Family & Companions
Despite having vanished into virtual obscurity in the 1990's, actor Philip Michael Thomas continued to hold a special place in the hearts of many for personifying Detective Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs on one of the most influential cop shows of its time, "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89). One of the most recognized television stars of the eighties, Thomas, along with co-star Don Johnson, helped define the look of "cool" for an entire era with his role on the highly stylized program. His Tubbs not only influenced a decade of fashion designers, but also helped redefine the accepted image of the African-American television hero for a new generation.
An eclectic mix of Native-American, German, Irish, and African-American ancestry, Philip Michael Thomas was born in Columbus, OH on May 26, 1949. A former student of theology at Alabama's Oakwood College, Thomas quit school to launch his acting career in the late 1960's, after winning an audition for the Broadway musical "Hair." Reveling in the spotlight, the charismatic Thomas shined in his musical numbers and quickly became a favorite of audiences. As was the case with many of his contemporaries - among them Ron ("Superfly") O'Neal and Richard ("Shaft") Roundtree - musical theatre proved to be a stepping-stone into Hollywood for many African-American actors. Swept up in the twilight of Hollywood's so-called blaxploitation era, Thomas found work in a number of low-budget features, including the 1975 film "Black Fist" starring Dabney Coleman; "Sparkle" (1976) opposite "Fame" singer Irene Cara; and the must-see-to-believe junkie cult classic "Death Drug" (1978), starring an unnamed baby alligator.
Even early into his career, Thomas drew attention for his overwhelming charm, self-confidence and less-than-restrained ego, believing he was a superstar simply waiting to happen. In 1984, after a decade of struggle as a journeyman actor, Thomas finally landed the break that would make him just that - a superstar. Enthralled by his powerful on-screen presence, NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff tapped Thomas to co-star in the network's hot new prospect, the Michael Mann-created, "Miami Vice." Set amid the decadence of South Florida, the seminal series paired the suave Thomas with the equally suave Don Johnson in the ultra-stylish, extremely pastel-hued crime serial.
Thomas' portrayal of Det. Ricardo Tubbs was so engaging, his popularity crossed gender and racial lines. Perfectly showcasing the actor's unique "silent-sexy-cool" method of acting, the character of Tubbs made an indelible mark, giving the already established Johnson's Det. Sonny Crockett a run for his money in the popularity race. The show's breakout success did much for Thomas' bank account - and unfortunately, his ego, as well. During the show's run, the actor became a tireless self-promoter. Often referring to himself in the third person, he routinely courted paparazzi with tales of his pre-stardom pastimes (which included writing music, p try, and philosophy). In 1988, Thomas reached his peak of hubris by publicly announcing his 5-year career plan - a plan he boldly (and some thought, laughably) called "E.G.O.T." - short for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. And with that humble proclamation, Thomas needless to say: signed his own death warrant once the show's popularity waned, being cancelled in 1989.
Thomas' career floundered for several years after "Vice" closed up shop. Unable to cash in on the lucrative movie roles he had expected to receive after the show wrapped, Thomas was reduced to appearance on a string of TV movies of the week and several low-budget Italian action flicks. In the mid-1990's, Thomas resurfaced in America as a pitchman for a telephone psychic service. In addition, he served as a spokesperson for cell phone entertainment company, NexTones. Unlike fellow egomaniac and overnight TV star David Caruso, Thomas' career lull continued into the new millennium. Among his most significant roles was a two-episode guest role on "Nash Bridges" (CBS, 1996-2001), a detective series starring his former co-star Don Johnson.
In 2002, Thomas provided voice work (as the character Lance Vance) in the runaway hit video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." Four years later, in 2006, Thomas returned to reprise the role for its sequel, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories" - the same year the film version of his iconic TV series, "Miami Vice" (directed yet again by creator Michael Mann) and starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx - premiered to high expectations. For the first time in years, the hit film focused the spotlight on Thomas - albeit briefly, and sadly - and usually in the form of "where are they now?" features. Nonetheless, Thomas was nominated as one of the "50 Greatest TV Sidekicks of All Time" by Entertainment Weekly that same year, proving that while no longer a high profile actor, he remained a cultural touchstone favorite with television audiences.