Henry died Jan. 8 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank after many years of dealing with chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Parkinson’s disease brought on by the head injuries he suffered while playing in the NFL and at the University of Southern California.
He traded football for acting and went on to star in Tarzan films in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he worked alongside Burt Reynolds in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies.
Henry grew up in East Los Angeles. In high school, former city council member John Ferraro saw him play football and facilitated his tryout for USC’s football team. After college, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, for which he played from 1958 to 1961. Wanting to try his luck with acting, Henry requested a transfer to play for the Los Angeles Rams.
In one of his final games as a Ram linebacker, a producer spotted Henry and asked him to test for the role of Tarzan. Between 1966 and 1968, he starred in three films based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation: “Tarzan and the Valley of Gold,” “Tarzan and the Great River” and “Tarzan and the Jungle Boy.”
But he was best known for his role in three “Smokey and the Bandit” action comedies from 1977, 1980 and 1983. He played Junior, the son of Jackie Gleason’s character. His other movie roles included 1974’s “The Longest Yard,” 1973’s “Soylent Green,” 1970’s “Rio Lobo” and 1968’s “The Green Berets.” TV roles included “General Hospital,” “Lou Grant,” “Rhoda,” “Fantasy Island,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “77 Sunset Strip.”
Henry worked behind the scenes in film and TV for the rest of his professional career until he retired in 1988 as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
“You could not find anyone who ever spoke ill of Mike. He was one of the loveliest men ever to grace this earth,” said Cheryl Henry, his wife of 36 years.
Mike Henry is also a survived by a daughter, Shannon Noble.