DET. JOHN KELLY (RETIRED)

Played by David Caruso: John's father, John Kelly Sr., was a heavily decorated detective back in the days when the Irish still ran the department, but he was killed in the line of duty when John Jr. was only 11. Kelly spent much of the rest of his life trying to meet the approval of his late father, joining the force and holding himself to an almost impossibly high standard. Unfortunately, while John's tightly-wound nature made him a great detective, it also distanced himself from the people he loved, including his ex-wife Laura, who divorced him because he didn't give her enough space. Shortly after the divorce, John got involved with Officer Janice Licalsi, but his efforts to clean up after a murder she committed eventually led to him getting drummed off the force. When last mentioned, John was making a living as a professional bodyguard and security expert.


David Caruso

Has any actor ever made such a quick impression on television viewers, only to disappear almost as quickly? While David Caruso didn't quite come out of nowhere to play the role of John Kelly, it was pretty close.

Born in 1956 in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York, Caruso grew up idolizing old-style movie stars like Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, mainly because they were redheads like himself. He was so moved by their works -- and so frustrated by life in New York -- that he set out for Hollywood in 1978, where he discovered that pale, skinny redheads with thick outer borough accents weren't exactly a hot commodity.

He would work fairly steadily for a decade, but almost exclusively as either cops (most impressively in "Mad Dog and Glory") or thugs. He had a small recurring role as an Irish gang leader on "NYPD Blue" creator Steven Bochco's "Hill Street Blues," but it was so minor that Bochco had to be reminded of it when Caruso auditioned for the role of John Kelly.

The part had been intended for Jimmy Smits -- the character was called Flinn until Smits turned it down -- but was little more than a sketch until Caruso walked in and wowed Bochco and co-creator David Milch. They were impressed by his passion, as well as his unconventional look, and gave him the biggest break of his career.

Unfortunately for all involved, the fire that made Caruso's portrayal of John Kelly so inspired made Caruso a tremendous pain for anyone on the show to work with. Milch loved Caruso's work, but hated working with him, and would later devote several chapters of his book "True Blue" to detailing Caruso's on-set tantrums. (In the most memorable one, he allegedly kicked a trashcan at an unsuspecting Dennis Franz's head during a scene.)

Still, he was good enough that Bochco and Milch wanted to keep working with him, but Caruso's one season of stardom had swelled his head a bit much. (He even admits that now.) He asked for a major-league raise in pay for the second season, asking for $100,000 an episode (as opposed to the $20,000 per episode he was paid in the first season). In addition, he made two seemingly contradictory demands: he wanted more emphasis on Kelly and less on Sipowicz (Franz had been getting the better material towards the end of the season), but also wanted more time off to work on movies. A compromise couldn't be reached, so finally Bochco decided to continue the show without Caruso, who had to agree to appear in season two's first four episodes in order to be released from his contract to do movies.

His decision was not a particularly wise one. His first film as a leading man, "Kiss of Death," received good reviews for his performance, but did lousy at the box office. His second film, "Jade," didn't even get the good reviews. Add that to his reportedly difficult behavior, and he quickly found the well of leading roles dry. He was offered a role on a new legal drama in development for CBS, but had to plead with Steven Bochco to let him out of the agreement he signed when he quit Blue which said he couldn't work in television until his original contract ran out. That show, Michael Hayes, was canceled by CBS after only one season.

On the plus side for Caruso, his mostly humble behavior on and off the set of the show went a long way towards rehabilitating his image within the industry -- and while Bochco says he'll never work with Caruso again, Milch says he's now open to the possibility.

Not that Caruso has much spare time these days, since he's the star of CBS' popular spin-off "CSI: Miami."


Back to the NYPD Blue Homepage