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Tom Wopat

Tom Wopat

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: September 9, 1951 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Lodi, Wisconsin, USA Profession: actor, singer, video director

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the most recognizable faces on television in the 1980s, actor-singer Tom Wopat went on to enjoy a fulfilling career on stage, screen and in the recording studio. Along with co-star John Schneider, Wopat became a star virtually overnight when he was a cast as Luke Duke on the action-comedy "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). Although dismissed by critics, the show quickly entered the realm of pop culture phenomenon and forever linked the actor to his good ole' boy character. Wopat also pursued his love of music, releasing albums like A Little Bit Closer, which spawned a number of country music singles. Television remained a reliable venue for Wopat, who played one of Cybill Shepherd's ex-husbands on the hit sitcom "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98) and later took part in a pair of Hazzard revivals, "The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!" (CBS, 1997) and "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" (CBS, 2000). But it was on Broadway where the affable star achieved his greatest success, starring in such acclaimed productions as the hit musical "Annie Get Your Gun" and in David Mamet's seminal drama "Glengarry, Glen Ross." Amidst his stage and recording efforts, Wopat continued to appear on screen, frequently...

One of the most recognizable faces on television in the 1980s, actor-singer Tom Wopat went on to enjoy a fulfilling career on stage, screen and in the recording studio. Along with co-star John Schneider, Wopat became a star virtually overnight when he was a cast as Luke Duke on the action-comedy "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). Although dismissed by critics, the show quickly entered the realm of pop culture phenomenon and forever linked the actor to his good ole' boy character. Wopat also pursued his love of music, releasing albums like A Little Bit Closer, which spawned a number of country music singles. Television remained a reliable venue for Wopat, who played one of Cybill Shepherd's ex-husbands on the hit sitcom "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98) and later took part in a pair of Hazzard revivals, "The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!" (CBS, 1997) and "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" (CBS, 2000). But it was on Broadway where the affable star achieved his greatest success, starring in such acclaimed productions as the hit musical "Annie Get Your Gun" and in David Mamet's seminal drama "Glengarry, Glen Ross." Amidst his stage and recording efforts, Wopat continued to appear on screen, frequently in such Western fare as the Josh Brolin vehicle "Jonah Hex" (2010) and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (2012). While appreciative of "The Dukes of Hazzard," Wopat wisely moved forward with a career in which his first two loves - music and theater - ultimately yielded immensely rewarding results.

Born Thomas S. Wopat on Sept. 9, 1951 in Lodi, WI, he was the son of local dairy farmers and one of a large brood that included six brothers and sisters. Blessed with an excellent singing voice, Wopat began performing in local musical productions by the age of 12, before graduating to lead roles in several high school productions. Following graduation, Wopat enrolled at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied music for two years before dropping out to tour with a rock band as its lead singer and guitarist. After a period of struggling on the road and appearing in two seasons of summer stock theater productions, the young performer eventually relocated to New York City and began studying acting in earnest. In 1978, Wopat made his New York stage debut in the short-lived off-Broadway revue "A Bistro Car on the CNR," which was followed closely by Wopat's official bow on Broadway when he took over the role of Wally in the hit Cy Coleman musical-comedy "I Love My Wife" later the same year. With his credits mounting, Wopat found himself on the verge of becoming a recognizable name on the stages of New York, but as so many young actors had done before him, he looked to the medium of television for a more financial security. What awaited him on the small screen, however, was beyond anything Wopat could have possibly imagined.

A low-budget action-adventure about two rowdy cousins running bootleg liquor in rural Georgia, "Moonrunners" (1975) was written and directed by Guy Waldron, who was later tasked by Warner Bros. with creating a television series based on the same premise. Beating out dozens of handsome young hopefuls, Wopat was cast as good ole' boy Lucas "Luke" Duke on the high-octane action-comedy series "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). Co-starring, as his more mercurial cousin Bo, was blonde, blue-eyed heartthrob John Schneider, with leggy beauty Catherine Bach lending support as their cousin Daisy, whose high-cut denim shorts became one of the decade's more notorious fashion trends. Surprising its stars and network executives alike, the show was an instant hit, as week after week "those Duke Boys" outwitted and outraced the inept Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best) and corrupt county official Boss Hogg (Sorrell Brooke) from behind the wheel of their high-flying 1969 Dodge Charger, dubbed The General Lee. One of television's top-rated shows by its third season, "The Dukes of Hazzard" hit a speed bump in 1982 when Wopat and Schneider refused to show up for filming, due to a contract dispute. Temporarily replaced by unknowns Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer - as cousins Coy and Vance Duke, respectively - Wopat and his co-star eventually settled their differences with the network and returned to complete the fifth season. By that time, however, the damage had largely been done, as fans had not taken to Cherry or Mayer, who were quickly written out of the show upon Wopat and Schneider's return, and the show never regained its Nielsen footing. After seven seasons, "The Dukes of Hazzard" was unceremoniously canceled.

During the height of his "Dukes" fame, Wopat returned to his first love and began what would evolve into a satisfying recording career. His first self-titled 1983 country album sold reasonably well. Wopat followed a few years later with A Little Bit Closer, the title track of which eventually broke the Top 20 on the U.S. Country Music Chart. Post-"Dukes," Wopat maintained a consistent, albeit less prominent, presence on television. A pair of drama series - "Blue Skies" (CBS, 1988), in which he played a recently divorced father and "A Peaceable Kingdom" (CBS, 1989), which featured Wopat as a zoo veterinarian - failed to find their audiences and were quickly canceled. While not a starring role, it was the unfamiliar TV territory of the sitcom that next offered Wopat consistent screen exposure. Throughout its four-season run, "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98) featured Wopat in the recurring role of Jeff Robbins, one of Cybill Shepherd's fictional ex-husbands on the eponymous sitcom. Lured back to the cultural phenomenon that first provided him stardom, Wopat joined Schneider, Bach and many of the original series cast members for "The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!" (CBS, 1997), which found the cousins attempting to save Hazzard Swamp from a greedy land developer.

