- Written by Nick Thomas Nick Thomas
One of the hottest actresses to emerge from the 1970s has been appearing around the country in recent years presenting her stage show, More than a Bionic Woman: An Evening with Lindsay Wagner.
“[I’ve been] sharing anecdotes and stories from behind the scenes in my career and showing clips and photos from my personal collection,” said Wagner from her California home. “So it [is] a lot of fun and, hopefully, fond memories.”
Wagner began appearing in primetime network television series in the early 1970s, with her breakout film role coming in 1973’s The Paper Chase.
But it was her Emmy award-winning role as TV’s favorite female semi-cyborg in The Bionic Woman that brought her great acclaim, although her Jaime Sommers character was only planned as a two-part guest-starring role when introduced as a love interest for Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man.
“The story ended by killing Jaime off, and the response from the audience was huge,” explained Wagner. “They were so appalled that the studio had killed off a character that had resonated so deeply with them and especially their children. Even a children’s hospital in Boston wrote a letter of protest.
“So the studio had to bring me back for another two-parter to bring Jaime back to life, and the network decided to do the spin-off series.”
Wagner retired her bionic implants after three seasons and three reunion movies to tackle dozens of TV movies throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Those roles often focused on social issues such as domestic violence, adoption, mental health, terrorism, and capital punishment.
“I have always felt that TV could be used not only to entertain, but also to highlight important issues and help people embrace their higher potential,” she explained.
But Wagner almost never got to enjoy her post-Bionic Woman success. In May 1979, almost exactly a year after the last episode aired, she was scheduled to fly on the ill-fated American Airlines Flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles that crashed after takeoff, and today remains the deadliest single-aircraft aviation disaster in the U.S.
“I took a flight to Portland instead to meet up with my sister and didn’t hear about the crash until after I had landed and called my secretary to tell her of my change of plans. Everybody thought I had been on the flight so there was a lot of relief, and of course I was shocked and saddened to hear what had happened.”
Wagner went on to become an author, acting teacher, and motivational speaker and continues to act.
She also actively promotes a holistic approach to health—a lifestyle she adopted after suffering gallbladder issues and stomach ulcers in her teens. She was able to avoid surgery after receiving counseling from a doctor and minister who shared a common philosophy to healing.
And while her famous TV character from the past relied on artificial physical strength to survive, Wagner continues to advocate the potential of one’s inner strength.
“We all have the ability to grow through our difficult circumstances in life rather than just survive them,” she says. “You have much more potential than you realize.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for more than 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks