ThunderCat Interviews: Lion-O
By Bill Taylor
Entertainment Tonight's Final Thundercat Profile! And it is none other
than... Lion-o! And here it is!
Lion-o: A Thundercat To Remember.
Date of Birth: June 17, 1953
Date of Death: December 22, 1992
Place of Birth: Peerless, Montana.
Weight: 275 lbs.
Mane: Brown (no really, it actually was brown, but the producers made him
die it red).
Lion-o: "Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats! HO!"
For four years, Lion-o would intone that battle cry, and the audience knew
that the bad guys had it coming to them. To millions of Thundercat fans,
Lion-o was the imbodiment of truth, justice, and all that was good and
right in the universe, so its understandable that they were heart broken
and saddened when his end came so early. But who was Lion-o? Who was he
really? Tonight, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT uncovers the truth about the
was Lord of the Thundercats.
(From the cast)
Panthro: "Lion-o was a close friend of mine."
Tygra: "Reasonable man."
Cheetara: "Nice guy to work with."
Bengali: "He was like a brother to me."
Pumyra: "I remember him fondly."
Wilykit: "He was cute!"
Wilykat: "I liked him."
Lynx-o: "Pleasant fellow."
Jaga: "He was alright."
Lion-o was born and raised in Peerless, Montana, one of the best of
America's great outdoors, so its not surprising that he grew up strong and
sturdy, and yet, he seemed constantly burdened with an inferiority complex.
>From an early age, Lion-o strived to be the best, but more often than not,
he was not satisfied with his best, even when he did better than everyone
else. As a result, he had more than a few emotional problems growning up.
Lion-o started hitting the 6'3, 6'4 range early on in high school, and he
would not finish growing until about 19 or 20, and while he was strong, he
did not have a lot of muscle on him. Around the time that he got out of
high school, he went to a gym in California and began working out like
there was no tomorro. This was where he met Panthro.
Panthro: "Lion-o pretty much kept to himself. He was real quiet, not a big
conversationalist. But he loved to work out. We used to compete with one
another to see who would give up first. I won about five times. He won six.
And there were a whole bunch of ties."
There was another legendary muscle man in the gym at that time. He-Man.
(1996 Interview with He-Man)
He-Man: "Lion-o took to body building real quick. He worked harder than
anyone I had ever seen and he got what he deserved for his hard work."
It did not take long for Lion-o's body to start packing on the meat. Within
a month, he had gone from being only 150 lbs. to a whopping 225 lbs., and
he continued on even harder from there, working with He-Man and Panthro as
his weight training partners.
Lion-o: "No one likes to be a thin, stick figure. I think its worse for us
tall guys to be thin, because we look dumber than short, thin guys. I'm
exceptionally tall, and I was a stick. I didn't want to be a stick."
Three years later, after having gained around 275 lbs. of muscle, Lion-o
started entering bodybuilder contests at Panthro's suggestion. Lion-o would
become a three time Mr. Universe winner, and a two time Mr. Olympia winner,
beating out Panthro and a number of other hopefuls. Lion-o entered the Mr.
Universe contest 4 times, and lost only once, his first time around, to
He-Man. Lion-o won the next year because He-Man was competing in the Mr.
Olympia contest that year. After his second Mr. Olympia win, Lion-o gave up
on contests, because he was tired of playing to the crowds and the judges.
Lion-o: "I just got sick and tired of all that contest nonsense. It's
really more of an insult than a tribute to bodybuilding. I guess it was
also a growth thing. It was time for me to move on in my life and find
Lion-o spent the next five years working odd jobs and coming up short on
that new thing he wanted, until he got a call from an old friend of his who
went by the name of He-Man.
He-Man: "It was around that time in the eighties when people were casting
for action adventure shows. The censors had changed a lot, and new things
were being tried. I was set to start on my show, and I called up Lion-o and
asked him if he would come down and try out."
Lion-o: "I figured what the Hell? Not much going on here, I might as well
go down and see what all the hub-bub's about."
Lion-o went down to the studio and eventually he got signed on to the stunt
team. Unfortunately for fans, they cannot see Lion-o on reruns of HE-MAN's
show because Lion-o usually wore a ridiculous costume that hid his face.
For the next few years that HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE
run, Lion-o would appear in background scenes as an extra and as a
henchman, and occasionally served as a stand-in and stunt double for He-Man.
