LOS ANGELES, CA - Long-cherished passions die a difficult death, and working in television for many actors is a passion that, for them, will never die. Just ask 1970's TV icon Lee Majors, who for several years enjoyed the spoils of portraying a man worth more than most midsize corporations back at that time.
Thirty-five years ago, Majors was a household name, a hero to millions of fans across the country for the acting role that vaulted him into celebrity-stardom. Lee played an astronaut who was also a man barely alive, Colonel Steve Austin, aka "The Six Million Dollar Man." Being married to pinup goddess and "Charlie's Angel" Farrah Fawcett didn't hurt things, either, God rest her soul.
"I absolutely loved pretending to be a cyborg...part human, part machine." Majors, 74, recalls fondly. "I felt like I could conquer the world each day then go home each night and make love to the sexiest woman on the planet." His mother didn't raise any fools! What man wouldn't want to have been him back then?
Around 1976, the name Steve Austin didn't exactly evoke mental images of outrageous wrestlers or 19th-century Texas revolutionists. It was a name synonymous with invincibility. It was a name reserved for a character who possessed superhuman capabilities. Like Superman himself, Steve Austin could leap onto rooftops in a single bound, see for miles with telescopic clarity, and waylay an evildoer with one flick of his wrist.
Austin fought crooks, spies, space aliens, and even a bigfoot monster that actually looked stinky, stuff that made him a role model to boys and men alike across the country. Yet, while doing so, he retained a rugged, debonaire repose about him that kept the female viewers tuning in each week as well. He even grew a pornstache for the last two seasons, a hot commodity in Hollywood at the time. "I had both sides of the isle soaking me up like a sponge." Majors laughs to himself.
Majors is aware that his character wasn't exactly regarded as a classic superhero. "There was a difference between Austin and, say Superman, for instance. Austin's powers...ha ha...get it? Austin Powers, Austin's powers?...well, anyway, his powers didn't come naturally like the guy with the big S on his chest. Steve was an ordinary human being, an astronaut by profession, who had walked on the moon and test-piloted state-of-the-art high-tech aircraft for the military."
"A crash landing nearly took him out, cutting off his legs and arms and putting out an eye." Austin tells the backstory of a man who never existed as if he were as real as the actor himself. "The government capitalized on the accident by using Austin as a guineapig to try out a new technology called bionics. This technology could give a normal person abnormal strength and senses by replacing lost limbs and organs with manufactured prosthetics. The whole job set the government back $6 million, an ungodly price in the mid-seventies, but it certainly wouldn't buy even a bionic penis by today's standards." Lee smiles and reflects. "Trust me, I've checked into it!"
Majors concludes his recollection of the storyline: "When Austin healed up after the long, complicated surgery, he learned to use his new appendages and began to pay back his debt to the government by going on secret missions each week to combat the forces of evil in the world. Today's extremist groups wouldn't have a chance in hell against me...I, uh, I mean Steve!!" Majors' age apparently betrays him at this point, as reality seems to be intermingling in his mind with decades-old obsolete science fiction.
Rumors have surfaced recently that indicate Majors might be trying to garner interest among some prominent television producers to resurrect the show in an updated version and bring it back to the primetime lineup this coming fall. "I know it's been awhile since I could run 60 mph on a treadmill and lift a ton of iron with one arm, but I'm still in relatively good shape, and I'm willing to train for the part."
Apparently, a couple producers have expressed some waivering curosity, mainly about how best to update the show. "What would be the going rate for the replacement parts and surgery to get the same results that OSI got from their $6 million investment in 1976?" producer Stuart Silverman asked in a conversation about bringing the show back to TV. "With the rate of inflation measured in terms of, say a comparison with gold prices of $120 per ounce in 1976, how much would one realistically expect to pay for such a bionic man today, when gold is now over $1400 an ounce? What are we talking here, the Sixty-Six Million Dollar Man?"
Majors has done the math, or at least had somebody do it for him. He says he consulted an economist about this very calculation, and he was told it would cost well over a hundred million bucks to get the same level of performance from a cyborg in today's world. However, today's technology would far exceed that of what was available then by leaps and bounds, creating a price drop for parts that are slightly outdated.
"Hell, I could probably get a secondhand bionic brain these days to go with the rest of it for not much more." Majors stated with the recent recession in mind, but he stopped short of realizing this is all abject fantasy. "I hear they're trying to unload older parts for discounted prices...I looked online but didn't have much luck."
Silverman, who has brought to television some of the highest-rated programs in the past decade, has a cautious but optimistic take on Major's proposal to reprise the role himself, rather than hiring it out to a younger, more appealing actor. "It's Lee's idea to do it himself, not anyone else's. If you had asked me fifteen years ago whether I thought it would work (bringing the show and Majors back), I would've supported it. Not so much today."
Silverman chooses his words gingerly out of respect for the aging star whose light may be dimming. "He's a wonderful guy and an iconic actor from a time when such shows were wildly successful in the ratings...I'm afraid that might not be the case today. However, if Richard Anderson ever wanted to return as Oscar Goldman, Austin's boss, I'd be all for it...we can always use more Jewish characters on the tube!"
Majors is approaching the backside of seventy, and he has proudly accepted there are many more years behind him now than there are ahead, but he tries to convey to those out there who still remember him from his "Big Valley" days in the sixties as well as the years when he played a stunt double in "The Fall Guy" that he's still alive and well, for the most part. "These days, I don't move around like I used to, so if I did get the chance to come back to TV as Steve Austin, I could do the running scenes that were shown in slow motion originally, but this time they wouldn't have to slow down the film...I'd just run like I normally do now."
Majors laments the gradual loss of his hearing over the last few years, and, in another bout of confusion between fantasy and reality, he reminds fans that everything wears out eventually, including bionics. "I wear a bionic ear now, similar to the one Jamie Summers, the Bionic Woman, had implanted when she had her parachute accident leading to her spinoff show. Hers didn't last long before she had to have it replaced. Incidentally, I always wished she had been given a bionic vagina. Imagine the sex we could've had!!"
Lee sticks a shaky finger into his right ear to adjust the volume on his hearing aid and resumes his thought. "I hope mine will last awhile longer. Afterall, I'm a paid spokesman for the company that makes this device. It's a steady gig for an old guy like me and, to be honest, pretty much all I could get at my age, except for an adult diaper commercial that I passed on last year." He chuckles to himself at the notion of swallowing his pride for the almighty dollar. "Lee Majors has never once or never will crap his pants, and the same goes for Steve Austin...I'm the One Hundred and Six Million Dollar Man, for Christ's sakes!!"
Yes, Mr. Majors, you will always be that and much more to all your loving and loyal fans...but let sleeping dogs lie, for Christ's sakes...and your own.