Ken Wahl
Wahl at the 41st Emmy Awards,
September 1989
Born (1957-02-14) February 14, 1957 (age 66)
Years active1979–1996
(m. 1983; div. 1991)
(m. 1997)

Ken Wahl (born February 14, 1957)[1][dubious ][2] is an American retired actor. Rising to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, he starred in the CBS television crime drama Wiseguy.

Early life and career

Wahl, who was born in Chicago, Illinois,[3] is elusive about his personal life, and has given more than one birthdate. A Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicated article in 1988, citing records checked by the CBS publicist for Wahl's television series Wiseguy, gives February 14, 1957, a date that corresponds with the year of his high school graduation: "A call to Bremen High School in the Chicago suburb of Midlothian reveals Wahl graduated from there in June 1975, presumably at age 18."[1] In 2004, Entertainment Weekly noted the confusion surrounding Wahl's date of birth and added that "Ken Wahl is not actually Ken Wahl. At least he wasn't when he was born. While he declines to disclose his birth name, he does say that the moniker he's gone by for the past 25 years is the name of the person who saved his father's life in the Korean War".[3]

According to Wahl, he was born "in a tiny apartment on the south side of Chicago, in the late Fifties".[4][better source needed] The 1988 NEA article states that Wahl was the ninth of 11 children from a blue-collar German/Italian family and "attended different high schools as the family moved to the [Chicago] suburbs of Midlothian and Worth."[1] According to Entertainment Weekly, Wahl played baseball, as a shortstop, in unspecified venues that might have included youth leagues and high school teams, before crashing a motorcycle and hurting his knee at age 16.[3] After moving to Los Angeles, he worked as an extra on movies including The Buddy Holly Story (1978).[3]

By 1981, Wahl's father had remarried. Between acting jobs, Wahl stayed in Chicago with his father and stepmother or with his sister.[5]

Acting career

Wahl first gained recognition in 1979 when he was cast in the leading role of director Philip Kaufman's film The Wanderers (1979).[6] He was subsequently cast opposite Paul Newman in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981), and went on to play the lead in movies including Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981), The Soldier (1982), Jinxed! (1982), Purple Hearts (1984) and other films. In 1984, he then suffered another motorcycle crash, while on his way to meet with Diane Keaton about the role that eventually went to Mel Gibson in the film Mrs. Soffel. Not wearing a helmet, Wahl was injured badly enough to require 89 stitches in his scalp.[3]

After appearing in the ensemble of the TV-movie The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985) and co-starring with Billy Dee Williams in the six-episode TV series Double Dare,[1] Wahl was cast in the lead role of Vinnie Terranova in the television series Wiseguy in 1987. Wahl said the following year, "The feature market dried up for me. When 'Wiseguy' came along I was hesitant to do it, but I thought the quality was good. I had to make a living, so I decided to do it. I didn't have to audition or anything."[1] The show ran until 1990 and brought Wahl a Golden Globe Award, as well as an Emmy Award nomination. Wahl wrote an episode of Wiseguy in 1989 and directed an episode in 1990.[citation needed]

During the second season, he injured himself again, on an episode directed by Jan Eliasberg. As Wahl recalled in 2004, "She had me walking into my own POV shot, and ... I was stepping up, and the [camera] wheel caught my right heel and it just ripped out the Achilles tendon. ... But she wanted to do it again, so I said, 'Okay, you're the boss.'"[3] Series creator Steven J. Cannell said the camera ran over Wahl a second time, leaving him in such pain Cannell replaced him for three episodes while Wahl healed.[3]

Wahl went on to star in The Taking of Beverly Hills (1991) and The Favor (1994), as well as a Wiseguy reunion TV-movie in 1996.[7]

Wahl retired from acting in 1996.


Wahl's acting career was derailed by a broken neck. He initially said that in 1992 he had endured another motorcycle crash, but later said he had fallen down a flight of stairs at the home of comedian Rodney Dangerfield's girlfriend and eventual wife, Joan Child. "We were dating casually ... I stayed over at her house one night, fell down these stairs, and she begged me not to say that in the press", Wahl said in 2004.[3]

As his official biography describes the incident:

[In] August of 1992 ... Ken accidentally fell down some slippery marble stairs at a friend’s home, causing his neck to break and his spinal column to be injured. Because his friend was in the public eye, she asked Ken not to say where the accident occurred. So, later on, when the media inquired about the scar on his neck, Ken simply offered the explanation that he had broken his neck in a motorcycle accident, in a sincere effort to protect the privacy of his friend.[4][better source needed]

Blaming a "botched" undisclosed surgery and the refusal of doctors to prescribe pain medication, Wahl said in an interview that he told himself, "Okay, I can't get a prescription, so I'll get a bottle of vodka. I was in such chronic, agonizing pain 24 hours a day that I started drinking to kill the pain." After gaining weight through lack of exercise, and with a growing alcohol problem, he worked 16 days on the Wiseguy reunion movie "and barely got through it. That's when I knew I couldn't do it anymore."[3]

Personal life

Wahl married his first wife, former Penthouse Pet of the Year Corinne Alphen, in 1983. With Alphen, he had a son, Raymond, and a step-son, Louis, from Alphen's previous marriage.[8][9] They divorced in 1991.[4][9]

Traci Lords revealed in her autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All, that she had a brief affair with Wahl in 1988 after she had a guest appearance on his TV series. Lords said of Wahl that he “was tall, dark, and brooding with a mischievous smile. He took me to dinner that night at a down-home Italian joint near my hotel. It had a low-key vibe and sensational food. He was a star with simple tastes, which impressed me. He was kind to people and bantered easily with the staff as he leaned back in his chair… He was one sexy man.”[10] She further added that he “was the first civilian I’d made love to post-porn”[10] and that he made her think differently about relationships.