He-Man: "That didn't happen to often. I did most of my own stunts, but one
day, when I was lifting a boulder, I pulled a muscle and ended up unable to
most of the stunts in that episode. I don't quite remember which one, but I
know it's one of them. Lion-o appeared on the set with coffee and donuts,
and the director asked him to do my stunts 'cause I was KOed. He was the
perfect choice, as he rougly matched my size. I still did most of my own
stunts, but every now and then, they would convince me to lay off and let
Lion-o do the stunt for me 'cause they didn't want me to get hurt."
After MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE wrapped, the 32 year old Lion-o was
by a talent agent who took him to England and had him tested for a new show
that was to be called THUNDERCATS. Lion-o was one of many who tried
eventually he got the job from Ted Wolf on a hunch. No doubt Lion-o's
imposing 6'10", 275 lb. frame helped him to get the role. But there was one
thing he had to do first.
Lion-o: "They wanted me to die my mane red. And I thought 'A lion with a
red mane? Are you for real?' I hated the red mane. It looked ridiculous, a
lion with a red mane. And I couldn't take out the die during breaks. I had
to keep in there because they wouldn't put up with re-dying it later and it
was such a pain in the ass to get the dye. I had to live with red mane for
four years. And then there was that costume. I hated that costume almost as
much as I hated the red mane. Every year I went back, I went straight to
the costume department and I tried to get them to build some pants into
that costume, but they never did it."
After he landed the role, Lion-o did his little bit to help Ted Wolf and
LORIMAR Television with the casting. Most significantly, Lion-o got them to
hire Panthro, who became the wise cracking mechanic. Lion-o also got them
to hire Slythe and Monkian, who would play the villianous mutants. Slythe
was a former sumo wrestler and japanese monster movie veteran, and Monkian
was an ex-line backer for the San Fransisco 49s. Jackalman and Vulture Man,
both struggling actors, would be brought in later (in Vulture Man's case,
much later). Although this move suggested Lion-o to be a bold, confident
character, it only hid his uneasiness about the project.
Lion-o: "When I started this show, I didn't know what I was doing or what I
was getting myself into. I didn't want to get too wrapped up in the show
because there was no way of knowing whether or not it would fly. There was
no way of knowing if this was fairy tale would go anywhere or turn out to
just be a pipe dream, so I had to be a little nervous. I knew, I thought at
least, that the whole show was riding on me, and that if anything went
wrong, it would probably be my fault for not working harder or not paying
more attention to certain details. Everyone kept telling me to relax. I was
even getting pep talks from Wilykit and Wilykat, and they were just kids!
But at least they had some experience in acting, having appeared in small
time theater shows and everything."
Indeed, everyone told Lion-o to relax, but that did not stop him from
applying his firm, work ethics.
Lion-o: "I was raised to believe in the American Work Ethic. Good enough is
never good enough. It can always be better. You can always be better. Never
settled for fair. Always go the extra distance for quality. That sort of
Tygra: "It surprised me that he didn't let the fame and the stardom go to
his head. I remember he took his scripts everywhere with him, he rehearsed
lines by himself, etc. His folks did a pretty good job bringing him up."
Lion-o's first day of filming was not very easy.
Lion-o: "When I showed up for work the first day of filming to do the pilot
episode, EXODUS, I tried to find the director to see where I was suppose to
be, because I had learned from my work on MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
different people went to work on different sets. I looked for him for two
hours and I eventually wandered on to the space ship set where they were
filming the opening sequence, and everyone, except for Jaga, was naked. My
first immediate thought was that I had gone to the wrong studio and that I
was on the wrong set. The second thought was that an orgy was being filmed.
Both thoughts lasted about about five seconds each, equaling ten seconds,
because when at elevan, I fainted."
Tygra: "That nudity, I tell ya, no one saw that coming."
Cheetara: "I still can't believe I let them talk me into that."
Wilykat: "When we had to do the nudity... that was not fun."
Wilykit: "Oh my God, the nudity! Don't ever mention that to me."
Jaga: "Lion-o and I lucked out."
Panthro: "I was cool with it. It wasn't all that different from what I did
in the body building mags or at the Mr. Universe contests."
This also sparked an incident that, to this day, the cast still talks
Panthro: "After Lion-o fainted, Wilykit and Wilykat started screaming 'He's
dead! He's dead!'. After they were done screaming, I took Lion-o and I put
him in one of the suspension capsules."
