Magnum P.I. was a staple of 1980s TV. It centered on Hawaii-based private investigator Thomas Magnum and his zany crew of friends. They lived luxurious lifestyles and went on plenty of wild adventures, all while becoming one of the most popular television programs of all time.
We put together some updates on the famous cast, a few interesting tidbits, and a handful of fun facts. Just because Magnum P.I. is off the air doesn’t mean you have to stop being a fan! There is still plenty to learn about this iconic show, and we’re here to help you discover more than you ever knew about the popular TV series. Keep reading to see why the show went off the air.
Selleck Becomes A Big Star
Starting us off is Thomas Magnum himself! Actor Tom Selleck has had a wildly successful career in the thirty years since the first episode of Magnum P.I. premiered. He has had leading parts in The Closer, Blue Bloods, Friends, and Las Vegas. He lives on an avocado farm in California and is a strong supporter of the NRA. His life has definitely been full of diverse experiences and interests!
From The Stage To The Small Screen
John Hillerman was famous on Broadway before he ever graced our screens as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on Magnum P.I. He won an Emmy award in 1987, and had a few small roles, but eventually retired from show business for good. He hasn’t been credited in any productions since 1996, and rumor has it that he is confined to a motor scooter. Another fun fact about this famous actor is still ahead.
Manetti’s Minor Roles
From Rick Wright to a star on Hawaii 5-0! But first… Actor Larry Manetti mostly worked minor roles. He was in Swamp Thing, The Renegade, and Jag before getting his second big break and entering people’s homes on their televisions each week. He is currently 71 years old. Click on to see what crazy shenanigans he got into when they weren’t filming!
Roger Mosley Is Your Right-Hand Man
After playing T.C. on Magnum P.I., Roger E. Mosley kept busy! He had a starring role on Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, where he charmed thousands of American viewers and has been in several other television shows and movies. Just like he did on Magnum P.I., Mosley still loves flying his helicopter! A fun fact about him and his flying beast is just ahead.
Ms. Chumley Won You Over
Gillian Dobb only appeared as Agatha Chumley in Magnum P.I. for 32 episodes, but she certainly used those appearances to win her way into the hearts of many! But, she stopped acting after the show went off the air, and lived a quiet life until dying in 2001. Rest in peace, Gillian!
Lieutenant Tanaka Was A Fan Favorite
Kwan Hi Lim was in 26 episodes of Magnum P.I. as Lieutenant Yoshi Tanaka. The show’s producers killed him off in season eight, much to the dismay of many fans. He took a few small acting roles after his character’s untimely demise but didn’t act much leading up to his death in 2008.
He Knows A Little Thing Or Two About Teamwork
Another one of the Magnum P.I. stars who has gone on to what we hope is a better existence is Lance LeGault. He played Colonel Buck Green on the show and did some small roles and voice acting after it was over. His infectious smile and laugh made him a fan favorite, and his 2012 death was lamented by many!
Kathleen Lloyd Didn’t Have Her Big Break Yet
Kathleen Gunkle Lloyd did a brilliant job playing District Attorney Carol Baldwin on the show, but her most famous work came later when she starred in The Missouri Breaks with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. She has made many TV appearances over the years, including a recurring role on Hill Street Blues.
Animals Who Can Act
Magnum P.I.’s most popular characters had to be the Doberman dogs Zeus and Apollo. They were fan favorites on the show for its entire run, and were affectionately referred to as “The Lads.” No one knows what became of these pooch-actors, but given how long ago the show was filmed, we can take a good guess…
You Wouldn’t Have Known He Wasn’t British
John Higgins was a British character on the show, but actor John Hillerman was from Texas. Hillerman had to disguise his voice using a British accent. Sources say he spent hours perfecting his tone to prepare for the role and it paid off with his on-point accent.
Island Hoppers Was A Real Thing
The name of T.C.’s helicopter charter company on the show was Island Hoppers. Ironically, a company by the same name existed in Hawaii at the time of the show, and they received hundreds of thousands of calls from fans who wanted to work with the “famous company!” Take that, Monster and CareerBuilder!
OH MY GOD!
Higgins became famous for his common exclamations of the words “OH MY GOD!” This phrase became such a hallmark of the show that the actors and actresses have made a point to work it into the scripts they’ve used since then. It’s good to know that actors have inside jokes, too!
Breaking The Fourth Wall
“Breaking the Fourth Wall” is when an actor addresses his or her audience directly, rather than pretending that they aren’t there. Tom Selleck famously did this in the last episode of Magnum P.I. when he turned towards the camera and said “Goodnight,” before walking off into the sunset.
