Actor, singer/songwriter, and director best known as Luke Duke from the 1977-1985 CBS TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard".
Tom Wopat was born September 9, 1951 in Lodi, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Wopat had an interest in music and acting from a young age, and was involved in college productions of "West Side Story", "Jesus Christ, Superstar", and "South Pacific".
In 1977, Tom moved to New York City to more seriously pursue his Broadway dreams. He landed parts in an Off-Broadway production of "Oklahoma!", an Off-Broadway Musical "A Bistro Car On The CNR", and a Broadway production of "I Love My Wife".
During a visit to Los Angeles in '77, Wopat auditioned for, and won, the part of Luke Duke in the new CBS action-adventure series "The Dukes of Hazzard". According to Wopat himself, he auditioned for the part, was made an offer the same day, and within 10 days was in Georgia filming the new series. "The Dukes of Hazzard" went on to become a pop-culture behemoth, the psychic reverberations of which can still be felt to this day.
Massively popular with children and adult fans of car chases alike, "The Dukes of Hazzard" was, like its contemporaries "Star Wars" and "BattleStar Galactica", a marketing juggernaut. Lunch boxes, t-shirts, action figures, and General Lee-inspired toy cars were flying off the shelves. Wopat and the show's other leading man, John Schneider felt that their compensation and share of marketing profits was no longer sufficient, given the show's wild success, and their individual popularity.
The producers of "The Dukes of Hazzard" disagreed, and ultimately sought to prove that the show could go on without Wopat and Schneider, replacing them mid-season in 1982. Producers hired Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, near look-alikes, to replace the original Duke Boys. To explain the actor switch, a story arc was written wherein Bo and Luke left Hazzard County to try their hands at NASCAR racing, and the previously unheard-of Duke cousins Coy (Cherry) and Vance (Mayer) came to live with Uncle Jesse. Odd? Yes, but keep in mind - this is a world where a 1969 Dodge Charger routinely catapults itself over 50-foot ravines, landing with its occupants improbably un-paralyzed, so it might have worked.
The fans of "The Dukes of Hazzard" revealed themselves to be a loyal group. Wopat and Schneider's contention that they were responsible in large measure for the show's popularity was borne out by a dip in ratings after the actor change. Producers quickly came to an agreement with the original leads, and before the 1983 season was out, Wopat and Schneider were back in the General Lee, confounding Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane. Cherry and Mayer were retained for a single episode after their return, providing a transition after which Coy and Vance Duke were never heard from again.
All told, "The Dukes of Hazzard" ran 143 episodes, from 1977 through 1985. By series' end, Tom Wopat had directed five of the episodes.
Wopat's post-Dukes TV career included a single reunion with costar John Schneider, in the CBS Movie of the Week "Christmas Comes to Willow Creek" in 1987. He acted in two more series for CBS, "Blue Skies" (1988) and "Peaceable Kingdom" (with Lindsay Wagner, 1989). In 1992 he could be found in NBC's "Just My Imagination" with Jean Smart, and in 1994 he returned to CBS to play Cybill Shepard's stuntman ex-husband on her eponymous series.
Throughout his more visible TV career, Tom Wopat has clung to his musical aspirations. In 1987 he released a self-titled album, often described by the dubious phrase "contemporary country-rock". A follow up record came later in 1987, titled "A Little Bit Closer". "Don't Look Back" followed in 1991, and 1992 saw release of "Learning To Love". In 2000, Wopat released "In The Still Of The Night", a collection of standards. Tom continues to work in the theatre.
Tom Wopat | Official Web Site. http://www.wopat.com/. Tom Wopat Official Web Site. 19 August 2002.
The Dukes of Hazzard - Yesterdayland Prime Time. http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/primetime/pt1145.php. Yesterdayland. 19 August 2002.
Bigonesse, Ray. Ray's Dukes Of Hazzard Page. http://www.ghg.net/rbigoness/hazzard/bios/wopat.html. Ray's Home Page. 19 August 2002.