'S.W.A.T.' Star Steve Forrest Dies at 87

Steve Forrest - P 2013

UPDATE: A contract player at MGM in the 1950s, he also starred in such films as “The Longest Day” and “Spies Like Us” and in the British TV hit “The Baron.”

Steve Forrest, who starred as Lt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson on the 1970s ABC action series S.W.A.T., died peacefully surrounded by family on May 18 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 87.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Forrest frequently was cast as a leading man or “heavy.” An aficionado of the American Western, he delighted in roles that glorified the genre, including guest-starring appearances on such television classics as The Virginian, Bonanza and Gunsmoke.

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But it was his role as the hard-hitting yet warmhearted Harrelson on the Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg-produced S.W.A.T. that most endeared Forrest to the American audience. As the leader of the police department’s five-man special weapons and tactics team, he often was seen with his bullhorn in hand, jumping into the large dark gray van and shouting the signature line “Let’s roll!”

As a salute to the show, which aired from February 1975 to April 1976 for 37 episodes, Forrest appeared in a cameo role as the van driver in the film version of S.W.A.T. (2003) that starred Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell.

Forrest was born William Forrest Andrews on Sept. 25, 1925, in Huntsville, Texas, to Annis and Charles Andrews, a Baptist minister. He was the youngest of 13 children; one of his brothers was famed actor Dana Andrews, the star of Laura and The Best Years of Our Lives, who died in 1992.

At 18, Forrest enlisted in the military and served with the Army. He attained the rank of sergeant during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war, he moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA.

Forrest graduated with honors from UCLA in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and went to work as a stagehand at the La Jolla Playhouse outside San Diego. It was there, during the summer stock production of Goodbye Again, that he was discovered by Hollywood legend Gregory Peck. The actor cast him in the production and arranged for his first screen test with MGM, where he was placed under contract.

In 1953, Forrest garnered a New Star of the Year award from the Golden Globes for his performance in the Warner Bros. film So Big, playing opposite Jane Wyman and Sterling Hayden. Throughout the ’50s, Forrest landed roles on both the large and small screens, frequently cast on such early TV series as Playhouse 90, Climax! Theater, Lux Video Theater and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

His early films included roles as a P.O.W. opposite Ronald Reagan in MGM’s Prisoner of War (1954), as Robert Taylor’s younger brother in Rogue Cop (1954), as Doris Day’s would-be suitor in It Happened to Jane (1959), as Elvis Presley’s half brother in the Western Flaming Star (1960), as Sophia Loren’s gun-slinging love interest in Heller in Pink Tights (1960) and with John Wayne and an all-star cast in The Longest Day (1962).

Later film and television appearances included North Dallas Forty (1979), Mommie Dearest (1981) with Faye Dunaway, Spies Like Us (1985) with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, the miniseries Hollywood Wives (1985), a season in the 1980s on TV’s Dallas, Storyville (1992) with James Spader and Killer: A Journal of Murder (1995) with James Woods.

A trained vocalist, Forrest made his Broadway debut as budding prizefighter Bob Stanton in the 1958 production of The Body Beautiful opposite Mindy Carson, Jack Warden and Brock Peters

In 1965, Forrest relocated to London with his family to star as John Mannering, the international antique dealer-cum-secret agent in the ITC crime drama The Baron. The program, which lasted 30 episodes, was ITV's first in color using real actors for an entire season and was exported to ABC in the States.

An avid and accomplished golfer, Forrest frequently played in charity tournaments around the world. In 1976, he competed on the American team at the Bing Crosby Great Britain vs. U.S.A. Tournament at the Glen Eagles course in Scotland.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Christine, sons Michael, Forrest and Stephen and grandchildren Samantha, Emily, Aubrey and Alex.

A service will be held at 10 a.m. May 30 at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Griffin Memorial Park in Westlake Village, Calif.