Thursday, May 16, 2024

Whatever happened to Michael Cole of The Mod Squad?

Michael Cole in 1973

In the late 1960s and early 1970s. Michael Cole was part of a famous television crime fighting trio.  He played undercover cop Pete Cochran on The Mod Squad.  Billed as "One black, one white, one blonde," the hip trio wore stylish sunglasses.  One critic described them as "the hippest and first young undercover cops on TV."  

Michael Cole was the white guy of the group.  Peggy Lipton was the blonde.  Peggy played flower child Julie Barnes, the sole female member, while Clarence Williams III, portrayed Lincoln Hayes, the cool Black guy.  Peggy and Clarence have both passed way, and Michael is the last survivor of the original cast.  

Peggy died of colon cancer in Los Angelis on May 11, 2019.  She was 72 at the time of her passing.  Clarence died in L.A. on June 4, 2021 at the age of 81, also of colon cancer.

Peggy Lipton in 1968

Clarence Williams III in 1971

Tige Andrews, who portrayed Captain Adam Greer on The Mod Squad, died of cardiac arrest on January 27, 2007.  He was 86.

Michael Cole was born July 3, 1940 in Madison, Wisconsin.  According to his 2018 autobiography I Played the White Guy, Michael never knew his biological father, who abandoned his family when Michael was born.  His mother was left alone and penniless to raise Michael and his brother, Ted, a year and a half older.  "I've had a very emotional, up-and-down life," Michael explained in a 2016 interview with Closer Weekly.  "We never had a dad - well, we did for a while, but he passed."

Michael's TV career began when he appeared as Kipp in a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke entitled "Snap Decision" (Season 12, Episode 1, Air Date: September 17, 1966).  He then guest-starred in a 1967 episode of the TV drama Run for Your Life, starring Ben Gazzara.  

In 1968, Michael's life change forever when TV tycoon Aaron Spelling auditioned him for a starring role on The Mod Squad.  He was cast as Pete Cochran, a young rebel who was kicked out of his Beverly Hills home by his wealthy parents for stealing a car.  After being arrested and placed on probation, Pete became an undercover cop.

According to TV Guide, Michael was reluctant to take on the role of an undercover coop.  After reading the script, however, he changed his mind.  The Mod Squad became a huge hit because it was very timely in the Vietnam War/hippy era.  The show ran for five seasons, from 1968 to 1973, on the ABC network.  Michael appeared in all 123 episodes of the series.

The Mod Squad in 1971

During the 1970s, Michael made guest appearances on numerous television series including Police Story (two episodes 1974, 1975), Wonder Woman (1978), The Love Boat (two episodes, 1979 )and CHiPs (two episodes 1979, 1981).  He also appeared in the 1978 TV mini-series, a thriller called Evening in Byzantium. Michael reprised the role of Pete Cochran in a 1979 Mod Squad TV reunion movie called The Return of the Mod Squad.  The entire original cast is reunited as the three former undercover cops are called back to the force after several attempts are made on the life of their old boss and mentor, Adam Greer.  Pete is now a divorced, stressed-out CEO, while Julie has become a horse trainer, wife and mother.  Linc is a teacher and adopted father to a boy played by Todd Bridges.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Michael guest-starred in two episodes of  The Littlest Hobo (1980), Fantasy Island (1981), Vega$ (1981) Murder, She Wrote (1987, 1990), Good Sports (1991) and Diagnosis Murder (1996)

Michael portrayed Henry Bowers in the 1990 TV mini-series It, based on Stephen King's horror novel. In 1991, Michael joined the cast of General Hospital  He played the role of Harlan Barrett in 64 episodes of the daytime drama.

Michael guest-starred as Charles Hadley in a 2006 episode of the medical drama ER.  In 2006, he also appeared alongside Clarence Williams III in Mystery Woman: At First Sight, an episode of the Mystery Women film series on the Hallmark Channel.  In the 2007 feature film Mr. Brooks, Michael played the attorney for Demi Moore's character, Detective Tracy Atwood.

Michael Cole has had a long battle with alcoholism.  In his 2016 interview with Closer Weekly, he opened up about his addiction.   He said that he started drinking at 12 or 13 years of age.  "There were many times we didn't have a place live and we'd stay with aunts and uncles" and he "really started to get in a lot of trouble drinking."  At 14 or 15, Michael ended up in Dayton County Jail after passing out in a gutter.  "My locker at school was just full of old wine bottles.  I was married at 16, became a father and quit school." he told Closer.

In 1994, the actor finally underwent treatment for his drinking problem at the Betty Ford Clinic.  "My wife Shelley said, "You better go the the Betty Ford Center." he revealed to Closer.  "And I wound up there within two days.  I didn't want to lose her - and she was right."

Michael Cole has been married three times and divorced twice.  He is the father of two children from his first marriage as a teenager, and a daughter from his second marriage.  

Michael's second wife, Paula Kelly (Junior), whom he married in 1971, was the daughter of Paula Kelly and Harold Dickinson of the vocal group The Modernaires.  Paula (Jr.) also sang with the Modernaires at one time.  Michael and Paula (Jr.) had a daughter, Jennifer Holly Cole, born 1972.   Paula (Jr.) passed away in 2012.

Paula Kelly Jr.

Michel has been married to Shelley Funes since 1996,  Shelley helped organize an intervention to help Michael with his alcoholism. He credits her for saving his life.

Michael and Shelley

SOURCES: Closer Weekly, "The Mod Squad's Michael Cole Opens Up About His Past Struggles With Alcohol - "I Started Drinking at Age 12," by Closer Staff, April 8, 2016; Interview with Australian morning TV talk show Studio Ten, Wikipedia, Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

- Joanne

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