Stab Magazine | Big Wednesday Actor Jan-Michael Vincent Dies, Aged 73
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Big Wednesday Actor Jan-Michael Vincent Dies, Aged 73

Protagonist of the best surf movie ever made.

news // Mar 9, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Under somewhat bizarre circumstances, it was revealed last night that actor Jan-Michael Vincent has died, aged 73. The odd part is that he in fact died of cardiac arrest on the 10th February, in a North Carolina clinic, but news has only surfaced now thanks to muck-trawlers TMZ somehow acquiring his death certificate.

Vincent was born in Denver, Colorado and got his first acting gig in 1967. He enjoyed a long acting career, notably appearing alongside Burt Reynolds in Hooper (1978), and with Kim Basinger in Hard Country (1981). He received two Golden Globe nominations, for his role in the 1971 film Going Home, and the TV mini-series Winds of War, in 1983. Amongst the greater population J-MV is most recognised for playing pilot Stringfellow Hawke in television series Air Wolf, but in the surfing community he’ll forever be remembered for playing washed-up Malibu surf star Matt Johnson in the seminal 1978 surf epic, Big Wednesday.

Big Wednesday was based on a short story—”No Pants Lance”—published in Surfer Magazine and written by Denny Aaberg. The script was written by Aaberg and John Milius (who also directed the film) and details the coming of age of three surfers in Vietnam Era California.

Lord Lopez and JMV, on set.

“When I did Big Wednesday my first impressions were that I was going to do this coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones about surfers that nobody took seriously, their troubled lives made larger than life by their experience with the sea,” director John Milius told Film Comment. “And that’s what the movie is. It never strayed from that. There was a lot of pressure to make it more like Animal House, but the movie has a huge following now because it did have loftier ambitions. It wasn’t just a story about somebody trying to ride the biggest wave or something. That’s not enough.”

JMV lived a checkered, alcohol-fuelled existence, and ended up with 60 days jail time in 2000 after violating probation by appearing drunk in public and assaulting his then girlfriend. It was the latest of a string of incidents, including a bout of drink driving that left him with a broken neck in 1997, and numerous acquittals (and one lot of probation) on assault charges.

We’re not ones to turn swooning sycophants next to the death bed, but whatever his demons, Vincent played a hell of a role in what, to this day, is the best depiction of surfing Hollywood’s ever mustered. It also makes Johnson’s famous monologue—”I don’t want to be a star. Have my picture in magazines, have a bunch of kids looking up to me. I’m a drunk, Bear, a screw up. I just surf because it’s good to go out and ride with your friends. I don’t even have that anyone.”—all the more haunting. 

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