The Appearance We Wanted To See
Apparently, the show’s producers really wanted Orson Welles to make an appearance in the final episode. He was in talks with the production company and they were all set to begin filming when Welles, unfortunately, passed away before the show’s final season. Too bad — we would have loved to see this happen!
It Pays To Know An Actor!
Nepotism at its finest! Actor Tom Selleck reportedly pushed producers to hire his high school classmate, Tom Post, to work as the show’s composer. He got the job and wrote that famous theme song. If it weren’t for Ulysses S. Grant High School, Magnum P.I. may have never been as iconic as it was!
The Bridge On The River Kwai
On Higgins’ desk is a small model of a wooden bridge, much like the one in this picture. This same style of bridge is featured in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. This has led many fans to believe that Higgins was a British POW who helped build the bridge during World War II.
This Seal Is The Real Deal
This show was certainly well-researched! Everything about Magnum’s military credentials was accurate – right down to his Navy Seals insignia. The producers must have hired an excellent consultant or they got really lucky when planning out the show. It’s a great amount of detail in any case.
I Mustache You A Question
What do all the main cast members from Magnum P.I. have in common? A mustache, of course! In fact, Larry Manetti was the only regular actor on the show who DID NOT have a mustache. Aren’t you glad we didn’t shave this question for later? Okay, we’re going away now with our comedy heads hung in shame.
Nothing Like An Old Dusseldorf
Magnum’s favorite adult beverage was “Old Dusseldorf… in a long neck.” As far as we can tell, this isn’t a real type of beer that has ever been mass-produced. But, plenty of home-brew enthusiasts have tried to create their own versions of the drink!
Rolling With The Punches
Throughout the show’s entire run, T.C., Rick, and Higgins all punch Magnum at least once. We can’t blame them — he was a bit insufferable at times! Interestingly enough, though, Magnum never punched back! He was either very self-controlled or too lazy to retaliate.
‘Ol Blue Eyes Boosts Ratings
Frank Sinatra certainly had things his way with this one. After meeting Tom Selleck, Sinatra pitched an idea for an episode of Magnum, P.I. The result was the season seven episode called “Laura,” in which Sinatra plays a retired NYC police detective who seeks Magnum’s help in finding his grandaughter’s killers. The episode boosted the show’s ratings and it was Sinatra’s final screen appearance.
Hawaii, She Visited
There were some crossovers between Magnum, P.I. and other shows of the era—something creators of ’80s television were prone to do. One crossover involved Murder, She Wrote. Angela Lansbury appeared on an episode of Magnum, P.I. to help Magnum, who had been accused of killing a hitman. The plot for that episode concluded later that week on an episode of Murder, She Wrote.
McRaney Had A Chance Eventually
Another show that Magnum, P.I. did a crossover with was Simon & Simon. Before that show, Simon & Simon star Gerald McRaney actually auditioned for a part on the pilot episode of Magnum, P.I. He didn’t land the part, but he still had the chance to be on the show when the crossover happened.
Big Man, Little Car
Because Tom Selleck’s 6’4″ frame couldn’t fit in a tiny Porsche, which the producers originally wanted to use and which the company wouldn’t accommodate, he ended up driving his infamous red Ferrari on the show. In order for Selleck to ride comfortably, the padding around the seats were removed and the tops were cut off. Additionally, the seats were permanently moved as far back away from the steering wheel as possible.
The Sweet Ride Was For Sale
In early 2017, Magnum’s Ferrari 308 went up for sale at an auction in Arizona. For $250,000 some lucky buyer could be the proud owner of the red luxury vehicle, along with a certificate of authentication that proved Selleck actually drove the car. It must not have been that popular because the winner of the auction only ended up having to pay $181, 500.
The Man Behind Magnum
When producers approached Selleck with the offer to play Magnum, the character was pitched as a flawless James Bond type with a woman on each arm. Selleck hated the idea as he supposedly said, “I’m tired of playing what I look like.” He told the writers and producers that Magnum should be more of a laidback, “blue collar average Joe,” similar to Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files, which Selleck enjoyed guest starring on prior to the show.
A Role That Could Have Been, But Never Was
The writers eventually gave in to Selleck’s suggestion and he signed on to play the part. By this time, however, he was in the running to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc, but the offer for the role came just days after Selleck’s role on Magnum, P.I. was solidified. Selleck’s commitment to the show forced him to decline playing Indiana Jones due to unavailability. Harrison Ford ought to thank Tom Selleck for that one, right?
But Why Hawaii?
