre with a co-starring role as an aging pro baseball player in the light "Rookie of the Year" (1993). Busey's role as a former DEA agent in John Badham's 1994 actioner "Drop Zone" was ironic, as the actor was shortly thereafter arrested for drug possession, suffered a drug overdose, and spent time in rehab at the Betty Ford Center. Newly sober, Busey became an enthusiastic born-again Christian and ordained minister active with the Promise Keepers men's group. But just as the unpredictable actor seemed to be gaining a new lease on life, he averted disaster yet again when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his sinus cavity.
After recuperating from surgery and radiation treatment, Busey seemed poised to resume his improved Hollywood standing, landing in a remake of the TV series "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 1968-1980), but the show's pilot was reportedly a disaster and the project never moved forward. Busey rebounded with a starring role in the well-received Spanish-American war miniseries "Rough Riders" (TNT, 1997) and enjoyed cameos in art house flicks "Lost Highway" (1997) and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) before a pair of arrests for domestic violence charges filed by ex-wife Tiani Warden and a string of dismal low-budget films reduced Busey's name to a pop culture curiosity, known more for the mug shot seen 'round the world than for the promise he had once shown as an actor. Embracing his new reputation, Busey began to appear as an oddball artifact on "The Man Show" (Comedy Central, 1999-2004) and Howard Stern's radio show before cementing his tarnished image as the center of Comedy Central's "I'm with Busey" reality show (2003). Over 13 uncomfortable episodes, Busey shared his off-kilter wisdom of the world with alleged fan and buddy Adam de la Pena. It was unclear whether Busey's bizarre philosophical outbursts and explosive behavior were due to a mental unraveling or whether he was amping up the crazy factor for audience benefit.
The show did not paint a flattering portrait of the star but it raised his profile enough to land a recurring role (as himself) on HBO's hot Hollywood drama "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-11). Busey's personal life was back in the headlines in 2004 when he was taken to court for failing to pay rent on his rented Malibu home and arrested for not showing up at a hearing related to alleged millions owed his ex-wife. In 2005, Busey claimed his prayers for a fitness opportunity were answered when he was asked to join the cast of the VH1 weight loss chronicle "Celebrity Fit Club 2," during which he allegedly lost 50 pounds. Busey's film career was busier than ever regardless of his reputation, with the actor headlining over 20 low-budget and direct-to-DVD titles from 2004-06. He made gossip column headlines in February of 2008 for a red carpet appearance at the Academy Awards that sent nervous stars including Jennifer Garner - whose neck he appeared to either bite or kiss - and E! host Ryan Seacrest looking for the exit. Busey next appeared on the second season of "Celebrity Rehab" (VH1, 2008-12). He claimed to appear on the show not as an addict, but as an inspirational figure for the other patients, which initially confused the show's star, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Busey nonetheless went through an enormously successful transformation. Following a cameo appearance in the hit comedy "Grown Ups" (2009), starring Adam Sandler, David Spade and Chris Rock, Busey joined the season four cast of the celebrity version of "The Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), playing for charity against the likes of model Niki Taylor, former "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch, and rap star Lil Jon.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Co-founded a bluesy rock band called Carp (formerly known as The Rubber Band)
Recorded a self titled album with Epic records
Landed first small screen role on an episode of the NBC Western "The High Chaparral"
Made big screen debut as a hippie in the low budget Roger Corman film "Angels Hard as They Come"
Supported Jeff Bridges (as stock car racing legend Junior Johnson) in "The Last American Hero"
TV-movie debut, "Blood Sport" (ABC)
Acted opposite Martin Sheen in the NBC movie "The Execution of Private Slovik"
Debut as series regular, playing Truckie Wheeler on ABC's "The Texas Wheelers"
Contributed the song "Since You've Gone Away" to Robert Altman's "Nashville"
First gained national attention as Kris Kristofferson's road manager in "A Star Is Born"
Delivered breakout role playing the rock and roll legend in "The Buddy Holly Story"; earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination
Starred in the critically-acclaimed surfing movie "Big Wednesday"
Played the protégé of a legendary outlaw (Willie Nelson) in the well-received "Barbarosa"
Wrote and performed "Why Baby Why" for the film "D.C. Cab"; also played one the taxi drivers
Portrayed Alabama State football coach Paul Bryant in "The Bear"
Cast as a baseball playing icon in Nicolas Roeg's "Insignificance"
First role as a villain, playing the memorable Mr. Joshua in "Lethal Weapon"
Played an American journalist caught up in the 1986 Philippine revolution in the HBO miniseries "A Dangerous Life"
Played character on the right side of the law for the fast-paced sequel "Predator 2"
Teamed with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze for Kathryn Bigelow's "Point Break"
Appeared as himself in Robert Altman's "The Player"
Continued his villainous run as the evil thug plotting to steal nuclear weapons in Steven Seagal's "Under Siege"
Gave a salty performance as an over-the-hill pitcher in "Rookie of the Year"
Had a supporting role as a private investigator in the legal thriller "The Firm"
Essayed another crazed psycho in "Warriors"
Supported Dennis Hopper and Amy Irving in Bruno Baretto's "Carried Away"
Played a psychotic ex-militia man in Sidney J. Furie's "The Rage"
Portrayed General Joe Wheeler in the TNT miniseries "Rough Riders"
Had a cameo as a highway patrolman in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
Appeared as the vicious mercenary leader Mazur in TMC's "Universal Soldier 2: Brothers in Arms" and "Universal Soldier 3: Unfinished Business"
Played the villainous Hooded Fang in the remake of "Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang"
Appeared as the center of Comedy Central's "I'm with Busey" reality show
Landed a recurring role as "his crazy self" on HBO's "Entourage"
Joined the cast of the VH1 weight loss reality series "Celebrity Fit Club 2"
Appeared on second season of the VH1 reality show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew"
Joined the cast of the fourth season of "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC)
Appeared in the thriller "Piranha 3DD"