Legendary Bodybuilder Actors: Mike Henry

Michael Dennis Henry was a bodybuilding professional football player at the time he entered the acting profession.

Mike played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1958 to 1961 and the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 to 1964. During part of that time, he was under contract with Warner Brothers and played a variety of parts on TV’s Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Cheyenne, and in the feature film Spencer’s Mountain.

Mike’s most prominent role was as Tarzan in three 1960s movies that were filmed back-to-back in 1965: Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Tarzan and the Great River, and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy. The role of Tarzan came Mike’s way when producer Sy Weintraub (a Rams Fan) saw him in a TV documentary about the football team produced by and featuring Mike. Weintraub had been searching for a “younger Burt Lancaster” type and believed that Mike would be a perfect King of the Jungle for his upcoming film productions and a TV series that he had in early development. Critics agreed, saying that the dark-haired, square-jawed, bodybuilder resembled classic illustrations of the ape-man more than any other actor who had taken on the role before. Unfortunately, Weintraub’s Tarzan productions were less than ideal for Mike who suffered animal bites, food poisoning, numerous infections, a liver ailment, and impossible work schedules in Mexico and Brazil. After completing his final Tarzan film, Mike turned down the television series and sued the producer for maltreatment, abuse, and working conditions detrimental to his health and welfare. Ron Ely starred in the subsequent series.

Mike went on to portray Sergeant Kowalski in The Green Berets with John Wayne, Luke Santee in More Dead Than Alive with Clint Walker and Vincent Price, corrupt Sheriff “Blue Tom” Hendricks in Rio Lobo with John Wayne, and a nasty prison guard in The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds. Mike also acted with Charlton Heston in three films: Number One, Skyjacked, and Soylent Green.

Mike is probably best known to movie audiences for playing Jackie Gleason‘s character’s dim-witted son “Junior” in the highly popular Smokey and the Bandit comedies, starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.

Sadly, Mike retired from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.