Family & Companions
Infamous for the speed with which he jumped ship from his star-making turn as an unconventional sex symbol on "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) - and more so for the speed with which his film career subsequently floundered - the redheaded Caruso survived public scorn to enjoy a second act success. While his big screen work in the muscular remake "Kiss of Death" (1995) and erotic thriller "Jade" (1995) did nothing to justify his risky TV-to-movies career jump, Caruso persevered, doing good supporting work in lesser-seen projects like the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe ransom thriller "Proof of Life" (2000) and the psychological horror film, "Session 9" (2001). Although his first attempt to return to series television in an appropriately humble manner - "Michael Hayes" (CBS, 1997-98) - failed to resonate with viewers, lightning struck again with the flashy lead role in the worldwide smash "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002-12). As Lt. Horatio Caine, Caruso won over audiences with his colorful character's campy one-liners, punctuated by a dramatic sunglasses-adjustment, and appeared to be fully returned to the public's good graces. While his career ended up more of a rollercoaster ride than that of many of his peers, Caruso seemed steadier and more focused for his second chance at stardom.
Born Jan. 7, 1956 in Forest Hills, Queens, NY, David Stephen Caruso was the son of Joan, a librarian, and Charles Caruso, a magazine and newspaper editor. The pale-skinned, redheaded Caruso was of Irish and Italian descent, and raised Roman Catholic. His first role as a bellboy on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope" (ABC, 1975-1989) was uncredited and he notched a few unremarkable jobs in unremarkable movies, including as a college student killed by aliens in "Without Warning" (1980). He raised some eyebrows in regards to his talent as the meek recruit who almost drowned in the hit movie "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), and as a young deputy who sees the error in Brian Dennehy's ways in "Rambo: First Blood" (1982), where he took his first crack at playing a cop.
Caruso first teamed with future "NYPD Blue" creator Steven Bochco for the first three episodes of "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), turning in a fine performance as a tough Irish gang leader, which prompted comparisons to James Cagney for both his edginess and the inevitable carrot top. He began an association with Abel Ferrara on the pilot episode of "Crime Story" (NBC, 1986-88) that would continue with the features "China Girl" (1987) and "The King of New York" (1990), the former as a psychopathic gangster, the latter as a sadistic Irish cop bent on dethroning Christopher Walken. He also played the mute agent Kit-Kat in the insane flop "Hudson Hawk" (1991), where a soft-shoeing Bruce Willis fought being upstaged by a dolphin-possessed Andie MacDowell or all-barrels-of-insanity-blasting Sandra Bernhard, but it was his acclaimed portrayal of Robert De Niro's macho partner in John McNaughton's "Mad Dog and Glory" (1993) that led to his star-making role.
In the heavily anticipated, ultra-controversial "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) Caruso played Det. John Kelly, a brilliant cop caught up in the complicated machinations of crime and corruption on both sides of the law. Urging viewer discretion, the groundbreaking series skewed very adult - including brief backside nudity of Caruso - and the soulful, intense actor became an instant sex symbol and break-out star of the new hit. Perhaps it was the show's exhausting schedule, the intense media focus on Caruso's skyrocketing fame or a combination thereof, but after one critically revered season, for which he garnered a Golden Globe Award, the actor asked for a substantial salary increase and other concessions from show creator Steven Bochco who, following a few weeks of highly publicized negotiations replaced him unceremoniously with Jimmy Smits. Not since Farrah Fawcett-Majors had left "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981) after only one star-making season had a lead actor's premature departure been met with such disbelief and disappointment on the part of newly minted fans. By Caruso's own later admission, he had not handled the transition from unknown character actor to TV superstar well, throwing tantrums on the set, alienating himself from co-stars like onscreen partner, Dennis Franz, and exiting gracelessly after Bochco called his bluff and refused to meet his excessive demands.
