The Equalizer had the craziest guest stars of any 1980s TV show

From Beastie Boys to future Oscar winners, the mix of actors on this action hour was brilliant.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

Considering it is now a film franchise starring Denzel Washington, The Equalizer goes a little overlooked when it comes to 1980s television. The adventures of a former intelligence agent for hire, The Equalizer aired for four seasons on CBS at the close of the decade. Anyone who sought justice could dial 212-555-4200 and reach the Equalizer, played with trenchcoat cool by Edward Woodward. With its propulsive synthesizer music and sleek style, the show was emblematic of the era. The casting agent was also a genius.

In hindsight, few shows have a guest roster that compares to The Equalizer. Zeitgeisty music celebrities, future teen idols and former legends turned up in episodes. Because it filmed in New York, there was even an abundance of Broadway notables on the show. 

Robert Mitchum, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy, Ving Rhames, Meat Loaf, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn, Olympia Dukakis, David Alan Grier, Lori Petty, Luis Guzman, soul-pop duo Ashford and Simpson… they all showed up. We could go on. But here are a dozen of our favorite guest stars.

1. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi


We're going to start with one particular episode that booked a bunch of famous faces. "Re-Entry" revolved around a kid who sniffs out that his father is being pressured by goons to rob his employer. John Goodman plays the dad, around the time he appeared in Raising Arizona. And speaking of Coen Brothers movies, this episode also marks the first time that Big Lebowski buddies Goodman and Steve Buscemi would appear onscreen together. Buscemi plays a geeky (duh) electronics store salesman named Archie.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

2. David Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter


Oh, one of the crooks putting the heat on John Goodman in "Re-Entry" is David Johansen, lead singer of the pioneering rock-and-roll band the New York Dolls. At the time, he was rocketing up the pop charts for an entirely different sound. He had recently restyled himself as slick lounge lizard Buster Poindexter and dropped the smash single "Hot, Hot, Hot."

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Stewart Copeland


Another rock star — one with a much more important connect to the show — turns up in "Re-Entry." It's Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. Though at this point in the 1980s, the arena giants had split, with Sting going solo. Copeland did alright for himself. After all, he wrote the rad, pulsing theme song to The Equalizer. As the composer, he got a chance to make a cameo onscreen, and here he has a scene playing a pickpocket with star Edward Woodward.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

4. Adam Horovitz


Let's stick with the music world for a moment. One of the most unexpected guest stars appears in the ninth episode, "Mama's Boy." The titular mama's boy? None other than Adam Horovitz, better known as Adrock of the Beastie Boys. Son of playwright Israel Horovitz, Adrock had acting in his genes. This was his first credited role. This was 1985, before the Beastie Boys really broke through. At this point, before their debut album, they were opening for Madonna on The Virgin Tour, hot off their single "She's On It."

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Adam Ant


Yep, another pop star. The British new-wave icon played the villain role with relish in "The Lock Box." It was his debut TV role. Later, he turned up on Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

6. Macaulay Culkin


Let's shift gears and look at some of the rising young stars that honed their craft on The Equalizer. Before he was left Home Alone, Culkin played a young boy in "Something Green." He was seven years old, earning his first credited screen role.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

7. Melissa Joan Hart


"Torn" offered another '90s teen idol an early start. This was the third screen appearance of future teenage witch Melissa Joan Hart, who was nine at the time. 

Image: Universal Television / CBS

8. Christian Slater


Slater had a little more experience to his name, but was not yet the Brat Pack cool kid he would become. He had recently done a short stint on Ryan's Hope and worked on the film The Name of the Rose. You can see the 2016 Golden Globe winner in the episode "Joyride."

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Sam Rockwell


The most recent winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar turns up in a bunch of other familiar faces in "The Child Broker." He's part of a teenage gang with Frank Whaley (The Doors, Pulp Fiction) and Jerry O'Connell (Stand By Me, Sliders).

Image: Universal Television / CBS

10. William Zabka


Oh, we should also mention that the Equalizer had a son on the show, played by William Zabka. You know him best as the jerk jock from The Karate Kid, and in case you might forget, he still looked straight up like Johnny from Cobra Kai in the series.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Tony Shalhoub


Long before he was Monk, and even a few years before he earned his Wings, Shalhoub played a "Terrorist Leader" in "Breakpoint." Well, it was the 1980s.

Image: Universal Television / CBS

12. Telly Savalas


The Equalizer welcomed more than budding young talent and hip pop stars. Television legends turned up, too. Take Telly Savalas, for example. The former Kojak plays a small role as priest in "Blood & Wine."

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: Can you I.D. these celebrity guest stars on 'T.J. Hooker'?


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Amancalledhorse 33 months ago
I would've mentioned English actress Jenny Agutter as one of McCall's lost loves - probably still best known as Jessica from Logan's Run and Nurse Alex in An American Werewolf in London.

tangcameo 42 months ago
Vincent Donofrio - twice. Bill of Bill & Ted. Holling from Northern Exposure. Jon polito of Homicide and Seinfeld. Melissa Leo of Homicide and Treme and the Denzel Washington Equalizer movies.
Delmo 48 months ago
They almost got Roger Moore to play the role played by Robert Mitchum in that "Mission:McCall" 2 hour episode. He was originally approached but was busy at the time.
AlanGuynes 48 months ago
You forgot Robert Lansing who played Control and Melissa Sue Anderson who played McCall's daughter.
Penjamins 65 months ago
How could you forget John Cale from the Velvet Underground???
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