Lion-o: "I woke up outside in this suspension capsule when we were about to
film the first Third Earth fight scene. The door was locked and I couldn't
get out. I started banging on the door, and eventually Snarf heard me, and
he let me out. I didn't find that too particularly funny, and I knew
Panthro was the only one who could have done that. As punishment, I made
Panthro lift every car in the lot 100 times each, and there 10 cars there
Panthro: "Boy, were my arms tired after that."
The first few days of filming went by reasonably smooth after that. When
everyone got their sneak peek at the pilot, there was much joy. Except for
Lion-o: "It didn't occur to me just how many similarities there were
between our show and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE until I saw the
pilot. And it was just MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE we had borrowed
from. We had
stolen ideas from STAR WARS, namely, Jaga as the ghostly mentor, which
reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness, coming back to
guide Luke Skywalker. After I watched the pilot with everyone, I said 'I
have just two words for us. Law and suit.' I was afraid we were going to
face law suits from 20th Century Fox and for what we did. After the pilot
aired on TV, I got a call from He-Man, who wanted me to meet him at the old
gym. I thought to myself 'Oh shit, he's gonna challenge me to a dual'. When
I came by, he just gave me a high five and said the pilot was the funniest
thing he had ever watched. I was relieved, to say the least."
Lion-o: "I felt uncomfortable yelling "HO!" all the time. I kept thinking
to myself "Thundercats HO!", can we really get away with that? Are parents
going to get mad at us? Will people get annoyed by me yelling that all the
time?Another thing I don't understand is why they made me a kid in the
first few minutes of EXODUS. Why didn't they just leave me as an adult? I
kept wondering about that because the others didn't age at all, but I did.
People write me letters asking about that, and I don't know what to tell
Panthro: "Me and Lion-o both had our own brand of humor, and we would
hours trying to out do each other with one liners for the show. The
producers took my jokes over his. I don't know why. Maybe they felt the
jokes came better out of my mouth than his."
Lion-o: "I'll never forget what I did with my first pay check. I bought all
the groceries my car could hold, then I paid off my car loan and my rent.
And I still had 1500 left to spend. I had more money than I knew what to do
Lion-o: "We made some occasional last second changes here and there. In the
episode THE TROUBLE WITH TIME, originally, I was supposed to go into the
Cave of Time and get old, not Tygra, but Jaga objected, asking what was to
stop his character from appearing and stopping me from going in there.
Tygra was convinced to do it instead. That was actually one of our
producers playing old Tygra. Another thing about that episode, was when we
were taking Tygra to the fountain of life and he said he felt foolish, I
kept wanting to say "Rest now, feel foolish later," but the director
wouldn't let me. I kept trying to work it in, and whenever I did try, he
threw beer cans at me. Some where empty, but most of them were full. I
remember when we did the episode TRAPPED. Originally, I was supposed to pry
the time capsule open with the Sword of Omens. The capsule was supposed to
be unlocked, so all I had to do was fiddle with it for a few seconds, then
open it, but someone locked the door, so when I actually tried to open, I
accidentally broke the sword. Then Snarf jumped up on the table, started
yelling in my face and banged his tail on the capsule. Eventually, the door
came open, and we used that instead. But first, Snarf had to calm down.
Wilykit and Wilykat were afraid to come out when the door opened, because
they were afraid of getting hit by Snarf's tail. Snarf didn't even notice.
We had to shoot him with tranquilizers. When we re-wrote it for Snarf to
open the capsule by banging his tail on it, Panthro had locked the capsule
on purpose, and Snarf threw another rampage. We had to shoot him again and
wait a couple of hours until he woke up. Snarf was not an easy creature to
work with, because he had a bit of an personality disorder. Sometimes, he
was just as friendly and kind as he appeared on TV, other times, he was a
Lion-o: "I remember the episode "SAFARI JOE", and I remember the part where
I threw down the sword and got shot at by Joe, a character actor who did a
wonderful job of over playing his part. I never figured out why it was I
never called the sword back to my hand after he started shooting at me. I
also thought it was some what shallow that we compared a game hunter to a
bully, but I guess the writers needed something the kids could relate to.
