Wednesday, 31 December 2003

Remembering Jon-Eric Hexum

Mention the name of Jon-Eric Hexum to anyone, and they probably won't know who the man is. He wasn't the best actor in the world, and probably wouldn't have won tons of awards for his work, but when he died in tragic circumstances in 1984, aged just 27, one of the most promising careers in Hollywood came to an end.

Hexum was born in 1957. A native of Tenafly, New Jersey, Hexum studied biomedical engineering at Michigan State University. He also played college football, before graduating and undertaking a career as a male model.

Hexum was your typical All-American boy. Although not the most handsome of me he certainly had his fair share of female admirers, and with a body honed to perfection through various athletic pursuits, he could have earned a living for years in the modelling industry. However, after being discovered by Bob Lemond, who also happened to manage a certain Jon Travolta, Hexum took his first steps as an actor.

However, Hexum turned do n several roles in some prominent television series, such as Chips and The Dukes Of Hazzard. Two prominent roles, in the U.S. series Voyagers, and the Joan Collins television film The Making Of A Male Model led Hexum to perhaps his most prominent role, in the action television series Cover Up, alongside Jennifer O'Neill and Richard Anderson, known to most people for his role as Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.

Cover Up came from the same studio and creative team that gave us the likes of Knight Rider. Glen A. Larson is regarded as one of the most creative minds in American television history, and the concept behind Cover Up had never been done before. A CIA agent is killed in action, and his wife Dani (O'Neill), a prominent fashion photographer, takes his place in the CIA, undertaking assignments around the world while still posing as a fashion photographer, with her most prominent model Mac Harper (Hexum), all the while under the watchful eye of their CIA boss (Anderson).

Like many other television series of the day, Cover Up featured a soundtrack of current rock and pop songs, and had scenarios where the good guys normally won. This was Hexum's big break. Around the same time that a certain Bruce Willis was making headlines as the male lead in Moonlighting, Cover Up could have launched Hexum's career. He could have gone far.

Except for a tragic accident that occurred on October 18th, 1984, during the filming of the eighth show in the first series.

The story has it that on that particular day of filming, there were many delays. Hexum was starting to feel the pressure, and several colleagues noted that he looked tired, overworked and stressed. After taking a nap, Hexum awoke to find that shooting of the episode was still being delayed. The scene he was filming called for his character Mac to pretend to shoot Dani's assistant with a blank .44 Magnum handgun. When there were more delays, Hexum apparently lost it. Frustrated by the delays, Hexum jokingly put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

The explosive charge in the blank .44 Magnum gun fractured Hexum's skull. A fragment of his skull lodged in his brain. Two days later his life-support machine was turned off, and he died a short time later.

The coroner's inquest concluded that Hexum died as a result of an accidental suicide.

The Cover Up series continued after Hexum's death. A new character and actor, Anthony Hamilton, was cast as the male lead. Hamilton himself would later lose his life after contracting the AIDS virus.

Jon-Eric Hexum was on the verge of making it big. Nobody can say for sure just how big a star Hexum would have become. His acting ability could never be compared to the likes of Pacino or De Niro, but with his ability, he could have carved a niche for himself in the Stallone or Willis mould.

It is almost nineteen years since Jon-Eric Hexum died. Other more prominent Hollywood stars, such as Brandon Lee for instance, have also died in similar, tragic circumstances. For an albeit short length of time, Hexum was one of the most well-known actors in the world, a star of the eighties who was taken far before his time. He will always be remembered as a star of a television show that could have made it big.