Best known as the cool, smooth-talking Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs in the 1980s hit television series, “Miami Vice,” legendary actor Phillip Michael Thomas made a name for himself in the entertainment industry, with a career that spanned over four decades. Thirty-six years after the premiere of the iconic show, fans of it still hold it in high esteem.
Thomas was born in Columbus, Ohio, but grew up in San Bernardino, California. He is of African American, Native American, Irish, and German descent. His father, Louis Diggs, was a plant foreman at Westinghouse. Thomas’s mother was Lulu McMorris. He and his seven half brothers and sisters had the surname Thomas, which was the last name of his mother’s first husband.
As a child, he acted in his church’s theater group and, at age 15, while participating in the Pentecostal Delman Heights Four Square Gospel Church choir, became interested in ministry. He graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1967 and briefly worked as a janitor to save money for college. Thomas earned a scholarship to the predominantly black Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, where he studied religion and philosophy after high school.
After two years at Oakwood College, Thomas transferred to the University of California, Riverside. During this time, he auditioned for and won a role in the San Francisco cast of Hair, which began his acting career. Thomas ultimately quit school to pursue acting as a profession, appearing in several features during the 1970s – including the classic black musical drama Sparkle (1976). His big break came in 1984, when he landed a starring role in the popular television series Miami Vice alongside Don Johnson. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The “Miami Vice” star is a father to eleven children, including a famous daughter, Imaj Thomas, who became a country singer. At five, the young Imaj featured alongside her father in the movie “River Of Stone” and has since developed interests in other fields like visual art, humanitarian for world peace, writing and music.
By the time Thomas began playing Tubbs on Miami Vice, the Ohio-born actor was in his mid-30s and had worked on TV, film, and stage productions. He had breathtaking ambitions — he’s actually the person responsible for coming up with the acronym “EGOT” (Winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar Award, and Tony Award–essentially all of the four entertainment awards).
Thomas said he originally coined the term as a mantra mean… “Energy, Growth, Opportunity, and Talent” but acknowledged its double meaning as far back as a 1985 People profile.
Thomas released two solo albums in the ’80s, and you can hear him perform songs on the Miami Vice episodes “The Maze” and “Trust Fund Pirates.” He also composed music for a family musical in the ’90s. But Thomas’ acting career did not take off after Miami Vice went off the air.
After appearing in TV movies in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Thomas took a role in the Italian TV production Detective Extralarge (1991). Following appearances in minor films, Thomas worked on another Italian TV show (We Are Angels, 1997).
Outside of two appearances (four years apart) alongside Johnson in Nash Bridges, Thomas’, he did continue making appearances.
“I’ve been in the entertainment business professionally since 1968,” Thomas says in a 2016 Interview. “…and I’m not going to retire. So I don’t know what tomorrow brings. But it’s a continuum.”