Don Johnson Biography: The Fascinating Don Johnson Biography

Don Johnson is an American actor, producer, director, singer, and songwriter. He was born on December 15, 1949 in Flat Creek, Missouri. Johnson is best known for his starring roles in popular TV series like Miami Vice and Nash Bridges. Some of his most notable film roles include Tin Cup, Django Unchained, Machete, and Knives Out.

Over his decades-long career, Don Johnson has received numerous accolades including a Golden Globe Award and nominations for two Primetime Emmy Awards. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of his contributions to the television industry.

Don Johnson’s Early Life and Education

Don Johnson was born in 1949 to Wayne Fred Johnson, a farmer, and Nell Johnson (née Wilson), a beautician. He is one of six children in the family. As a child, Johnson enjoyed the outdoors and spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with his father.

Johnson attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence briefly before dropping out. He later moved to San Francisco to pursue a career in acting.

Don Johnson’s Acting Career

Don Johnson’s professional acting career began in 1969 when he had a minor role in the film The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart. He landed his first major film role in 1970’s The Harrad Experiment.

In 1973, Johnson acted in the film A Boy and His Dog alongside a young Clint Eastwood. His performance in this film generated positive notice and led to roles in other films like Return to Macon County in 1975.

During the 1970s, Johnson also guest-starred in popular TV shows like Kojak, Police Story, Nashville 99, and Barnaby Jones.

Breakthrough Role in Miami Vice

Don Johnson achieved international fame with his starring role as James “Sonny” Crockett in the hit 1980s cop show, Miami Vice. Miami Vice aired on NBC from 1984 to 1989 and became one of the most popular shows of the decade.

Johnson portrayed the undercover detective James Crockett who took down drug dealers and organized crime rings in Miami. His character typically wore stylish clothes, adding to the show’s modern and trendy vibe. Miami Vice is credited for defining the “look” of the 1980s with its iconic fashion and synthesizer-heavy music.

Johnson won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama in 1986 for his powerful performance on Miami Vice. The show also allowed him to pursue his interest in music – several of Johnson’s songs were featured in Miami Vice episodes.

Nash Bridges and Later Work

After Miami Vice ended in 1989, Don Johnson starred in various TV and film projects before landing his next big role – the title character in the series Nash Bridges.

Nash Bridges aired on CBS from 1996 to 2001 with Johnson starring as an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. His performance on the show demonstrated his versatility as an actor.

Some of Johnson’s noteworthy roles since Nash Bridges include:

  • Django Unchained (2012) – Big Daddy
  • Cold in July (2014) – Jim Bob
  • Watchmen (2019) – Chief Judd Crawford
  • Knives Out (2019) – Richard Drysdale

Johnson continues to act in films and on television today. His most recent project was the 2022 film Black Adam.

Don Johnson’s Singing and Songwriting

In addition to acting, Don Johnson has recorded two studio albums. His single “Heartbeat” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986.

Johnson’s music career started when he co-wrote and sang “Heartbeat” for an episode of Miami Vice. Encouraged by the positive response, he signed a record deal with Epic Records and released his first album also titled Heartbeat in 1986.

His second studio album Let It Roll was released in 1989 and featured more of his self-written songs. Johnson has said that music provides him with “another creative outlet” apart from acting.

Don Johnson’s Personal Life

Don Johnson has been married five times over the years. His wives were:

  • Melanie Griffith (m. 1976–1976)
  • Patti D’Arbanville (m. 1981–1985)
  • Melanie Griffith (m. 1989–1996)
  • Kelley Phleger (m. 1999–present)

Johnson has five children from his marriages. With Griffith, he has daughter Dakota Johnson (born 1989) who is also an actress known for Fifty Shades of Grey. He also has three other children – Jesse (born 1982), Jasper (born 1986), and Deacon (born 2006).

Jesse Johnson is Don’s son with Patti D’Arbanville – he grew up to become an actor and musician. Jasper Johnson is Don’s son with Melanie Griffith. His youngest child Deacon was born when Don was 60 years old, to his wife Kelley Phleger.

Struggles with Substance Abuse

Like many celebrities, Don Johnson has openly discussed his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction over the years.

In the 1980s at the height of his Miami Vice fame, Johnson was using a combination of drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. His dependency on drugs negatively impacted his work and personal life.

After years of substance abuse issues, Johnson finally got sober in 1995. He has said that meeting his wife Kelley gave him the motivation he needed to become and stay clean.

Don Johnson has been vocal about his journey to sobriety and experience with substance abuse problems to help others going through similar battles. He has supported various rehabilitation programs and charities.

Don Johnson’s Legacy and Impact on Pop Culture

The iconic fashion worn by Don Johnson’s character on Miami Vice heavily influenced men’s styles in the 80s and beyond. The casual clothing like T-shirts under blazers, loafers without socks, and sport coats became mainstream trends. Johnson’s stubbled beard look also gained widespread popularity.

Miami Vice costumed Johnson in the era’s most cutting-edge designers like Hugo Boss and Armani, cementing his status as an arbiter of style. Johnson’s impact through his Miami Vice character’s fashion choices demonstrates the cultural influence of television shows and actors.

“The Don Johnson Cool”

Don Johnson gave rise to a cultural phenomenon termed “The Don Johnson Cool” because of his portrayed smooth, confident, and stylish persona on Miami Vice. Millions of male fans worldwide emulated his relaxed poise and soft-spoken, intelligent, tough guy charm.

The Don Johnson Cool made the actor one of the biggest celebrities of the 80s pop culture scene. It resonated so widely that elements of Johnson’s signature swag are visible even in modern pop culture depictions of masculinity.

Resurgence of Popularity

While Don Johnson became an icon in the 80s, his star power waned after Miami Vice ended. However, he began experiencing a career resurgence in the 2010s with roles in hit films like Django Unchained.

Johnson’s supporting part in Knives Out in 2019 brought him back into the pop culture spotlight. His performances showed he was still a formidable actor who could captivate audiences.

Don Johnson remains an enduring and well-loved pop culture figure who epitomized an entire era with his trendsetting style and charming swagger. His biographies appeal to longtime fans along with new audiences.


In summary, Don Johnson has lived a remarkable life and career over the past five decades in the entertainment industry. After early roles, he shot to fame playing Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice, which profoundly impacted pop culture trends in the 80s. The “Don Johnson Cool” stemming from his Miami Vice persona became a cultural phenomenon.

While struggling with substance abuse issues at the height of his career, Johnson was able to achieve sobriety after years and remains dedicated to supporting rehabilitation causes. He continues acting in films and TV shows, demonstrating his versatility and longevity as a performer


Where is Don Johnson originally from?

Don Johnson was born in Flat Creek, Missouri in 1949. He grew up in Missouri before moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s to pursue an acting career.

How many times has Don Johnson been married?

Don Johnson has been married a total of 5 times. His wives were Melanie Griffith (twice), Patti D’Arbanville, and currently Kelley Phleger.

Does Don Johnson have children?

Yes, Don Johnson has 5 children from his various marriages. His kids are Jesse Johnson, Dakota Johnson, Jasper Johnson, Grace Johnson, and Deacon Johnson. His daughter Dakota followed him into acting.

What was Don Johnson’s breakthrough role?

Don Johnson’s breakthrough and career-defining role was playing detective Sonny Crockett on the hit 80s TV series Miami Vice from 1984 to 1989. The show made him an international star.

What other television shows has Don Johnson starred in?

Apart from Miami Vice, Don Johnson has starred in the shows Nash Bridges as the title character from 1996-2001 and recently in the HBO series Watchmen in 2019.