Ernest Borgnine passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. Whenever a famous TV or movie personality dies I try to remember exactly how he or she mattered to me and write a little bit about it on this blog. In some cases there’s no escaping the age difference. I’m 36 years old, which should explain the fact that when I think of Borgnine I see a black chopper. Yes, I grew up with Airwolf, the 1984-1987 TV series starring Jan-Michael Vincent as a troubled Vietnam vet who helped people in trouble, with Borgnine as a sidekick. Every episode ended with the super chopper engaging in an aerial showdown with the bad guys. It was all very much Knight Rider, just a bit duller.
Airwolf was hardly Borgnine’s finest hour, but the show was a hit and I’m hardly the only one who appreciated his work. In the clip above, from the Archive of American Television, the star shares his memories from Airwolf. Reading about him after his death makes one thing clear – a lot of people really liked him and he seemed to be a gentleman. New York Times writer Michael Wilson remembers him this way. Sometimes the work he got didn’t do real justice to his talent, but he gained popularity on not only Airwolf but also chiefly McHale’s Navy (1962-1966). One of his last great performances also showed the world what a fine actor he was, an Emmy-nominated appearance in two episodes of ER in 2009. Of course, he also won an Oscar for Marty (1955), so Hollywood did indeed recognize his talent early on.