Richard Dean Anderson is probably best known as MacGyver, the clever and inventive nonviolent hero who solved problems in his own unique way for seven successful seasons on ABC. In his roles before and since, this gifted actor has continued to demonstrate his remarkable talent and versatility.
Richard was born on January 23, 1950 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, Stuart Anderson, taught English, drama, and humanities at a local high school and was an accomplished jazz bassist. His mother, Jocelyn, was an artist, talented in both painting and sculpture. Richard is the eldest of their four sons. He and his brothers, Jeffrey Scott, Thomas John, and James Stuart, grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Roseville, where Richard developed early interests in sports, the arts, music, and acting.
Like many boys growing up in Minnesota, Richard dreamed of becoming a professional hockey player. However, at the age of 16 he broke both arms, in separate accidents three weeks apart, while playing in high school hockey games. He put aside his dreams of playing professionally, though he still harbors a deep love for the sport. Richard talks of his restlessness growing up, his early desire to explore, and his adventures hitchhiking and hopping freight trains. At the age of 17 he took a 5641 mile bicycle trip from his home in Minnesota through Canada and Alaska, an experience which was sparked by his sense of adventure and discovery, but which also gave him a more grounded and centered sense of direction.
Richard's interest in acting began at a young age. He tells the story of the day he accompanied his father to a rehearsal of a high school play he was directing. The scene called for a birthday cake, but Twinkies were substituted for the cake during rehearsal, and Richard recalls that at the age of 6 or 7 he considered that any job that included free Twinkies was a job he would want to do. He participated in his share of school and church plays growing up, and after graduation he chose to pursue the performing arts in college. Richard studied drama at St. Cloud State University, then transferred to continue his studies at Ohio University, though he left just short of completing his degree. His travels took him briefly to New York City, and he spent some time experiencing the cultural revolution of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco before finally settling in Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, Richard worked as a street mime and juggler and as a jester-singer at a Renaissance-style cabaret. He also worked for a time at Marineland of the Pacific, where he wrote, directed, and performed in the marine mammal shows. His job included holding fish in his mouth for the killer whales to leap up and snatch, and he tells of the powerful whack to the face he took while rehearsing his routine with an orca. He appeared in plays and live theater as well, including landing a role in Superman in the Bones at the Pilgrimage Theatre. During his early years he also joined his friend Carl Dante and for a time sang and played guitar as part of Carl's rock band under the name "Ricky Dean & Dante".
Richard came to national attention in 1976 as Dr. Jeff Webber on the popular daytime drama General Hospital. His complex storyline included a marriage to his brother's finacée, brain surgery following a self-inflicted gunshot wound, marriage to a woman who sold his infant son and was then committed to a sanitarium, and a relationship with a virginal nurse while searching for his lost son. After five years in that role, he felt it was time to move on, and he left the show to try his hand at prime time television.
Following his run on General Hospital, Richard made several guest appearances on a number of prime time shows including The Facts of Life, which aired as an unsold pilot for a new sitcom, as well as Today's FBI and The Love Boat. He returned to series television in two short-lived television series for CBS, first as the eldest brother in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1982, and then as a hot-shot Naval pilot in Emerald Point N.A.S. in 1983. In 1985 Richard appeared with Valerie Bertinelli in Ordinary Heroes, which was intended as a feature film but was released instead as a TV movie in 1986. In this remake of the 1945 movie Pride of the Marines, Richard gave a moving performance as a soldier who is blinded three days before returning home from Vietnam.
In 1985 Richard was cast in his signature role as MacGyver, on ABC. He fondly tells the story of how he won the role. He had been called in for an audition and asked to "cold read" an unfamiliar script. Being very nearsighted, he asked to wear his glasses for the reading, and that simple unselfconscious gesture immediately convinced the show's producers that they had found the right man to become their unpretentious hero. MacGyver ran for seven successful years and continues to enjoy popularity all around the world.
Following MacGyver, Richard sought to break out of his action hero persona, and he demonstrated his incredible talent for a variety of roles when he appeared in several movies for CBS television. In 1992 he starred as a disillusioned cop opposite Justine Bateman in In the Eyes of a Stranger, and later he appeared as a psychotic stalker pursuing Marg Helgenberger in Through the Eyes of a Killer. His chilling performance as an abusive husband opposite Susan Dey in the 1994 movie Beyond Betrayal caused Daily Variety to remark, "...credit Richard Dean Anderson with a performance so creepy that masks of his character could be Halloween bestsellers." In June of 1995 he explored the opposite end of the acting spectrum with a powerful and touching performance as a father grieving the loss of his young son in Past the Bleachers for ABC.