People complain about the violence all the time, but I think we were pretty
tame, compared to shows like G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS. We could have gone
further. By the way, in CRYSTAL CANYON, Tygra did not lose weight. He just
wore a baggier costume, in case you were wondering."
From beginning to end, there was secret about Lion-o that only two
Thundercats, Panthro and Pumyra, and two mutants, Slythe and Monkian,
ever be told.
Lion-o: "I'm Jewish. Panthro, Slythe, Monkian Pumyra were the only ones who
I ever told that. The world seems to be anti-Jews, and I didn't want anyone
to know that I was Jewish. During the body building competitions, I kept
that hidden from just about everyone because I was afraid I'd get
disqualified or something like that just because of my religious
affiliations. With the show, it was the same thing. I was afraid I'd get
fired if they knew."
Lion-o made Panthro, Slythe, and Monkian promise him that they would never
tell anyone about his being Jewish because he felt they were the only ones
he could trust. He had known Panthro for years and he had known Slythe and
Monkian for years, so they were cool with it, but he had never met Tygra,
Cheetara, or the kittens, so he wasn't too sure of how they'd handle it.
Panthro: "Lion-o was afriad of getting religious persecutions on the set. I
don't blame him. All the bullshit the jews have been through over the
Tygra: "Its sad when a person feels he has to hide his religious beliefs
for fear of persecution."
Cheetara: "He didn't have to hide it from us. I know I wouldn't have cared."
Bengali: "I'd of been cool with it."
Pumyra: "There's nothing wrong with Judaism."
Wilykit: "He could have been gay, and I wouldn't have cared." (he wasn't,
in case you were wondering)
Wilykat: "I don't know what the world's problem is with Jews."
Aside from hiding his religious beliefs, Lion-o also helped to hide the
drug addiction of his friend Tygra and the alcaholism of Cheetara.
Lion-o: "I discovered that Cheetara had become a boozer when she showed up
for work on the episode "THE MOUNTAIN". She was suppose to go with
and Tygra, but she was drunk as Hell, so we had to hide her and told the
producers that she was sick that day and couldn't make it. You wouldn't
believe where we hid her."
Cheetara: "They hid me in the janitors closet on the lot."
Cheetara and Tygra approached Lion-o with their problems a little while
after that and begged him to keep quiet because they didn't want to lose
their jobs. So Lion-o, in order to help them out, went to the producers and
concocted the plan of hiring new actors to help broaden the cast and take
some of the heat of his co-stars. Lion-o hand picked Bengali, a carpenter,
from the set and got him the job, while stage veteran Lynx-o and fashion
model Pumyra were brought in later. This helped to spark the romance
between Lion-o and Pumyra.
Lion-o: "I'd rather not talk about that."
Bengali: "I don't mind telling you, I would have gone for Pumyra if Lion-o
hadn't gotten her first."
Lion-o: "I will tell you this, most people thought I had an off screen
romance with Cheetara. How they got that idea is beyond me. I guess its
because I was usually the first one to jump to her side when she had those
sixth sense migranes."
After Bengali, Lynx-o, and Pumyra were cast, the crew went to work on
THUNDERCATS HO! THE MOVIE. It was slated for a summer release in
then a Thanksgiving release, then a Christmas release, until finally, the
film sadly went direct to video.
Pumyra: "We were all very disapointed that our film never made it into
movie theaters. We worked so hard on it, and the fans were looking forward
to it so much."
Unfortunately, Lion-o's plan only half worked. The writers still wanted to
use both Tygra and Cheetara for all they were worth.
Lion-o: "I remember filming for CATFIGHT. Originally, Bengali was supposed
to fight Tygra, not Panthro. It was a tiger match up. But Tygra showed up
to work on crack, so we got Panthro to step in and do it for him. And in
the episode where the Beserkers got the Thundrainium armor from Mumm-Ra,
Cheetara was drunk when she came to work then. I hadn't noticed it because
I didn't see her until we did the scene and even though she was acting a
little strange, I figured it was no big deal because Cheetara was supposed
to start acting a little funny when her sixth sense did its thing. She was
supposed to have big part in that one, but after we finished the scene, I
saw her outside laying a pile of her own vomit, with Tygra there trying to
clean it up. I had Tygra take Cheetara home, a risky move, but seeing as
how the fight scene in the desert between Bengali and the Beserkers took so
long to film, we managed to get away with it. I was angry at both of them.
