From the S&S archives: Don Johnson: Mr. 'Vice' guy
September 23, 1988
THE PASTEL SPORTS jacket is gone. So are the sunglasses. The stubble on his chin is just a shadow of its former five o'clock self.
The only similarity between actor Don Johnson and Detective Sonny Crockett, the character Johnson portrays in the television crime series Miami Vice, is that both take a tough stance against drugs.
Johnson was in Munich recently, representing Adidas sportswear at the ISPO international sports convention. He met with the press to talk about his anti-drug sentiments, about Miami Vice and about upcoming projects, including a starring role in a feature film and a new album.
The setting was the posh Bayrische Hof hotel in downtown Munich. When Johnson entered the conference room some 35 minutes after the scheduled time (he needed extra time to dress, according to his press spokesman), he strode confidently through the throng of reporters to the front of the room. He was dressed in a stylish gray suit, dark gray shirt and matching tie, and — unlike Crockett — he was wearing socks. Johnson wasn't as short as rumor had it, standing at least 5 feet, 8 inches. And cameras do not do the blue-eyed, quick-to-grin sex symbol justice.
Johnson made it clear from the start that he. wouldn't answer personal questions. When they did pop up, he was hesitant and evasive. He called Barbra Streisand, whom he's rumored to marry later this year, a "very dear friend" with whom he enjoys "a pleasant relationship from time to time." Other than that, he said, his relationship with the entertainer is "of a private nature."
The actor preferred to talk about Miami Vice and the effect the TV series has had on the battle against drugs.
"Singularly the most important battle that we have yet to win, even make a dent in, is the incredible pervasiveness of drug abuse and drugs in our culture, in our country and every country around the world," he said in his familiar gravelly voice. "We're going to have to join together as a global community and stamp out the scourge of drugs. Otherwise, it's going to rob us of our young and of our vitality and of our ability to sustain.
"The drug trade is a very violent and brutal business," he added. "I believe that we (Miami Vice) deal with it on a responsible level, and I also believe, and there's some evidence to the fact, that our research and our investigation into the proliferation of drug-smuggling into the United States has enlightened a lot of the government agencies."
Johnson cited as an example a bill he said was passed by Congress, which stipulates that when a drug dealer is arrested, all of his illegal profit is confiscated and used in the fight against other drug smugglers.
"That idea came off our show," he said. "It's one of the things that I'm very proud of."
Another of Johnson's concerns is communication on a one-on-one basis.
"Probably one of the most significant and profound achievements that men and women could possibly endeavor ... is learning how to talk to each other," he said. "It seems to me that by some accounts we have shared the planet for thousands of years, and we still haven't learned how to look each other in the eye and tell each other how we feel."
Johnson expresses this concern in an upcoming film, the comedy-drama Sweet Hearts Dance. Scheduled for release in the United States the end of this month, the movie is about marriage and male friendship in the '80s. Johnson stars as a married man settled down in a New England town; actor Jeff Daniels plays the part of a bachelor. The movie co-stars Susan Sarandon and Elizabeth Perkins.
Of his own relationships with women, the 38-year-old three-time divorced father of a 6-year-old boy, who has a reputation for being a ladies' man, said: "I adore all women. I find women fascinating and enchanting. I am a firm believer in marriage. Unfortunately for me, I haven't been successful at it yet. But it's early, I still have time."
Johnson has been more successful at making records. In 1986 he released his debut album, Heartbeat, which went platinum. In January he'll release a second album which, he said, will contain more ballads than the first and will have more of a rhythm and blues feel to it.
"(Making records) is a spiritual release for me because my music comes from a place that's more personal and it's more visceral for me," he said. "I feel it in my bones. And so to be able to make music and to be able to present it to the public and my fans, it's satisfying in a way that's indescribable."
Johnson plans on continuing to sing, to star in Miami Vice "for as long as my fans want me to do it" and to act in feature films.
And he's come to terms with the gossip in the press.
"At first I was angry and disappointed and hurt," he said. "But then I became aware of the fact that, after so many things had been written about me that didn't have anything to do with who I am, I finally realized ... that it was part of a machine that sold their magazines and their tabloids. I stopped taking it personally and realized it's not me; it's what I do.
"It's a regrettable part of the profession that I'm in," he added, "but I always try to laugh it off with a simple phrase: The alternative is unacceptable."