Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Whatever Happened To...Ken Wahl?


I was sludging my way through writing a blog post about 1980s TV stars who fell from grace, partly inspired by the Bill Cosby sex scandal, until I got to Ken Wahl. 

Reading about Wahl's story, I realized he didn't deserve to be lumped into the same category as those actors that let drugs and other demons take over their lives and eventually drive them to their deaths. Wahl's rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story is mainly due to plain old bad luck, and it's even more troubling considering he's a stand up guy who would do anything to help animals.


You may remember that Wahl was the star of the excellent CBS crime drama Wiseguy, which aired from 1987 to 1990. He played the young undercover operative Vinnie Terranova, who helped a fictional special division of the FBI bring down criminal organizations. The series launched Wahl into sex symbol status--he was crowned "The Sexiest Man on TV" by US Magazine. It also raised the profile of another budding actor, Kevin Spacey, who played baddie arms dealer Mel Profitt, a mastermind criminal with an addiction to painkillers and an unhealthy fixation on his sister. Other notable actors who made appearances in Wiseguy included Stanley Tucci and Tom Curry. 


Wahl was one of the lucky few who hit it big in Hollywood practically overnight, and with little acting training and experience. He was born Anthony Calzaretta in Chicago sometime in the mid 1950s (sources differ on his actual age.) In 1978, after working odd jobs, he set off for California in his Dodge Dart with $300 in his wallet. He only intended to stay in Hollywood for a year, collect any earnings, and then pursue his real dream which was playing professional baseball. 


He worked as an extra in several movies before he arrived on the set of The Wanderers for a bit part. Director Philip Kaufman, seeing untapped potential and perhaps struck by his brooding Italian good looks and presence, instead cast him in the lead. 


It turns out that Wahl was a natural. He was soon working alongside Paul Newman in 1981's Fort Apache, The Bronx. The two became friends and Newman even wrote a letter of recommendation to the Chicago White Sox's manager requesting that he let Wahl try out to be on the team. 




Baseball never came calling, but Hollywood continued to offer him work. Then in 1987 he landed the lead for Wiseguy, without even having to audition. By 1990 he had earned a best actor Golden Globe for the series, and had to hire bodyguards to keep women from tackling him. 


He left the job by his own accord in 1990 to pursue movie work, although the press at the time tried to say that Wahl had been fired. Two years later, his life and career took a turn for the worse. 


Wahl was divorced and dating a woman named Joan Child...who happened to be involved with comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and later married him. One morning after spending the night at Child's residence, Wahl fell down a slippery marble staircase in the home, breaking his neck and injuring his spinal cord. Child begged him not to tell the truth to the press--lest Dangerfield find out--so Wahl blamed his injuries on a motorcycle crash. The rehab and operations he underwent (which Wahl says were botched) got him addicted to alcohol to self-medicate the pain and he found it difficult to get through acting projects.


Wahl was a guy affectionately known as Santa Claus to family members and friends; he'd think nothing of helping someone out financially, even strangers. He's also a staunch animal lover and supporter of animal rights. In 2010 he offered up his Golden Globe to whoever had information leading to the arrest of a soulless cretin who glued a young cat to a Minnesota highway and left it to die. As a child, he rescued and helped animals in need and adopted and fostered many after he became a successful actor. He also credits pets with helping him recover from his injuries. 


Wahl more or less had to give up acting in the mid-90s. By 2009 he found himself nearly bankrupt, mostly due to deceptive financial managers and an ex-wife who swindled him out of a trust fund he left to his son years earlier. In another strange turn, his agent was found murdered in 1993 and the case, which Wahl believes to be mob-related, has never been solved. 



Photo via The Anipal Times
There is a silver lining to Wahl's story, however. He seems to have met his kindred spirit in Shane Barbi, one of the Barbi Twins of Playboy fame. Both are crazy about helping animals, and neither was completely comfortable with the Hollywood lifestyle when the met each other. They married in 1997 (the magazines affectionately referred to them as Ken and Barbi) and though both have struggled with and beat alcoholism, they're still married today. Wahl says he was impressed by Barbi's down-to-earth persona and hands-on volunteer work with animals. Barbi even turned down the chance to appear at the Academy Awards one year because it would have interfered with her volunteer slot at a local shelter. 

