Miami Vice was an American crime drama that was vastly popular in the mid-80s, featuring detectives working undercover in Miami, Florida. One component that made the show so popular was that Miami Vice drew heavily upon 1980s New Wave culture. Today, this show is a time capsule into 80s culture overall. It did this by integrating contemporary pop and rock music into the show. The theme song was especially popular and considered one of the coolest themes at the time. Instead of using made-for-TV music for the show, Miami Vice would spend $10,000 or more per episode to buy the rights to original recordings.
Looking back on the show today, we can see dozens of familiar faces. And not just actors who eventually got their big break. A fair number of musicians also appeared on the show. The series’ integration of popular songs was revolutionary for its time, allowing artists to reach households that may have never heard their work. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that musicians were drawn toward Miami Vice. If they could get their song or themselves on the show, they’d receive huge exposure. Once the show became more popular, becoming a major part of pop culture at the time, appearing in a guest role became a status symbol.
Seeing musicians appear in the acting world is always exciting to see. Especially if the musician is great in both fields! So, we’ve compiled a short list of some of our favorite musicians who have made an appearance on Miami Vice.
The energetic Little Richard appeared in Season 2, Episode 4 of the show. The episode was titled “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run.” In it, Little Richard plays Reverend Marvelle Quinn, a man who is preaching an anti-drug sentiment and sending his disciples out to spread the word on the streets of South Beach. His preaching is then interrupted by a drug bust. It was a brief cameo, but a memorable one. Seeing Little Richard in a role like this wasn’t too far off from the evangelical work he was doing in real life. His appearance on the show was a sort of comeback for the musician as he was finally finding a balance between his religious and rock personas.
Unfortunately for Brown, he was in one of the worst episodes in the show’s history. In Season 4, Episode 7 (“Missing Hours”), James Brown played Lou DeLong, a singer-turned-interplanetary-cult-leader. The episode featured mysterious deaths, UFOs, and crop circles. It was definitely a strange storyline. James Brown’s performance was fun but unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save the episode. Twitter user, @DannyDutch describes the episode best, saying, “Combine the hardest working man in showbiz with a government conspiracy and a touch of the paranormal and you’ll get probably the show’s strangest guest appearance.”
Known as one of the essential faces of the rock band Kiss, Gene Simmons guest-starred as Newton Windsor Blade in the second season in 1986. A fan of the show, Simmons’ character was a drug dealer, who is considered the "Sears and Roebuck of controlled substances." He looked vastly different than his iconic Kiss ensemble, but he played a party-boy drug dealer well. Unlike some of the other musician cameos, Simmons’ character actually helps the main characters, Crockett and Tubbs, in their pursuit of Colombian drug smugglers.
Known for being a jazz legend, Miles Davis’ appearance on the show was a welcome surprise. He appeared on the show in 1985’s season two episode, “Junk Love.” Davis played a character named Ivory Jones who gets busted for running a brothel. In the aftermath, the pimp agrees to help the cops bring down a bigger criminal. Davis’ character ends up being killed off by the end, but it was a memorable performance.
Frank Zappa was known for many things, but the acting wasn’t really one of them, so his appearance on Miami Vice in season two episode 19’s “Payback” was a big surprise to fans. He was an eccentric guy and the perfect fit for his role as drug kingpin Mario Fuente. He plays an intimidatingly persistent character hell-bent on recovering a large sum of money. In his pursuit, a shootout ensues and Zappa’s character escapes, promising he’d return for revenge. Despite the episode ending with a slight cliffhanger, Zappa never reprised his role on the show. After his appearance in 1986, he did some voiceover work in the years after but never fully returned to acting before his death in 1993.
Rock star Ted Nugent appeared in season 2 of Miami Vice in episode 12 titled “Definitely Miami.” In the episode, Nugent plays a gun-wielding psycho named Charlie Basset. Charlie is a thug who uses his stunning wife Callie to lure rich men to their doom. The episode’s story eventually gets to a showdown at a remote quarry where Nugent’s character is shot by the police. The episode featured Nugent’s song “Angry Young Man,” which came from his 1986 album Little Miss Dangerous.
Fun fact: Miami Vice uses Nugent’s title track later in the season. The episode is even titled "Little Miss Dangerous."