If you remember the Captain & Tenille variety show from the 1970s, then you probably remember their recurring skit “The Bionic Watermelon,” about a bionically-enhanced piece of fruit that would fight crime. While silly, it stood as a reminder of just how pervasive bionic beings had become in society at the time. We had Lindsay Wagner‘s The Bionic Woman, her furry pal, Max the Bionic Dog; and, of course, the TV show that started it all, The Six Million Dollar Man, with a cast led by Lee Majors as astronaut Colonel Steve Austin.
The premise of the show is that Austin suffers a catastrophic accident with an experimental space vehicle which should have killed him, but didn’t. The government elects to replace his destroyed arm, legs and eye with newly-created bionic parts that turn him into a kind of superman. Initially hating what he’s become, Austin gradually learns to accept it, how to use his new body parts and then utilize them on missions carried out by the OSI, which in turn is led by Richard Anderson‘s Oscar Goldman.
The Six Million Dollar Man was huge, starting life as a novel by Martin Caidin called Cyborg, which was turned into three TV movies in 1973 before becoming a weekly series from 1974 to 1978. And besides spinning off Wagner’s Jamie Sommers into her own show, it inspired all sorts of cool merchandise — especially a 12″ doll with “bionic grip.”
Take a trip back to the 1970s to learn what became of the Six Million Dollar Man cast — then and now.
Lee Majors as Colonel Steve Austin
Born Harvey Lee Year on April 23, 1939 in Wyandotte, Michigan, Lee Majors first came to the public’s attention playing Heath Barkley, illegitimate son of Barbara Stanwyck‘s Victoria Barkley on the TV Western The Big Valley, which ran from 1965 to 1969. From there he co-starred with Charlton Heston in the film Will Penny (1968) and the TV movie The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969), which has the distinction of being one of the first films to deal with the subject of Vietnam veterans returning to life in the United States.
He was back in the Old West during the 1970 to 1971 television season when he played Roy Tale in 24 episodes of The Virginian, before joining the legal drama Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law from 1971 to 1974. In between that stint he played Steve Austin in the TV movies The Six Million Dollar Man cast, Wine, Women and War and The Solid Gold Kidnapping, before going on weekly bionic adventures starting in 1974 for a total of 99 episodes.
Additionally, he portrayed the role on six episodes of The Bionic Woman and he and Wagner would reunited for the TV movies The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1987), Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1989) and Bionic Ever After? (1994).
His next regular series gig was as stuntman Colt Seavers on 112 episodes of The Fall Guy from 1981 to 1986. Then it was on to martial arts drama Raven (1992 to 1993), and has had recurring roles on shows like Tour of Duty (1990), Too Much Sun (2000), Son of the Beach (2002), The Game (2007 to 2009), Weeds (2008), and the horror-comedy Ash vs. Evil Dead (2016 to 2018). In between he’s starred in numerous theatrical films, TV movies and made quite a number of TV guest appearances.
In his personal life he’s been married four times, including to Farrah Fawcett, though the pressures of stardom (for him it was Six Million Dollar Man, for her it was Charlie’s Angels) prevented them from seeing each other a lot and the marriage fell apart. Currently he’s married to Faith Noelle and is the father of four.
Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman
Oscar Goldman is the man who gives Steve Austin his assignments, and Oscar was brought to life by actor Richard Anderson in the The Six Million Dollar Man cast. Born August 8, 1926 in Long Branch, New Jersey, Richard’s career began in the 1950s as a contract player for MGM, while also working in stock theater and on the radio.
His film credits at MGM include The Magnificent Yankees (1950), The Student Prince (1954), the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956, in some ways a forerunner to Star Trek), and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957). Throughout the ’60s and ’70s he made dozens of television guest appearances, including the sequel to The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler (1973).
In addition to playing Oscar Goldman on The Bionic Woman and in the bionic reunion movies, Anderson produced the latter as well. He was married twice and has three children. He died on August 31, 2017 from natural causes at the age of 91.