These days Wahl is devoted to helping struggling military veterans cope with PSTD and other psychological and physical injuries by placing pets with them through his program called "Pets for Vets." He told the Huffington Post in an interview last year that he's found his second calling. In a 2015 interview with The National Enquirer, Wahl says it was the love of a kitten that helped him through his darkest days.


“A person receives tremendous comfort and joy from the animal,” he said. “In my own experience—after rescuing my cats, and them caring for me — it was nearly miraculous!


I now feel a sense of purpose. Trying to help alleviate the suffering of veterans, civilians and animals is my life’s second calling.


My wife Shane and I share this common bond. She concentrates on helping the rescue animals, and I try to reach out to veterans.



On this Veteran’s Day, I want to leave you with one thought — you can’t save all the world’s veterans, but you CAN help save the world of one — just by letting them know that they are appreciated and valued!”

So far I've had no luck locating an authentic photo of what Wahl looks like today; if anyone has any luck, please leave a comment.


Score one for the good guys. 

36 comments:

  1. I also liked Wiseguy (and The Wanderers) and wondered what happened to him. Sounds like he's doing okay, thanks for the update.

    Wiseguy also costarred Jonathan Banks as Wahl's quirky FBI boss, who went on to great critical success in Breaking Bad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pam! Missed ya - where ya been?

    This is a GREAT post, I just loved it. It's always nice to know the complete story on a personality you may know only on film.

    Have a happy Thanksgiving, be safe and God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'll always remember him from the super-fun "The Taking of Beverly Hills"

    ReplyDelete
  4. As I have been sure of most of my life, the way a person treats animals speaks volumes of their characters. Being a vet myself, his involvement with them is priceless. Great article.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As I have been sure of most of my life, the way a person treats animals speaks volumes of their characters. Being a vet myself, his involvement with them is priceless. Great article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm an animal lover and I totally agree!

      Delete
  6. A survivor in a wicked world.

    Blessings to you, Mr. Wahl.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wasn't it a great show and Spacey was really evil very bad guyGlad Ken is fine. Never missed the show

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A great show indeed and full of great actors yet Ken Wahl carried it and was the reason for tuning in. It must be tough to be a star when some of the most talented people in the business are in supporting roles to you, but Ken Wahl's presence always was riveting, likable, and confident.

      Delete
  8. Glad you read and, ahem, liked my Ken Wahl interview article in Huff Post ;) -JKS

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was clearly one of the best tv dramas on in it's time. I never missed an episode and watched it over again in repeats when they aired. I loved the story line and the acting was fantastic. I do wish they had a remake of the show showing what happened to the characters and where Vinny went.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You're a standup guy for what you're doing and I like your political views having back and neck problems myself all I can say is there's nothing like having a good day


    ReplyDelete
  11. Beauty is as beauty does.Fine inside and out.Glad you found your soul-mate.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Nobody mentioned Jerry Luis

    ReplyDelete
  13. That picture you mentioned is not of this Ken Wahl. It's actually from an obituary page for someone named Kenneth Wahl.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the info. When I first wrote this blog post, it was posted on some celebrity site claiming that is what he looked like recently, although I found it a little hard to believe myself. Kind of strange that there's virtually no recent photos of him anywhere. I guess he truly wanted out of the spotlight completely.

      Delete
    2. That IS Ken in that photo with Shane Barbi. He did a photo shoot about 2 years ago for a Veterans Event. The pics are on his Twitter.

      Delete
    3. Mrs.Danyel - he wasn't referring to the photo of him with his wife; he was referring to one I deleted that was at the end of the post.

      Delete
  14. How bad are Wahl's injuries today? Can he walk? How does he earn a living? Sad story. Brandotango@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. I knew there had to be a reason that I loved and was so attracted to him other than his looks though they are off the chart. I am a huge animal lover especially cats. LOVED wise guy broke my heart when it ended. Was so sorry to hear he was injured so severely back then. Very happy to see that he is doing well and content with his life and his marriage!


    ReplyDelete
  16. Igoogled him because I AM ABOUT TO WATCH A RERUN OF WISEGUY RIGHT NOW! Damn I wish I had gotten my hands on him in 87!

