James Luisi, a character actor adept at portraying hard-boiled detectives and gangsters and remembered for his long-running role as Lt. Doug Chapman on television's "The Rockford Files," has died.
Luisi, 73, died June 7 in Los Angeles of cancer.
A professional basketball player with the Baltimore Bullets for two years, Luisi got into acting in the late 1950s after hearing that a neighborhood friend, Anthony Franciosa, was appearing in a Broadway show. "I can do that," Luisi said, and promptly enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Although probably best known for "The Rockford Files" with James Garner, Luisi won his top acting award, an Emmy, in 1976 for his portrayal of George Washington in the NBC special, "First Ladies' Diaries: Martha Washington.
Luisi also appeared in episodes of many of television's most popular detective and adventure series, including "Cannon," "Kojak," "Hunter," "Wonder Woman," "T.J. Hooker," "Hart to Hart," "The A-Team," "Knight Rider," "The Fall Guy," "Magnum, P.I." and "L.A. Law."
For a single season in 1983, he starred in his own series, "Renegades," as a hip cop who organizes seven tough young gang leaders, including Patrick Swayze, to help him fight crime.
In his early acting years, Luisi appeared regularly in the soap operas "Another World" and "Days of Our Lives" and in such Western series as "Gunsmoke."
The actor began his career on the stage, appearing in Broadway's "Alfie!," "The Soldiers" and musicals "Sweet Charity," "Do I Hear a Waltz?" and "Zorba." Off-Broadway, he had leading roles in "The Crucible," "Detective Story" and "Threepenny Opera."
He continued working in legitimate theater, notably in national tours and Southern California. Luisi earned the Valley Theater League Award in 1994 for best director of a new play when he handled "Final Reunion" for the Valley Theater. Born in East Harlem, N.Y., Luisi attended St. Francis College on a basketball scholarship. He served in the Army during the Korean War.
Luisi is survived by his wife of 41 years, the former Georgia Phillips, and their daughter, Jamie Swartz of Los Angeles; a brother, Jerry Luisi, of Dallas, and two grandchildren.
A public memorial is being planned. The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the American Cancer Society.