Martin Balsam as Dr. Rudy Wells #1
Martin Balsam had a huge career as an actor on stage, in film and on television. In the original pilot film for The Six Million Dollar Man, he played Dr. Rudy Wells, the man who developed the bionics that were surgically attached to Steve Austin. He had far more sympathy for Austin’s plight than his superior, the cold-hearted Oliver Spencer (Darren McGavin in what was a forerunner to the far more congenial Oscar Goldman).
Balsam, who was born November 4, 1919 in New York City, counts among his film credits 12 Angry Men (1957), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), in which he played the doomed detective Milton Arbogast; Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Cape Fear (1962), Catch-22 (1970), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and dozens more.
Besides TV guest spots and movies, he was a series regular on the All in the Family spin-off, Archie’s Bunker’s Place, playing Archie’s partner, Murray Klein. His final film role was in Legend of the Spirit Dog (1997).
Married three times, he had three children. At the age of 76, Balsam died of a stroke on February 3, 1996.
Alan Oppenheimer as Dr. Rudy Wells #2
The second Dr. Rudy Well in The Six Million Dollar Man cast was character actor Alan Oppenheimer, who made his career as “that guy” in movies, on television and doing voice work. On the big screen he appeared in over three dozen movies between 1956’s Gammera the Invincible and 2019 and 2022’s Toy Story 4 and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.
On television he appeared as himself in numerous series, but really made his mark voicing everything from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to the animated Ghostbusters, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, Disney’s Talespin and The Little Mermaid, and Clifford’s Puppy Days.
Oppenheimer, 93, only played Wells for the first two seasons. He’s been married three times and has three children.
Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells #3
For the final three seasons, Dr. Wells was played by Martin E. Brooks, who also portrayed the character on the spin-off, The Bionic Woman. He was born November 30, 1925 in The Bronx, New York and made his debut on stage in 1959’s The Andersonville Trials. More roles followed.
He appeared in five theatrical films and a great many TV series, though he was recurring on such daytime soap opera as Love of Life (1957 to 1958), The Secret Storm (1958) and Search for Tomorrow (1962 to 1964). Additionally, in prime time he recurred on McMillan & Wife (1972 to 1973) and 10 episodes of the original Dallas. Brooks died on December 7, 2015 of natural causes at the age of 90.
Lindsay Wagner as Jamie Sommers
When Lee Majors continued to complain that Steve Austin did’t have a love interest, writer/producer Kenneth Johnson gave him one in the form of professional tennis player Jamie Sommers. She and Steve rekindle an old romance, but when she is severely injured in a skydiving accident, Austin convinces Goldman, despite his better judgment, to have Rudy Wells equip her with bionic replacement parts and she, too, becomes an agent of the OSI.
On Six Million Dollar Man, her body rejected the bionics, resulting in her death, marking a tragic end to the characters’ relationship. However, Jamie was so popular with the public, that they manufactured a way to bring her back — but with no memories of Austin. Conveniently, this paved the way for her to head off to her own show.
Beyond the scripts written by Johnson, the power of Jamie came from actress Lindsay Wagner, who brought a sensitivity and sense of reality to the role. Born June 22, 1949 in Los Angeles. She began her career as a model, hostess for the TV series Playboy After Dark and a contestant on a 1969 episode of The Dating Game. In 1973 she received some acclaim for her roles in the films Two People and The Paper Chase. Also signing a contract with Universal television in 1971, she started making the rounds as a guest star on that studio’s different TV shows before arriving on The Six Million Dollar Man in 1975, and starring in The Bionic Woman for three seasons between 1976 and 1978.
TV movies became a way of life as she starred in 53 of them between 1978’s Windows, Doors & Keyholes and 2018’s Mingle All the Way (with the three Bionic reunions along the way). Her most recent television appearance was in a 2022 episode of Blood & Treasure and the big screen in 2021’s Christmas at the Ranch.
In between all of that, she wrote a series of books with Robert M. Kelin about using acupressure to achieve results similar to a surgical facelift; and there was also High Road to Health, a vegetarian cookbook. In recent years, she has been heavily involved with and given seminars on self-help therapy. Lindsay, now 74, has been married four times and has two children.
For more 1970s television, keep reading…