Effectively cast as both amiable heroes and imposing figures of evil, Italian-born actor Nick Mancuso established himself as a new and valuable performer on stage in productions put on by the Stratford Festival and the Toronto Free Theater. He made his Hollywood motion picture debut in the horror outing "Nightwing" (1979), which proved to be a failure, but Mancuso quickly bounced back with one of his finest performances in "Ticket to Heaven" (1981) as a downtrodden man seduced into joining a cult. From that point onward, he alternated between working in the United States and Canada, including the fondly remembered "Stingray" (NBC, 1985) and its short-lived series offshoot, and such major studio pictures as "Under Siege" (1992) and "Rapid Fire" (1992). Moving back and forth from lead roles to more character-oriented assignments, Mancuso's dark good looks and multilingual abilities also made him the perfect choice to play different ethnicities. Although he was rarely at a loss for employment, Mancuso launched a new career path later in life as an enthusiastic advocate for healthy life choices and homeopathic alternatives to conventional medication. While never a bona fide star by Hollywood standards, Mancuso commanded a great deal respect amongst both his peers and the public for an impressively lengthy and varied acting history in three mediums.
A native of Mammola, Calabria, Italy, Nicodemo Antonio Massimo Mancuso was born on May 29, 1948. His family made Canada their home a few years later and he spent his formative years in Toronto. Although he was only six at the time of the move, Mancuso found the cultural change to be significant and he was bullied for a time. As a young man, he considered becoming a scientist, and upon completing his studies at Bloor Collegiate Institute, he attended the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph. He finished school with a BA degree in behavioral psychology, but from his teens, Mancuso had also harbored an interest in acting and it was that discipline that he ultimately pursued. In the early 1970s, he created "Teatru Streetcarru" (roughly, "Streetcar Theater"), which put on Italian-language stage productions, initially in Toronto and then at various locations in Canada. He further practiced his craft in plays at the Stratford Festival and the Toronto Free Theater. Mancuso's first screen credit was in the cult classic "Black Christmas" (1974) as one of three performers providing the chillingly demented phone voice of Billy, the psychopathic killer preying on sorority sisters during the holiday season.
Following a supporting role in the Toronto comedy "A Sweeter Song" (1976), Mancuso was invited to Hollywood for the TV movie "Dr. Scorpion" (ABC, 1978), in which he played a spy charged with foiling a mad scientist. Additional feature film parts came with the Native American police officer lead in the killer bat thriller "Nightwing" (1979), but the picture was a critical and financial bust, so Mancuso resumed acting in Canadian productions like "Death Ship" (1980) and "Ticket to Heaven" (1981). By far the most momentous big screen role he had been afforded thus far, "Ticket to Heaven" cast Mancuso as a wayward man who becomes involved with a cult. The film was widely praised, as was Mancuso's powerful and persuasive performance, for which he received a Genie Award, Canada's equivalent to an Oscar. A supporting turn in the miniseries "Scruples" (CBS, 1980) and a moderately successful U.S. theatrical run for "Ticket to Heaven" elevated Mancuso's visibility in Hollywood and he was among the actors considered by Steven Spielberg to play Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). Again, however, Mancuso found more work opportunities back home; he appeared in the adventure "Mother Lode" (1982), the literary adaptation "Maria Chapdelaine" (1983), and the little seen Canadian-Israeli co-production "Tell Me That You Love Me" (1983). During that time, Mancuso was married to Patricia Pelham, known primarily for being the daughter of the 9th Duke of Newcastle, but the couple parted ways after only two years together.
Mancuso was lured south of the border once again for the drama "Heartbreakers" (1984), where he and Peter Coyote received kudos for their performances as friends seeking fulfillment in their lives. He also had the lead in the little-seen "Blame it on the Night" (1985) as a rock star trying to find common ground with a young son he never knew existed. Mancuso's most notable mid-'80s credit came via the TV movie "Stingray" (NBC, 1985), from producer Stephen J. Cannell, where he had one of his most memorable parts as a slick stranger who uses his unique and varied skills to help people, but insists on favors, not cash, as payment. A ratings success, "Stingray" became a series, which ran during the 1986-87 season, but was ultimately not renewed. Sometime after finishing his series work, Mancuso was incapacitated by an accident involving a drunk driver. Head injuries sustained during the crash required him to take some time off, so during that period, he developed a love of painting. He married his second wife, Canadian actress Barbara Williams, and appeared in "Tiger Warsaw" (1988), the Steven Seagal hit "Under Siege" (1992), and the Brandon Lee actioner "Rapid Fire" (1992), where he gave a vivid turn as the murderous drug lord antagonist.
Major television assignments also soon came Mancuso's way. He was among the star-laden cast of "Wild Palms" (ABC, 1993), an offbeat mystery/thriller miniseries co-produced by Oliver Stone, and was also recruited to topline a new series of his own. "Matrix" (USA Network, 1993) cast Mancuso in the title role as a slain hit man spared a trip to Hell if he agrees to return to Earth and help battle evil. Co-starring Carrie-Ann Moss, the Canadian-made program only lasted one season. He reprised his role as the director of the CIA for the big-budget sequel "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" (1995), but Mancuso's subsequent movie credits were predominantly in disposable direct-to-video fare like "The Ex" (1997), "Star Child" (1997) and "Provocateur" (1998). He wed his third wife, Toronto-born actress Nadia Capone, in 1998, and the couple had a child together. Mancuso continued to appear in minor films that mostly debuted in video stores or on cable, including the religious thriller trilogy "Revelation" (1999), "Tribulation" (2000) and "Judgment" (2001), but also returned to series television as the star of "Call of the Wild" (Animal Planet, 2000). Unfortunately, the Jack London update followed the previous pattern in his career by being a single-season affair. Television opportunities in both features and series remained plentiful, however, and Mancuso also joined mob movie regulars Chazz Palminteri, Robert Davi and Robert Constanzo for the crime comedy "In the Mix" (2005), which was meant to establish a big screen persona for rapper Usher, but disappeared quickly from theaters.
While he continued to find acting work, Mancuso also launched a new aspect of his career. A longtime vegetarian and practitioner of Yoga, Mancuso became interested in a healthy lifestyle during his twenties after he became ill while acting in a Toronto theatre. He later discovered that there was radioactive waste hidden on the premises and when plagued by ill-health, Mancuso was able to become well again via homeopathic methods. He became an enthusiastic proponent of this treatment method, taking his message to the Internet via a personal blog and to the radio as host of the "Power Health Radio" program on the Blog Talk Radio network. Mancuso occasionally returned to live performing, including an eclectic outing where he joined acclaimed pianist Shoko Inoue in concert, reading poetry in tandem with her performance. He successfully underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2011.
The actor made headlines in December 2012 when he joined a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Canadian government over Health Canada regulations that banned the sale of previously available herbs and vitamins widely offered by naturopaths and health food suppliers. As a longtime user of such supplements, Mancuso alleged that this action was taken to remove these safe products in favor of inferior items produced by pharmaceutical conglomerates. He sought $500,000 in recompense for mental distress, pain and suffering, and what Mancuso considered to be a violation under the dictates of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Born in southern Italy
Gained national attention playing Kewpie in George Bloomfield's CBC production of "Paradise Lost" by Clifford Odets
TV-movie debut, starred in "Dr. Scorpion", a Stephen J. Cannell-produced fantasy adventure
Feature debut, starred in the suspense film "Nightwing"
TV miniseries debut, "Scruples"
Starred in the NBC crime show pilot, "Stingray", produced and written by Cannell
Starred in "Matrix", a fantasy action series on USA
Appeared in the popular sci-fi miniseries "Wild Palms", executive produced by Oliver Stone