    ReplyDelete
  17. What a awesome way to live your life I'm truly inspired, way to go Ken.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm a Veteran of the USMC and a recipient of a "Pets for Vets" companion animal. My little dog saved me from becoming a hermit/recluse. All I had ever been told by the VA Social Worker who controlled the program was that it had been started by someone who had a major concern in the recovery of Veterans with psychiatric issues.

    I'm actually grateful to learn that such a great individuals as Ken Wahl and his wife Shane Barbi are the founders of Pets for Vets. Thank you for writing such a fantastic article about one of my favorite actors.

    I would also like to thank Ken Wahl and his wife for saving me from the world of isolation I had begun to fall into.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for your comments and I'm happy to hear that his program greatly helped you!

      Delete
  19. Huh😶? What!?
    "Heroes and Icons" is a relatively new channel in Toccoa GA. On that channel, I catch "Wiseguy" as I wake most days. I have a neurological disease and am disabled. I sleep during morning to afternoon bc that's how I am wired (and battle narcolepsy). The television MUST be white noise or I can't sleep. From westerns to Star Trek, my TV is literally tuned to this channel. Enough of MY back story.

    I am 38ish, and the show is new to me. I was content to wake to a young Mr. Big character, from "Sex&theCity", prance around on my screen.
    I was about to share this delicious factoid and guilty, yet effective, alarm clock screen gem with my bff.
    She has a 9-to-5 and also enjoys Mr.Big affection syndrome.
    WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO MY BRAIN DAMAGED ILLUSION?
    FOR, THIS IS NOT CHRIS NORTH! I was informed by the opening credits that this pretty talent is Ken Wahl.
    Now, led to reading your article, I am even more crushed that my crush has been crushed by Hollywood's nonsense.
    Can I please send an, "Oh, my gosh, you are totally like hot and majorly talented man!" to Wahl.
    Of course I ain't sad for him, because Hollywood actually blessed him with a fistful of resources welcoming him into real life. Seems like he has grasped that and appreciates the core enlightenment. But I am madly disappointed that damn-near twins, North and Wahl are both eye candy talent, yet one still succeeds in acting.
    I have to believe to disbelieve the hype of tabloid sensationalism. That man CHOOSE to embrace growth as a person. He shines as he gives. He heals as he hurts. Believe me, neuro damage is a trickle-down endeavor of constant decisions to squeeze faith from each trial.
    So from a brand new fan, dammit Vinnie, hold your gun correctly. He seriously just waves that thing around as if it is a fairy wand.
    Oh, my Gosh! You got that Hollywood "something " that make me wake up with drool!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Wiseguy was a great show. My wife and I watched every episode. Glad to hear Ken and his wife are living a good life. Thanks for the memories.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I worked on the whole Wiseguy series ding the closed captioning. I even have the cardboard poster of him looking out of a chain link fence and I having it hanging in my room. I love and will always love being a huge fan of his. Ken, you have and will always have that "It" factor.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I really loved Wiseguy, Ken Walh is a dream. I wish they would put the show on video, they are bringing all these other shows out, thst should be one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They have brought them back except the dead dog arc. They are still outstanding and hold up well

      Delete
  23. Dominique IndarsinghMay 01, 2017 2:29 AM

    I think wiseguy was one of the coolest shows I viewed as a child back in the 80s.The character I found to be cool as well and the leather jacket thing which he sometimes wore I always wanted one.

    ReplyDelete
  24. heard he is really really FAT !!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ken always impressed me as a handsome confident cool person sorry he had such bad financial luck their are always cheaters out there looking to do you in It sounds like He has his head on straight helping the vets and the animals i'ts good to see reruns of wiseguy on H&I channel and shame on anonymous 6/14/17 9;35pm for the FAT comment!

      Delete
    2. Agreed I'm glad I bought the discs when they first came out the newer ones,the blu ray aren't as good,don't know why. And to the "fat" comment left ,so what if he is he's still a great person with a big ❤and if he is there's more of him to ��

      Delete
  25. Thanks for the update. I know, it was written 3 years ago, but it was great to read.

    ReplyDelete

Like This Post? Share It!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...