They told me they were trying to get their acts together, and what did they
go and do? They show up to work drunk and high and make me jump through
rings to suit them. I wanted to beat the crap out of Tygra and after I was
done with him, I wanted to break Cheetara's legs, but instead I told them I
was taking them to the producers."
Tygra: "I remember that scared the Hell out of us."
Cheetara: "We could have lost our jobs."
Fortunately, Lion-o stood up for them and forced the producers to work out
a schedule where they could fit in work with going to to medical centers to
break their addictions. Cheetara managed to get over her alcaholism, but
Tygra still had drug problems. That's why he was left on Third Earth in
Tygra: "From what I'm told, I was lucky to have missed year 4."
Lion-o: "Year four was not fun. I missed Tygra and Pumyra. Tygra had been
with us from the start, and Pumyra, well, we dated for God sakes. Year four
felt arteficial, like a cheep remake of year one, with Bengali in Tygra's
place. Now don't get me wrong, Bengali's a great guy, but it just wasn't
the same. The show was not fun anymore."
Lion-o and Pumyra kept in touch for as long as they could, but after a
time, they drifted apart and went their own ways. Lion-o later met Kira,
one of the shows publicists. Lion-o and Kira started dating and they were
married in the fall of 1990.
Wilykit: "I remember these big arguments between Lion-o and the producers.
They wanted to go for a year five, but Lion-o didn't. They kept offering
him a bigger salary, but he kept saying no. The decision to keep going or
not all rested on him."
Wilykat: "It took him long enough to start enjoying his work, now he wanted
to give it up."
Lion-o: "I guess I felt it was time to move on again. I was glad to have
done the show and I was glad people out there enjoyed it, but after a
while, you feel like you have to find something new."
Lion-o eventually became a businessman, after hunting down Tygra and
getting a few tips from him on how to survive the game. Lion-o had his
friends and family attend his wedding to Kira. In March 1992, Kira became
pregnant with Lion-o's son, Leon.
Kira: "Lion-o was excited. He was really looking forward to becoming a
father. I'll never forget the look on his face when he held Leon up in his
arms for the first time. I never saw him look so happy."
Unfortunately, Lion-o would never get to know his son. On December 22,
1992, just three days away from Christmas, Lion-o was killed in a car
accident when driving home late one night from his office, where he had
been closing a deal on a potential condominium sight. He was 39.
(NEWS PAPER HEADLINE)
LION-O, 'THUNDERCATS' STAR, FOUND DEAD IN HIS CAR ON
A very nasty Tabloid writer, remembering Cheetara's alcaholism, made the
accusation that Cheetara had been the drunk driver who had killed Lion-o.
Cheetara was more than outraged and sued the Tabloid for all he was worth.
Last time she had sued about the accusations of romance with Tygra, she got
30 million. This time, she wanted 50.
Cheetara: "I'm not a gold digger, but I was outraged when they said that
about me, writint me up to bet his horrible alcaholic who had killed her
former co-star. You wouldn't have liked that kind of accusation either. I
wanted to put that little bastard writer in the poor house."
Wilykit: "I cried my eyes out when I heard."
Pumyra: "I didn't eat anything for two days, I couldn't believe it."
Panthro: "Lion-o was the best friend anyone ever had. I'll never forget
Tygra: "He probably helped save my life."
Bengali: "I stayed up for seven nights."
Cheetara: "At the funeral, everyone cried."
Kira: "I was heart broken and shattered when I they told me that Lion-o was
dead. For a brief time, I wanted to kill myself, but Leon kept me from
doing so. I knew it wouldn't have been fair to Leon or Lion-o for me to
kill myself, because Leon needed someone to raise him and take care of him.
Lion-o would not have wanted to me to kill myself. He would have wanted me
to get on with my life.
Leon: "I wish I could have gotten to know him. It hurts me that I'll never
get to know who he really was. All I know is that he was a nice guy, and
that most everyone who met him generally liked him. Its going to bother me
till the day I die."
This concludes ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHTS profiles on THE
Back to top
Home || FanStuff || Episode Guide || Character Bios || Chat || Multimedia || Forum || Links || Email
The THUNDERCATS and THUNDERCAT characters are trademarks of Telepictures Corporation and are ©1985.
Webpage ©2005-2006 by Mumm-Ra. Please ask before using material from this site.