In 1995, Wahl was charged with disturbing the peace and arrested on an outstanding warrant for a drunken-driving charge, eventually pleaded no contest to both charges and receiving probation. A year later, he was arrested for allegedly threatening a bartender with a hunting knife for refusing to serve him alcohol. He pleaded no contest again and was ordered to enter a live-in alcohol rehabilitation program.[3]

Wahl married his second wife, glamour model Shane Barbi, in 1997.[citation needed] Wahl says he and Barbi married after attending twelve-step meetings together.[4][better source needed]

In 2009, Wahl sued his former business manager, Henry Levine, alleging that Levine conspired with Wahl's first wife, Corinne Alphen, to defraud him.[11]

Animal and disabled veterans activism

Wahl and his wife, Shane Barbi, support animal rights and disabled United States military veterans.[12]

On 19 January 2010, he offered his Golden Globe Award as part of a reward then being assembled by the Second Chance Rescue Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to help find and convict the person who glued a 7-month-old orange tabby to Minnesota State Highway 60, where travelers found it on 18 December 2009; the cat, which rescuers called Timothy, died days later.[13]

In 2012, Wahl stood against the Hayden Law Repeal, which would have revoked the Hayden Law for shelter pets in California, which had extended the number of days owners had to find their lost pets or for injured animals to receive donations or to be adopted.[14]

For Memorial Day 2012, Wahl sent a message saluting the military, alongside the group Pets for Patriots, supporting adoption of pets for veterans.[15] Later that year, he took part in the documentary Saving America's Horses, about both wild and domestic horses and the issues that plague them.[16] In December 2012, he reiterated the need to support wounded veterans, and help reduce suicide rates, by pairing rescued animals with veterans.[17]



Year Title Role Notes
1979 The Wanderers Richie
1980 Running Scared Chas McClain
1981 Fort Apache, The Bronx Corelli
1981 Race for the Yankee Zephyr Barney Whitaker
1982 The Soldier The Soldier
1982 Jinxed! Willie Brodax
1984 Purple Hearts Don Jardian
1985 The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission Louis Valentine 4 February 1985 TV-movie
1985 Double Dare Ken Sisko[8] 6 episodes
TV series also starring Billy Dee Williams
1986 The Gladiator Rick Benton TV-movie
1987 Omega Syndrome[1] a.k.a. Omega 7 Jack Corbett
1987-1990 Wiseguy Vinnie Terranova 75 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
1990 Book of Love Angelo friend
1991 The Taking of Beverly Hills Boomer Hayes
1994 The Favor Tom Andrews filmed in 1990[8]
1994 Search for Grace[8] John "Johnny" Danielli/Jake CBS TV-movie
1996 Wiseguy Vinnie Terranova TV movie


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lovece, Frank (December 4, 1988). "'I must be doin somethin right,' says 'Wiseguy's elusive star Ken Wahl, 'because I'm still around'". Newspaper Enterprise Association. Archived from the original on July 21, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Other dates of birth -- such as February 14, 1953, February 14, 1956, October 31, 1954, October 31, 1957, and October 31, 1959 -- have been proffered over the years.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ross, Dalton (July 23, 2004). "Ken Wahl Comes Tumbling Down". Entertainment Weekly. No. 776. pp. 1–4. Archived from the original on March 31, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2012. Note: Only page 1 of article appears online. Full text appears in print edition.
  4. ^ a b c d "Biography" (PDF). The Official Ken Wahl website. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 16, 2011. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  5. ^ Chase, Chris (December 4, 1981). "At the Movies: Ken Wahl chuckles at Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Torme, Robin (June 2009). "Behind the Wahl with Ken Wahl". Beverly Hills Times. p. 19. Archived from the original on April 27, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  7. ^ O'Connor, John J. (May 2, 1996). "Television Review: A Return to 'Wiseguy', With the Original Guy". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d "Ken Wahl - Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on July 21, 2013. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "[title unavailable]". Cosmopolitan. July 1991. p. 67. Retrieved August 6, 2012. Together, they had a son, Raymond, and a step-son, Louis, from Alphen's previous marriage.
  10. ^ a b Lords, Traci (2003). Traci Lords: Underneath It All (Kindle ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 115–118. ISBN 9780062217233.
  11. ^ Grosberg, Josh (March 31, 2009). "Wiseguy's Ken Wahl in the Poor House". E! News. Archived from the original on August 30, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Ken Wahl Offers Golden Globe To Catch Cat Killer". Radar Online. January 19, 2010. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  13. ^ "'Wiseguy' Ken Wahl helping out in case of cat glued to Minnesota highway". Associated Press via St. Paul Pioneer Press. January 19, 2010.
  14. ^ The Stars Give Back "Ken and Barbis Ask Your Help for Animal Shelters". Extra. February 29, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  15. ^ The Stars Give Back "Barbi Twins Send a Special Memorial Day Message". Extra. May 28, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  16. ^ "The Barbi Twins and Ken Wahl Are 'Saving America's Horse'". Extra. September 12, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  17. ^ "The Wiseguy 'Gets' Animals: An Interview With Ken Wahl". National Geographic. December 5, 2012. Archived from the original on July 21, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  18. ^ "Ken Wahl". Television Academy. Archived from the original on May 26, 2019. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Ken Wahl profile". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved February 7, 2017.