In another return to his performing roots, Wopat came to achieve his greatest success, not on television, but on the stages of Broadway. Having already gained positive notices for his work in earlier productions of "City of Angels" and "Guys and Dolls," Wopat garnered raves opposite Great White Way icon Bernadette Peters in a revival of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1999. For his charming performance as Frank Butler in the Western musical hit, Wopat earned a Tony nomination that year for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Following another turn as Luke in "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" (CBS, 2000), Wopat released his seventh album, The Still of the Night, a compilation of classic crooner ballads. And while he had no direct connection to the project, a film adaptation of "The Dukes of Hazzard" (2005) - starring Johnny Knoxville in his role of Luke - proved that those Duke boys still held an allure for nostalgic fans. In another "six degrees of separation" moment, Wopat reconnected with his Duke roots when he guested in a 2005 episode of "Smallville" (The WB, 2001-06/The CW, 2006-2011), reuniting with former co-star John Schneider. The episode, entitled "Exposed," gave fans something to smile about when an action sequence found old friends Senator Jack Jennings (Wopat) and Jonathan Kent (Schneider) tearing down a country road in a supped-up 1969 Dodge Charger.

Most certainly, however, the height of 2005 for Wopat was his work alongside Liev Schreiber, Alan Alda and Jeffrey Tambor in a Broadway mounting of David Mamet's high-pressure drama "Glengarry Glen Ross," which earned Wopat and his castmates the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. In contrast, the following year proved soberingly unpleasant for Wopat. On March 22, 2006, Wopat was charged with DUI and reckless driving in northern New Jersey, following a near collision with a police cruiser. A few years later, Wopat earned another Tony nomination in 2008 for his return to Broadway in the musical comedy "A Catered Affair." An artistic accolade ironically juxtaposed by a starring role in the direct-to-DVD insect horror movie "The Hive" (2008). In a small but memorable TV appearance, Wopat played the grieving father of a fallen soldier in the based-on-fact Iraqi War drama "Taking Chance" (HBO, 2009), starring Kevin Bacon as the Marine tasked with returning the man's body to his family. Making strides into the realm of feature film, Wopat also picked up roles in projects like the Western comic book adaptation "Jonah Hex" (2010) and later delivered a cameo in Quentin Tarantino's bloody take on the Western genre, "Django Unchained" (2012).

By Bryce P. Coleman

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Jonah Hex (2010)
2.
 Taking Chance (2009)
3.
 Hive, The (2008)
4.
 Bonneville (2006)
6.
 Meteorites! (1998) Tom Johnson
7.
 Contagious (1997) Sam
8.
 Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion (1997) Luke Duke
9.
 Just My Imagination (1992) Bobby Rex
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born and raised on dairy farm in Lodi, Wisconsin
:
Started singing leads in local musicals when he was age 12
:
Dropped out of college to tour with rock group as lead singer and guitarist
:
Spent two summers at Barn Theater in Michigan
1977:
Moved to New York
1977:
Off-Broadway debut in revue "A Bistro Car on the CNR"
1978:
Played lead in the Washington, DC production of the stage musical "The Robber Bridegroom"
1978:
Made Broadway debut in "I Love My Wife"
1979:
Landed starring role as Luke Duke on long-running CBS comedy series "The Dukes of Hazzard"
1983:
Reprised role of Luke Duke (voice only) for animated series "The Dukes"
1984:
Made TV-movie debut in "Burning Rage"
1986:
Had lead role in "Carousel" in a stage production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
1987:
Reunited with "Hazzard's" co-star John Schneider for TV-movie "Christmas Comes to Willow Creek"
1987:
Recorded single "A Little Bit Closer" which yielded a top-five country video
1988:
Starred in short-lived dramatic TV series "Blue Skies" (CBS)
1989:
Was a regular on the short-lived CBS series "Peaceable Kingdom"
1991:
Returned to Broadway after 13 years to star in "City of Angels"
1991:
Pursued an active country singing career, touring with his Full Moon band and making solo appearances with symphony orchestras in Cincinnati and Toronto
1995:
Was a regular on the CBS sitcom "Cybill"; played one of the star's ex-husbands
1997:
Reprised role of Luke Duke in the TV-movie "The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion" (CBS)
1999:
Returned to the stage to star opposite Bernadette Peters in a revival of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun"; earned Tony nomination; later toured with show; returned to the Broadway production in June 2001
2000:
Again played Luke Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard - Hazzards in Hollywood" (CBS)
2001:
Briefly joined the cast of the ABC daytime serial "All My Children"
2002:
Made NYC cabaret appearance at Arci's Place
2005:
Appeared in the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Glengarry Glen Ross" as the browbeaten customer James Lingk
2008:
Acted in "Bonneville" with Joan Allen, Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange
2008:
Played the father in the Broadway musical "A Catered Affair"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical
2010:
Cast in supporting role opposite Josh Brolin and John Malkovich in "Jonah Hex"
2011:
Cast in a supporting role opposite Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom in the small-town drama "Main Street" (lensed 2010)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Wisconsin-Madison: Madison , Wisconsin -

Notes

His official fan Web site is at www.tomwopat.com.

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