So why did Magnum, P.I. have to take place in Hawaii? Well, CBS’s other popular hit, Hawaii Five-O, ended in the summer of 1980 but the Eye Network was looking for a show to replace it that could also be filmed there. This was so that the network wouldn’t have to close their Hawaii-based offices. Magnum P.I. does make references to its predecessor, as it acknowledges the fictional state police and Steve McGarrett.
Magnum’s Got The Look
One thing that might be just as iconic as Tom Selleck’s mustache is the look he wore as Thomas Magnum. In addition to a large collection of colorful Hawaiian shirts, he also wore some iconic baseball caps throughout the duration of the series. He wore a “Get Wet!” cap, a SEAL camouflage cap, and an Al’s Automotive and Muffler King cap. But perhaps nothing is more iconic that his ubiquitous Detroit Tigers baseball cap.
Take The Money And Run
Roger Earl Mosley, who played Magnum’s trusty sidekick T.C., initially only took the role for quick cash. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about the role and didn’t think the show was going to take off, so he had planned to just play the part and go back home to support his family. Well, he certainly was in for a big surprise, wasn’t he?
Mosely’s Many Mouths To Feed
Just how big was Mosley’s family anyway? Well, apparently that Mosely was so smooth with the ladies back in the day that he ended up fathering five children—with four different women! Apparently, he had to go so far as to introduce all his children to one another so they didn’t unwittingly end up in an inappropriate relationship when they got older.
Manetti Got Trigger Happy
Apparently, Larry Manetti was quite the excitable one on set. One night, he and Selleck were at a bar with some models having drinks, presumably after a day of filming. Suddenly, Manetti pulled out a gun and shot a beer can off the bar, probably to impress the ladies. But this might have been perceived as a shoot up, because Selleck said, “We’re leaving! Right now, before the cops get here!”
Supposedly when he was 11 years old, Larry Manetti went through what all parents hope their kids don’t have to go through. He was almost abducted by a child molester! That sounds like a traumatizing experience. As a result, Manetti became the national spokesman for a foundation to find missing children.
Truly A Family Affair
If you thought Selleck getting his high school buddy to compose the theme song wasn’t really an act of nepotism, get this! Both of Selleck’s wives had appeared on Magnum, P.I. at one point. First wife Jacqueline Ray was in season three and the following season, his current wife Jillie Mack made a small appearance. Even Selleck’s parents made appearances on the show!
When He Wasn’t On The Job
There were a lot of things that Selleck did in his downtime from playing Thomas Magnum. One of those things was being a professional volleyball player! As a part of Hawaii’s Outrigger Canoe Club volleyball team, Selleck and his teammates made it to and won two national championships.
Selleck Made Ends Meet
Apparently, being an actor back then wasn’t enough to pay the bills while living in Hawaii. Selleck only chose to live there so that he could be closer to the set. But in order to sustain himself, he had to pick up extra work here and there, so he worked as a handyman in his off-time! The gig only paid him seven dollars an hour, though.
Filming On Location
While the show sometimes took place in locations other than Hawaii, the magic of Hollywood allowed producers to stay in Hawaii in film exotic locations there. The only time that the show traveled to film was when it went to London. This was in season six for an episode titled “Déjà Vu.”
A Show Within A Show?
There was supposed to be a Magnum, P.I. spin-off that never came to fruition. The show’s very first episode, titled “J.Digger Doyle,” was actually an unofficial pilot for a show that centered around the episode’s titular character. Actress Erin Gray played Digger, who was a security expert that worked closely with Magnum.
We Hope This Really Happens!
In late 2016, it was announced that Magnum, P.I. was going to get the modern reboot, thanks to ABC, John Rogers, and former desperate housewife Eva Longoria. Although not much has been said since the announcement, the potential new series, simply titled Magnum, is supposed to follow Thomas Magnum’s daughter as she returns to Hawaii to take over her father’s job.
Tom Selleck Defines What’s Important To Him
Tom Selleck was such a hardworking actor, that he’d spend 90 hours a week on set! But he decided to slow down and take a break from the show after the birth of his daughter, Hannah. Selleck and wife Jillie Mack made sure that Hannah grew up out of the spotlight and away from Hollywood, which worked out quite well since now she is a professional equestrian in New Mexico and a model on the side.
John Hillerman Dies
Photo by Donaldson Collection/Windward Archives/Getty Images
John Hillerman, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Jonathan Quayle Higgins III in Magnum P.I., passed away on November 9, 2017. He was 84 years old and died at home from natural causes, according to his publicist. In an interview the same year that he nabbed the Higgins role, John Hillerman said “It’s the best gig I’ve ever had. You’re looking at this rare thing: a happy actor.”