Word is just now getting out that Academy Award winning actor Ernest Borgnine passed away. The very versatile actor was 95, and had remained working up until his passing, just recently completing “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez”.
In his more than 60 years as an actor, he seemed to connect with every generation, portraying various roles that would stick with him through his entire career. While others would remember him in “McHale’s Navy”, or the younger set might have recognized his voice in a few episodes of “Spongebob Squarepants”, for me, it was the TV series “Airwolf”.
For 2 1/2 seasons from 1984 to 1986, Borgnine played Dominic Santini, proprietor of Santini Air, and co-pilot/flight engineer of the military helicopter known as Airwolf. Joining Borgnine was Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, the lead pilot of Airwolf, and employee/friend of Santini’s, Alex Cord as Michael Coldsmith Briggs III, as their liaison with the agency that built the machine, and Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy, a Texas Highway Patrol helicopter pilot who after a brief encounter with Hawke and Santini tracks them down to California, and ultimately becomes the third member of the team.
Despite Borgnine being many years older than the other cast members, he played a central role, despite his second billing to Jan-Michael Vincent. After the show moved on (CBS cancelled the series, USA network picked it up for one more season, completely replacing the cast, and moving filming to Vancouver from Los Angeles), the other actors did not see the continued success that Borgnine did, going on to many more TV appearances and movies.
As hopes continue to run high for Airwolf, like many of the other 80’s TV action series, will get a Theatrical reboot, it is sad that Borgnine will not be here to be a part of it.
Rest in piece, Ernest, and thank you for all the years of entertainment you have brought upon us all.