passed away yesterday at the age of 68 due to a brain tumor. Lewis was one of the martial arts trailblazers in U.S. during the 1960s and 70s. He trained with everyone (including Bruce Lee) and fought some of the top guys in competition including Bob Wall and Chuck Norris. Naturally, Hollywood, hungry for anyone who could throw a kick, called and Lewis had a rather inauspicious cinema debut with the action flick JAGUAR LIVES! (1979). Surrounded by an all-star cast (Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Barbara Bach, Capucine, John Huston, Woody Strode), Lewis got to show the stuff that made him a legend in the martial arts world onscreen. Unfortunately, this James Bond-with-kicks flick didn’t really take with audiences, despite Lewis being a better actor than the wooden Chuck Norris at the time. Hollywood decided to give him another shot and for his sophomore feature, he found himself in the capable hands of director Robert Clouse in the powerfully alliterative FORCE: FIVE.
Not wasting any time cashing in on the Jim Jones tragedy, FORCE: FIVE centers on a religious guru named Reverend Rhee (Bong Soo Han), whose island compound has proven a retreat for affluent children everywhere. We’re told in no uncertain cinematic terms he is evil because he makes everyone shout “Love! Love! Love!” Well, that and the fact that he has his henchmen torture a failed assassin by shoving acupuncture needles into his nerves. Seems someone named Stark (Michael Prince) wants to get rid of Rhee real bad. Back in the good ol’ U.S.A., Stark hires special agent Jim Martin (Lewis) to finish the job. Seems a girl named Cindy (Amanda Wyss), a Senator’s wayward daughter, is living on the compound and daddy wants her back. Also, they suspect Rhee’s religious principles – which are oddly centered on a bull – might include the rare 11th Commandment of “Thou shalt support terrorists with illegal guns and cocaine profits.”
Sadly, this marked the end of Lewis’ leading man career. Despite having good looks and decent acting chops, he didn’t do another film until the HK cheapie DEATH CAGE (1988) with Robin Shou. He also had a small supporting role in the loopy-as-hell kung fu serial killer flick BLOODMOON (1997) starring Gary Daniels. Both films get the Video Junkie Seal of Approval.