As MacGyver was coming to an end, Richard and his producing partner, Michael Greenburg, had signed an overall deal with Paramount Pictures to develop and produce several films and series for television in conjunction with their own newly created production company, Gekko Film Corp. Richard explains that the name of their company originated during his vacation in Tahiti a few years earlier. As he was drifting to sleep late one night and watching the moon reflecting off the Pacific, a little gecko ran up onto his chest, paused, cocked its head, looked directly at Richard, did a tiny pushup, and then continued on its way. Richard found a spiritual significance in the moment, and when he investigated the folklore surrounding the little creatures, he discovered that geckos are considered to be a symbol of good fortune. He decided that the lucky lizard was the perfect symbol for his new production company, but he opted to keep the original Latin spelling, and thus "Gekko Film Corp" was born. In their first joint project with Paramount, Richard acted as both star and executive producer of two MacGyver movies for television, both of which were filmed in London in 1993. MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis and MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday aired in 1994 to critical acclaim.
The next project for Gekko was the 1995 TV series Legend for UPN. In it, Richard portrayed Ernest Pratt, an 1870s dime novelist who reluctantly takes on the role of his literary hero, Nicodemus Legend, in a lighthearted blend of western and science fiction. Once again Richard took on the role of executive producer, as well as demonstrating a considerable talent for comedy, in what he has described as his favorite role to date.
Following the premature cancellation of Legend, Richard signed an agreement with CBS television and filmed a pilot episode for a new television series, Firehouse, in which he starred as a New York City fireman. The pilot was not picked up by the network, however, and it was instead reedited to air as a television movie. His next appearance was as the heroic captain of a doomed airliner in the 1996 blockbuster NBC miniseries Pandora's Clock, which received critical acclaim and was an important ratings winner for the network.
Richard followed this success by joining with MGM/UA and Showtime television in a joint deal with Gekko Film Corp to produce and star in the new science fiction series Stargate SG-1, based on the 1994 movie. As Air Force Colonel Jack O'Neill, Richard led a team of explorers each week through the stargate to worlds throughout the galaxy. The series began production in Vancouver in February of 1997 and debuted in July to outstanding ratings on Showtime. After five years, Stargate moved to the Syfy channel where it remained for five more years. The highly successful series spawned two spin-offs, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, both of which featured guest appearances by Richard's character. In 2008, two DVD movies followed, Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum, the latter of which also included a brief appearance by Richard as Jack O'Neill.
Richard has never married, and although he prefers to keep his private life private, he has been linked in the past with several high-profile women, including Deidre Hall, Sela Ward, Marlee Matlin, Katarina Witt, Teri Hatcher, and Lara Flynn Boyle. In 1996, Richard met Apryl Prose, and together they celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter, on August 2, 1998. Wylie Quinn Annarose Anderson was born in Vancouver and entered the world at 7 lbs. 11 oz. Richard, who has always longed for children, speaks with great enthusiasm about the adventure of fatherhood, and he takes great pride in his reputation as a doting dad.
When Apryl and Wylie moved to Los Angeles, Richard commuted between LA and Vancouver each week for several years in order to balance his roles as Jack O'Neill and as father to young Wylie. However, in 2004 he made the decision that his daughter must take priority, and after 8 seasons on Stargate SG-1, he left the series in order to spend more time with Wylie. He let go of his home in Vancouver as well as two family cabins he had owned in northern Minnesota, and he began building his dream home in Malibu, California, which was completed in 2008. There, he quietly slipped into semi-retirement and became a full-time single dad to his daughter. Wylie has grown into an extraordinary young woman, and even from a young age she has shown an interest and a remarkable talent for performing, a field which she has chosen to pursue.
Since leaving Stargate, Richard has kept in touch with acting through a number of smaller guest roles. He has appeared in several commercials for products and businesses including MinutePass, MasterCard, Pepsi, Zaxby's, and Mercedes-Benz. In addition to his guest appearances on Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, Richard has also appeared in small guest roles in such television series as Saturday Night Live, Fairly Legal, and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. The fulfillment of a lifelong dream came when he was invited to play himself as a "guest voice" on The Simpsons, one of his favorite TV series. In 2011, Richard made a guest appearance on Raising Hope in an episode that marked the television debut of his daughter, Wylie. In it, Wylie's character is attracted to a boy her own age, but Richard portrayed her overly protective father who misinterprets and overreacts to the situation.
