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In the Heat of the Night Cast: Then vs. Now

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The late ’80s show, “In the Heat of the Night,” left a lasting impression thanks to its fantastic cast. Here’s everything you need to know about the “In the Heat of the Night” cast. 

With a stellar cast, a theme song composed by the great Quincy Jones, and a bestselling novel and film of the same name, “In the Heat of the Night” was set up for success. 

In the Heat of the Night Series

The TV crime/drama was a hugely iconic late 80s and 90s series. “In the Heat of the Night” is said to have preceded the creation of major crime series such as “Law and Order” and “NCIS.” 

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In the Heat of the Night Cast
In the Heat of the Night Cast. (Source: Instagram)

It was released on March 6, 1988, and ended on May 16, 1995. The series loosely revolved around the 1965 novel and 1967 film and was directed by Norman Jewison.

Every week for seven years, we returned to our favorite small-town police department, where they tackled crime but also challenging and vital issues like racism and domestic violence. The show was highly applauded for speaking on controversial topics that most people avoided then. 

The hit show won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Drama Series for two years, in 1992 and 1993. The film also bagged five Oscars and seven nominations. 

In the Heat of the Night Cast and Their Roles

For 142 episodes, dozens of actors visited this small Southern town show. Some actors played their roles for years, while others were special guests for just an episode or two. Here’s a quick update on some of your favorite characters

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Carroll O’Connor (Chief William O. ‘Bill’ Gillespie)

Carroll starred in the lead role of William O. “Bill” Gillespie, a tough but honorable small city police chief. He was a revered character and was loved by many fans. He became an executive producer on the show and story editor and crafted the show to be more in line with the lives of the people of Sparta and the social issues they grappled with in the wake of the Civil Rights movement. 

Carroll O’Connor
Carroll O’Connor, Who Played Chief William O. ‘Bill’ Gillespie. (Source: Facebook)

After the show ended in 1995, Carroll appeared in a few series and films and became a vocal anti-drug advocate after his son Hugh’s death. The actor died of a heart attack in 2001 at 76.

Geoffrey Thorne (Sergeant Wilson Sweet)

Thorne played Sgt. Wilson Sweet on “In the Heat of the Night” from 1988 until 1993. After exiting the program, he appeared in movies like “Road Ends” and “City of Angels.”

Thorne has had a very successful career being the brain behind some of Hollywood’s biggest hits. He co-authored “Star Trek: Titan” and wrote for the TV hit series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Leverage,” and “Power Book II: Ghost.”

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Thorne is also the brains behind the global hit animation adventure series “Ben 10.” He has also written several episodes of Marvel’s “Spider-Man” and “Avengers” series, working with Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo. Besides writing, Thorne has also co-created an audio drama from Pendant Productions titled “Phantom Canyon.” 

In 2008, he co-founded “Genre19” after partnering with artist Todd Harris.

Howard Rollins (Captain Virgil Tibbs)

Rollins played the role of Detective/Chief of Detectives/Captain Virgil Tibbs in the show. Unlike the movie, where he was just a visitor passing through, in the series, Virgil is rewritten as a Sparta native who later moves north and becomes a police detective in Philadelphia, PA. He played his role for five seasons before departing to continue filmmaking full-time. 

Howard Rollins
Howard Rollins, Who Played Captain Virgil Tibbs. (Source: Facebook)

After exiting the show, Rollins starred in a few movies before meeting his untimely death in 1996 at 46. Based on reports, Rollins died of a bacterial infection after suffering from complications of Lymphoma, and the actor had learned he had cancer a few weeks before his demise. Other reports indicated that Rollins, who died at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, was HIV- positive.

Alan Autry (Captain “Bubba” Skinner)

Autry played Captain “Bubba” Skinner, an intimidating and physically powerful but good cop. After the series ended, Alan Autry and his wife, Kimberlee Autry, launched a film production company called “Dirt Road Productions.” 

He also ventured into politics and was elected mayor of Fresno, California, in 2000, where he served for two terms. He is also a passionate supporter of the anti-gay ban.

From 2008 to 2010, the actor hosted a radio show in Fresno but eventually decided to focus on his production company. His most recent acting appearance was in 2022 in the crime series “Tulsa King.” 

Anne-Marie Johnson (Althea Tibbs)

Johnson was known for playing Althea Tibbs, the counselor and Virgil’s wife. She played her role for six seasons and left the program at the end of season six to take another part on Fox’s sketch comedy series, “In Living Color.”

Anne-Marie Johnson
Anne-Marie Johnson, Who Played Althea Tibbs. (Source: Facebook)

Since then, Johnson has built a very successful acting career, including appearing in mainstream TV dramas “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Days of Our Lives,” “That’s So Raven” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

David Hart (Parker Williams) 

Hart played kind-hearted cop Parker Williams in the TV drama who genuinely loved the people of Sparta. He was the only cast member who never missed an episode during the entire series run.

After the program ended, Hart continued his acting career and appeared in several movies and series. He is married to producer Anne Tabor, known for the sci-fi series “Twilight Zone” and the crime/drama series “Damages.” Hart and Tabor have been married since 1998.

Hugh O’Connor (Lonnie Jamison)

Hugh played Lonnie Jamison in the series. His character started as a patrolman but ended the show as a lieutenant and acting Chief of Detectives in Sparta. Carroll O’Connor and his wife, Nancy, adopted him as a baby. From 16, he struggled with drug addiction and went through three different drug rehabilitation programs. Sadly, his addiction struggles continued, and in 1995, Hugh died by suicide. 

“In the Heat of the Night,” along with its fantastic cast, will be etched in Hollywood fans’ hearts and fondly remembered as a one-of-a-kind series for decades to come.

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