R.I.P. Roger E. Mosley, helicopter pilot Theodore ‘T.C.’ Calvin in Magnum, P.I.
He also fought Muhammad Ali in ‘The Greatest’ and played folksinger Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter.
Roger E. Mosley, a constant presence on TV and film throughout the 1970s who then starred in over 150 episodes of Magnum, P.I., has died at the age of 83. His career lasted five decades, including cameos in the new Magnum, P.I. (as a different character) in recent years.
Mosley was born December 18, 1938 in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Though he never lived far from Hollywood, he didn’t break into the industry until his early thirties, playing small roles in shows like Cannon, Night Galley, Sanford and Son and The Sixth Sense – the short-lived 1972 TV show, not the unrelated 1999 movie.
It wasn’t long before his talents were seen on the big screen in movies like The Mack, McQ, The Greatest and The River Niger. In 1976, Mosley starred as Huddie Ledbetter in the biopic Leadbelly, which Roger Ebert called “one of the best biographies of a musician I've ever seen.” It followed the turbulent life of the folk singer behind “The Midnight Special” and other classic songs.
Though Mosley played occasional guest starring roles in shows like The Rockford Files and Starsky and Hutch, he thought of himself more as a movie actor. His costar from the 1973 film Terminal Island, Tom Selleck, suggested Mosley for a part in a new show set in Hawaii. Mosley was reluctant to join a series. His agent convinced him to go get paid to have fun in Hawaii and then come back to movies in L.A. because there was no way the show would get picked up.
“Tom Selleck has made about five pilot shows … and none of them has sold,” Mosley recalled his agent saying. “A show with Tom Selleck always fails.” Well, Selleck may not have had any luck on TV before then, but this new detective show would become the long-running Eighties hit Magnum, P.I.
Mosley played helicopter pilot Theodore “T.C.” Calvin, Thomas Magnum’s friend and convenient ride around the islands. Mosley was a licensed helicopter pilot in real life but didn’t do any of his own flying stunts on the series. He did help shape the character in many other ways, though.
T.C. was meant to be broke, but Mosley wanted his character to be a role model, so the writers changed Island Hoppers from a struggling business to a very successful one. Mosley also repeatedly resisted any attempts to get his character to drink or smoke.
After Magnum, P.I., Mosley played Coach Ricketts in ten episodes of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, appeared in two episodes of Night Court and starred in the Martin Lawrence movie (which Lawrence also directed) A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.
Mosley also acted in the Patrick Swayze thriller Letters from a Killer and shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and The District. His role as John Booky in two episodes of the Magnum, P.I. reboot were his last onscreen appearances.