As a young man, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Thomas William Selleck had planned to study architecture, but when he attempted to sign up for his course he found architecture was already full.
“Acting was right next to it. So I signed up for acting instead,” he later admitted.
Selleck is best known for his starring role in long running television show ‘Magnum, P.I.’ His trademark moustache and 6' 4" height have marked him as the epitome of the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ man and made him instantly recognisable.
Raised in Los Angeles by his parents Robert and Martha, Selleck grew up alongside his brothers Robert (junior) and Daniel, and sister Martha (junior). He graduated from Grant High School in 1962.
While attending the University of Southern California on a basketball scholarship, Selleck supported himself through modelling work in print and billboards. His first television appearance was as a college senior on ‘The Dating Game’ in 1965 – he lost.
However, the handsome young Selleck was spotted by 20th Century-Fox and he ended up signing a seven-year contract with them in 1967. Selleck consequently appeared in more than 50 television commercials, the first of which was a Pepsi-Cola ad where he played a basketball player.
As well as being a talented collegiate athlete, the budding actor was a member of the California National Guard and was actually called up for service during the Watts riots.
In 1970 Selleck married model Jacqueline Ray and adopted her son, Kevin, from a previous marriage. They divorced in 1982.
Selleck’s feature film career began in 1970 as the ‘stud’ ogled by Mae West in ‘Myra Breckenridge’, which he followed with small roles in ‘The Seven Minutes’, ‘Terminal Island’, ‘Coma’, and a starring role in the low-budget horror flick ‘Daughters of Satan’.
From 1974 to 1975 Selleck appeared in daytime soap ‘The Young and the Restless’, and among other relatively minor roles, played a recurring part in ABC's primetime showbiz melodrama ‘Bracken's World’.
He appeared in numerous television movies before landing his big break in 1979. Selleck was cast to play laid-back private detective Thomas Magnum, in a new and soon to be iconic television series ‘Magnum, P.I’.
The Hawaiian-set show, which was frequently quirky and light-hearted, launched Selleck into international stardom. Wearing a Hawaiian style aloha shirt, a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and a full-bodied moustache, Selleck squeezed his 6’4” frame into a Ferrari 308 GTS and drove into the hearts of audiences around the world. During its eight-year run, the top rated show earned the actor an Emmy and Golden Globe.
In the same year Selleck was cast in Magnum P.I. he was also cast to play Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. However, the producers of ‘Magnum, P.I.’ would not release him from his contract.
At this critical crossroad in his career, Selleck consulted his best friend for help in deciding whether to choose Indiana Jones or Magnum. Together they came to the conclusion that Selleck should honour his contract with Universal Studios. Selleck passed on the film role, which then went to Harrison Ford.
In a twist of fate, it turned out the shooting of the pilot for Magnum was delayed for more than six months, which meant logistically, Selleck probably would have been able to complete both roles. Coincidentally, while Selleck was waiting in Hawaii for ‘Magnum, P.I.’ to commence, Spielberg and George Lucas were in also Hawaii to shoot scenes for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.
Selleck went on to star in various movies both during and after Magnum. These included the likes of adventure comedy ‘High Road to China’ in 1983, and sci-fi thriller ‘Runaway’ in 1984. In 1987 Selleck appeared in the hit feature film for which he is best known, ‘Three Men and a Baby'. He played a playboy architect, forced to look after a baby girl abandoned outside the apartment he shares with fellow bachelors, played by Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg.
That same year, Selleck married actress Jillie Mack. Their daughter, Hannah Margaret Mack Selleck, was born in 1988. The family lives in Thousand Oaks, California.
‘Three Men and a Baby' was followed by a sequel, 'Three Men and a Little Lady' in 1990, and despite its box-office success, Selleck’s next few films, 'Quigley Down Under' in 1991 and 'Mr. Baseball' in 1992, were only moderately popular with audiences. However, some critics have hailed Western ‘Quigley Down Under’ as Selleck’s best feature work. In the film he plays an American rifleman hired under false pretences by a villainous Alan Rickman. This was one of many cowboy roles that Selleck has played, with the Western proving to be a congenial genre for Selleck’s easy-going persona.
His first cowboy role was as Orrin Sackett in the 1979 western ‘The Sacketts’, opposite western legends Glen Ford and Ben Johnson. Selleck followed ‘The Sacketts’ with ‘The Shadow Riders’ in 1982, then with Lassiter in 1984. More recent cowboy roles were ‘Crossfire Trail’ (2001) followed by ‘Monte Walsh’ (2003).
Selleck has also branched out into television producing, and was executive producer for the last two seasons of ‘Magnum, P.I.’ He extended his experience as a producer for eight ‘B.L. Stryker’ television films starring Burt Reynolds from 1989-90. Selleck has also produced various other television movies, including ‘Revealing Evidence’ in 1990, and ‘Silverfox’ in 1991.
His acting career was given a revitalising boost when he landed the recurring guest role of Dr. Richard Burke on ‘Friends’. Burke was the love interest of the character Monica Geller (Courtney Cox) and appears in seasons two, three and six of the sitcom.
He followed this television success with hit comedy feature film ‘In & Out’, where Selleck played an openly gay character alongside Kevin Kline. He shaved off his trademark moustache for the film, and has since kept it off for most of his stage and screen work.
More recently, Selleck has appeared in a recurring role on the acclaimed ABC drama 'Boston Legal' as Ivan Tiggs, the ex-husband of Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen), and as novelist Robert B. Parker’s character Jesse Stone in several CBS made-for-TV movies, earning a 2007 Emmy nomination for ‘Jesse Stone: Sea Change’.
Selleck’s television streak continued when he joined the cast of the hit NBC drama ‘Las Vegas’ in the season five premiere in September 2007. He was cast as A.J. Cooper, the new owner of the Montecito Casino. Selleck replaces James Caan who left the show in the same episode. This is Selleck’s first regular dramatic gig on TV since he played Thomas Magnum on ‘Magnum, P.I.’
On occasion Selleck’s political opinions have attracted challenge from others. He is a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and in 1996 sparred with Rosie O’Donnell on ‘The Rosie O'Donnell Show’ about gun control and an ad he appeared in supporting the NRA. Selleck was considered for the role of President of the National Rifle Association following the retirement of his close friend Charlton Heston in 2003.
Selleck vocally supported President Ronald Reagan throughout the 1980s. He describes himself politically as “a registered independent with a lot of libertarian leanings.”