Miami Vice is notable for a lot of things, not the least of which was its veritable array of guest stars. In hindsight, the popular 80s television show had a knack for picking out upcoming talent. So many of today's industry legends had either bit parts or a leading role in a particular episode.
The following list will take a look at ten celebrities who appeared on the show when they were still green. It's interesting watching these superstars during a more humble time in their career. One can already see glimmers of greatness and fully understand why they went on to become stars. Also, be mindful that far more than ten future stars appeared on the show, so this list is not all-encompassing.
10 Ed O'Neill
Long before starring in the sitcom Married With Children and decades before being introduced to a whole new generation through Modern Family, Ed O'Neill played an undercover cop who went in too deep. The episode "Heart of Darkness" drew inspiration from the similarly-titled Joseph Conrad novel, which also served as the basis for Apocalypse Now.
O'Neil has always played different types of characters, whether it be a grouchy family man or a calm and collected patriarch. Juxtaposing this performance with the sitcoms for which he is known showcases the true range of this man's talent. He would go on to play a cop again in the revival of Dragnet, but that didn't last long.
9 Jimmy Smits
Whether you know him as General Leia's adopted father in the Star Wars franchise, Sipowicz's partner on N.Y.P.D. Blue, or as Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law, Jimmy Smits is always cool as a ice. Before he got any of those notable roles, however, he played the part of Sonny Crockett's doomed partner on the premiere episode of Miami Vice.
The character was the victim of a car bombing during a sting, which kicks off the series. Smits may not have been long for the series, but his career picked up significantly just a few years later when he landed a leading role on L.A. Law.
8 Ving Rhames
The show wasn't above using the same actor in two different roles on two different episodes. Before the Internet and when VCRs were still slowly making their way into homes, no-one would really notice. This worked out to the benefit of Ving Rhames, who was featured in both "The Maze" and "Child's Play."
In the former he plays a hapless man held hostage, and in the latter he is a hardened criminal. We're sure this got him somewhat used to playing characters on the wrong side of the law, perfect practice for his breakout role in Pulp Fiction.
7 Nathan Lane
Other than lending his voice to The Lion King and performing in Mouse Hunt and The Birdcage, Nathan Lane had delighted audiences with a plethora of other roles on both screen and stage. He's usually a bright and vibrant personality, but in "Buddies" he plays an entirely different character.
In the episode, he is a comedian who invites a recently-fired woman to his dressing room to help her get her job back. Once they are alone, however, he attempts to assault her and she is forced to stab him to death. It's certainly a different role for the actor.
6 Michael Chiklis
"The Lost Madonna" sees Crockett and Tubbs assisting a detective from New York in tracking down an invaluable piece of art. The detective is played by none other than Michael Chiklis, most fondly remembered for his starring role in The Shield.
His look and stature often sees him playing cops, and his hair at the time definitely helped solidify this type casting. The actor cannot complain, though. He starred on two long-running cop shows after his appearance in Miami Vice. The first of them was The Comish, which had an entirely different tone than The Shield.
5 Kyra Sedgwick
Kyra Sedgwick forever has a place in viewer's hearts for her role as the detective on the cult show The Closer. As Brenda Lea Johnson, she was a new type of leading lady, eschewing the tropes with which television had long burdened female-centered shows.
Before that, however, she had a small part on the episode "Phil the Shil" as the antagonist's girlfriend. Watching the episode reveals that the actress doesn't seem to age, like a lot of superstars in the business.
4 Liam Neeson
Before using his very particular set of skills to bring human traffickers to justice, he was playing a former member of the IRA on "When Irish Eyes Are Crying." In the episode, his character dates Gina, a member of the Vice team, before they discover that his pacifist ways are a facade and he is still continuing his activities with the organization.
Their relationship is already deep by the time his true nature comes out and Gina is forced to shoot him, which causes her to break down. The Vice crew usually gets the job done, but it rarely ends with smiles on their faces.
3 Ron Perlman
Before his collaborations with master of horror Guillermo del Toro and telling gamers that "war never changes" in the Fallout series, he was the commissioner of prisons on the Miami Vice episode "Walk-Alone." In his position, he asks the Vice team to get a man inside the prison for an undercover operation.
Tubbs volunteers and, as with any episode of the show, something goes wrong and they have to save him. Perlman's character leaves with his skin intact, a rare feat for a guest star on the show.
2 John Leguizamo
At barely twenty years old, John Leguizamo played Orlando Calderone, who has a personal bone to pick with Tubbs and Crockett for the death of his father. After that arc ended, he also played a small-time criminal in the episode "Victims of Circumstance."
Only a couple of years after, his career really took off when he co-starred in Carlito's Way as Benny Blanco from the Bronx. Other than his superb acting roles, Leguizamo is also notable for his comedy specials, the most recent of which was Latin History for Morons.
1 Bruce Willis
Die Hard brought Bruce Willis to the world's attention as the everyman action hero, but in the Miami Vice episode "No Exit" he played a far more sinister character.
In an unfair turn, his character, a career criminal, is released from custody on the orders of the CIA after being caught. This prompts a brash reaction from his spouse, who has suffered terrible treatment at his hands.