Richard Dean Anderson is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, with naturally dark brown hair and eyes. He has a deep love of dogs, whom he refers to as his "favorite people," and his most constant companion for many years had been Whiskey, the Australian shepherd he had raised from a puppy and a permanent fixture on the MacGyver set, who passed away in 1989 at the age of 13. In 1996, Richard found himself a new companion in Zoë, another Australian shepherd puppy and "best friend." Zoë also accompanied Richard to the set as he was filming Stargate, and she eventually went to live with Richard's brother in California. In 2008, as Richard was settling into his new home, yet another Australian shepherd was added to his family when he adopted a new female puppy named Andy. From time to time, other dogs have joined the "pack," as Richard puts it, including Daisy and Poppy, who had belonged to his mother.
Richard loves to travel, and he has retained his love for music and the arts. He enjoys collecting art, with his tastes running from the French Impressionists to the more modern, and he enjoys using the digital medium to experiment with artistic creations. He has played the guitar and has even tried his hand at composing, including the original piece, Eau d'Leo, which was used in the series MacGyver. He has expressed his appreciation for both classical music and jazz, as well as the country-rock guitar style of artists such as Steve Earle, and he has considered Leo Kottke to be his musical idol for years. An avid sports fan, he has indulged his passions for hockey, skiing, baseball, sky diving, cycling, and auto racing whenever possible. He participated in the Toyota Celebrity Long Beach Grand Prix twice, as well as various other racing events around the country. He has a passion for skiing and could often be found on the ski slopes, both in his off time and for numerous celebrity events for charity. As a huge fan of ice hockey, he is one of the founders of the Celebrity All Star Hockey Team, a collection of hockey enthusiasts from the sports and entertainment worlds who play in NHL cities throughout the country for charity. In 1988 and 1992, Richard was chosen to be the honorary captain of Team USA, the United States Olympic hockey team, and he takes pride in his opportunities to become an ambassador for the sport. He enjoys fast cars and motorcycles, and he has owned, among others, both a 1000cc Harley-Davidson Sportster and a black Acura NSX. With fatherhood, the fast sports vehicles were replaced by a more family-friendly SUV and Audi sedans, but in 2006 he once again indulged in his love of motorcycles when he bought a BMW R1200GS on which he enjoys taking road trips up the California coast.
Richard actively supports many charities and organizations. For many years he was on the Board of Trustees for the Challengers Boys and Girls Club, a youth organization founded in 1968 with the help of MacGyver executive producer Stephen Downing, and upon which the Challenger Center of the TV series was based. He is the recipient of the 1995 Celebrity Award from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to terminally ill children, and his commitment to the Foundation has included many opportunities for his young fans to visit the set. He has supported the Multiple Sclerosis Society as well as organizations that support children with AIDS and other life-threatening diseases, and he has done several public service announcements for causes he strongly supports, including the Center for the Prevention of Handgun Violence and Project Literacy US. For many years he has given his support to the Special Olympics, and he was one of the key speakers at the opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics games in 1991. Richard has been supportive of the US military, and because of his positive portrayal of an Air Force officer on Stargate SG-1, he was recognized by the Air Force Association as an Honorary Air Force Brigadier General in 2004. In recent years, Richard's focus has been particularly drawn to environmental and health issues. He had been named to the board of directors of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and he has worked with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in support of his Waterkeeper Alliance, both of which protect local waterways, oceans, and marine life. Personal relationships have also led to Richard's support of the UCLA Foundation's Art of the Brain, which funds brain cancer research, and the Keck School of Medicine's USC Pain Center, which seeks solutions for chronic pain conditions.
In recent years, Richard has taken fewer acting roles, but he has enjoyed visiting various fan conventions around the world. Such events allow him to indulge his interest in travel as well as to meet the fans who have followed his career for decades. Conventions provide the opportunity for photo ops, autographs, and question and answer panels during which Richard and his fans can greet each other face to face.
Throughout his career, Richard has made a point of selecting roles that would allow him to stretch and demonstrate the range of his remarkable skill. As a performer, as a father, as a tireless supporter of charitable causes, Richard has remained a role model and an inspiration to millions around the globe.