Defiantly, Caruso took a gamble on leaping from TV to features - a transition successfully accomplished by very few - and immediately set off a public and media backlash against the actor. Although he earned $1 million and good reviews from critics for his first starring effort, a remake of the noir classic "Kiss of Death" (1995) with Nicolas Cage, the film's failure at the box office coupled with the all-around failure of his follow-up, the erotic thriller "Jade" (1995) with Linda Fiorentino, effectively killed his movie career. Caruso's spectacular career flameout - brought about at least in part by the media feeding frenzy - gave naysayers plenty to gloat about. Making things even more bittersweet for the actor was the fact that post-Caruso, "NYPD Blue" was stronger and more respected than ever with Smits and Franz as the powerhouse leads.
Chastened publicly, Caruso returned to the small screen as the executive producer and star of "Michael Hayes" (CBS, 1997-98), a federal prosecutor based very loosely on the early career of New York's future Mayor, Rudy Giuliani. He starred opposite Marg Helgenberger in Showtime's "Elmore Leonard's 'Gold Coast'" (1997) and in "Cold Heart," which won John Ridley the Best Director Award at NYC's 1997 Urbanworld Film Festival. Later the same year, he shot "Body Count" with Linda Fiorentino and Forest Whitaker. Still a considered the poster boy for the overweening, unrealistic ambition of Hollywood actors, Caruso kept his head down and worked steadily in features, earning particularly good notices for his supporting turn in the drama "Proof of Life" (2000) opposite Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, and for his lead role in the low-budget but highly effective psychological horror film "Session 9" (2001).
In 2002, Caruso returned once again to network television as Horatio Caine on the CBS procedural, "CSI: Miami" (2002-12), the first spin-off from producer Jerry Bruckheimer's forensic franchise. The series proved to be a popular addition to the CBS lineup, and Caruso's performance was one of the main reasons. The oft-parodied cold openers to each episode featured Caine investigating a murder, and in the midst of doing so, making a snappy quip about it while donning his sunglasses moments before the show's screaming theme song kicked in. So popular was his tongue-in-cheek characterization that a bobblehead based on the character briefly captured the imagination of fans. While his good-natured but campy spin on the franchise divided some critics and fans, for the most part audiences enjoyed Caruso's goofier touches on the role. He seemed fully back in the good graces of a public that had earlier turned on him, making crossover appearances on all the "CSI" branches and ensuring that "Miami" remained the most successful and buzzed-about of all its incarnations.
In his personal life, Caruso did not manage quite as well at quelling controversy. Twice-married and involved throughout his career with a string of women, Caruso was sued in 2009 by an ex-girlfriend (and mother of two of his children) for supposedly breaching their settlement agreement and causing her emotional distress. (She lost the former charge and dropped the latter.) He also found himself the subject of an Austrian stalker who sent him threatening letters, but the troubled woman was subsequently sentenced to jail for her harassment of the actor as he continued to reign supreme on "CSI: Miami."
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to Los Angeles
Feature acting debut, "Without Warning"
TV acting debut, "Crazy Times" (movie also co-starred another unknown, Ray Liotta)
Appeared in the first three episodes of "Hill Street Blues" as an Irish gang leader
Made TV series debut as recruit Rusty Berger on the short-lived NBC drama, "For Love and Honor"
First association with director Abel Ferrara with the pilot episode of "Crime Story"
First film with Abel Ferrara, "China Girl"
Second-billed (behind Christopher Walken) in Ferrara's "The King of New York"
Played recurring role of Frank Sordoni on two episodes of the short-lived (six episodes) ABC police drama, "H.E.L.P."
Portrayed Robert De Niro's caustic partner in "Mad Dog and Glory"
Left "NYPD Blue" after salary dispute with producer Steven Bochco; replaced by Jimmy Smits
Reportedly paid $2 million for his role in "Jade", a box-office failure
Starred opposite Marg Helgenberger in the Showtime movie "Elmore Leonard's 'Gold Coast'"
Played a disgruntled asbestos-removal worker in the horror film "Session 9"
Moved to Miami, Florida and opened an upscale clothing and home furnishings boutique
Cast in the CBS drama series "CSI: Miami."