As Captain William "Buck" Rogers in the 1979 television series of the same name, actor Gil Gerard was the epitome of the wisecracking stud with the twinkle in his eye. Following the footsteps of other television action stars-of-the-day Lee Majors, Richard Hatch and even Dirk Benedict, Gerard always seemed to have fun with his roles. Despite never having been a superstar, he remained a fan favorite with a generation of kids who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. As the years passed, however, his presence onscreen diminished precipitously - eventually Gerard fell out of the public eye in the late 1990s, thanks in large part to his ongoing battle with obesity. Instead of letting his weight destroy his career, Gerard instead underwent gastric bypass surgery - a procedure he allowed to be filmed for the Discovery Health Channel show, "Action Hero Makeover" (2007). The successful surgery allowed Gerard to re-enter the spotlight, while generating nostalgia for days gone by and possibly regenerating a once prominent television career.
Gilbert Gerard was born on Jan. 23, 1943 in Little Rock, AR. His father worked in sales, while his mother was a college instructor. At Little Rock's Catholic High School for Boys, he was an outgoing, athletic student who also enjoyed performing in school plays. After high school, he attended Arkansas State Teachers College, where he studied chemistry. Gerard dropped out before graduation, however, taking a job as an industrial chemist. He quickly moved up the ranks and was about to make vice president when he learned that he needed to earn his master's. Unwilling to admit that he walked out on his bachelor's degree, Gerard quit his job and decided to pursue acting instead. He moved to New York City and drove taxis to make ends meet. His fortunes turned when a passenger learned of Gerard's aspirations and convinced him to be an extra on the Ali McGraw-Ryan O'Neal feature romance, "Love Story" (1970). Though his speaking part was cut, Gerard was able to start his resume with an impressive first job. Soon enough, he appeared in countless television commercials - nearly 400 in a few years, including a stint as a pitchman for the Ford Motor Company.
Gerard eventually graduated to scripted fare with a leading role as Dr. Alan Stewart on the daytime soap opera, "The Doctors," (NBC, 1963-1982). He moved to primetime with guests spots on "Baretta" (ABC, 1975-78) and "Hawaii 5-0" (CBS, 1968-80), then moved to the feature side with a small role in "Airport 77" (1977), playing the love interest of star Lee Grant. Gerard soon formed is own production company and co-wrote the screenplay, "Hooch," a low-budget indie about a southern moonshiner in trouble with the law and the mob. Back in Hollywood, he was cast in the lead for the made-for-television movie, "Ransom for Alice!" (NBC, 1977), playing an undercover deputy marshal trying to bust a white slavery ring. Continuing to guest star, Gerard played a handyman on an episode of "Little House on the Prairie," (NBC, 1974-1983), impressing Michael Landon so much that he was cast in the lead on his made-for TV movie "Killing Stone" (NBC, 1978), playing a freelance writer trying to uncover the truth behind the murder that put him in prison for 10 years.
With his star on the rise, Gerard was offered his most notable role, Captain Buck Rogers, in a new science fiction series from producer Glen A. Larson. Based on the series of comic books and radio serials from the 1930s, "Buck Rogers" made Gerard reluctant at first to take the role - the actor feared the part would be nothing more than a two-dimensional action hero. But he was soon convinced otherwise and the series commenced with a theatrically released feature, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," (1979), which told the story of American astronaut Captain William "Buck" Rogers, whose 1987 space shuttle encounters strange gases, forcing him into a state of suspended animation. (The telefilm aired two year before the first real space shuttle launch, while the fictional shuttle Rogers piloted launched one year after the real disaster of the space shuttle Challenger). Revived 500 years later, Buck struggles to save the future of Earth - still devastated from a nuclear war - from an invading alien force.
The theatrical release was successful enough for the show to be picked up later that fall. While the show was often hampered by low-budget special effects and cheesy scripts, Gerard took the character seriously, imbuing him with a contemporary sense of humor in sharp contrast to the buttoned-down denizens of the future, notably the steely Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Though the show failed to generate critical acclaim, it was a hit with the masses and Gerard became a star. After the first season, "Buck Rogers" returned in the fall of 1981 after being delayed for a year by a Writer's Guild strike. The show was extensively retooled, with Buck and Wilma exploring the outer reaches of space for lost colonies of Earth - a direct nod to producer Glen Larson's previous space series, "Battlestar Galactica" (ABC, 1978-79). Gerard was disappointed with the new direction, having hoped to delve into Buck's past on planet Earth and explore the divide between modern man and a futuristic society that has shut itself off from its own humanity. The series was cancelled after the 1981 season. On the bright side, Gerard met and married actress Connie Sellecca in 1979, who herself was a rising TV star. The glamorous couple often found themselves on the cover of the movie magazines of the time. They would go on to divorce in 1987.
Gerard went on to appear in television movies such as "Not Just Another Affair" (CBS, 1982), "Hear No Evil" (CBS, 1982) and "Stormin' Home" (CBS, 1985). He also appeared in the TV series, "Sidekicks," (ABC, 1986-87) and "Nightingales" (NBC, 1989), then returned to science fiction in the short-lived "E.A.R.T.H. Force" (CBS, 1990), as well as hosting the firefighter-themed reality series, "Code 3" (Syndicated, 1992). While he continued to work steadily, it was clear that his career was in steep decline. In 1997, he returned to daytime television with a stint on "Days of Our Lives" (NBC, 1965- ), then guest starred in a third-season episode of "Pacific Blue," (USA Network, 1996-2000). Back in features, he had roles in the straight-to-video fare like "Fugitive Mind" (1999) and "Air Rage" (2001), while popping up in the independent thriller, "The Stepdaughter" (2001).
In later years, Gerard's acting appearances were less frequent, while his battle with ongoing obesity grew worse. With mounting risk of health problems, Gerard underwent a gastric bypass surgery; a struggle that he allowed to filmed for the TV special, "Action Hero Makeover," which aired on the Discovery Health Channel. The surgery was a success and Gerard went from over 350 pounds to a more manageable 200 pounds. Meanwhile, Gerard began to seek out new projects, appearing in the Sci-Fi Channel original movie "Bone Breaker" (2007).