It’s hard to believe from his virile appearance, but Don Johnson will turn 70 in December. At an age when many people are slowing down professionally, he’s busier than ever, costarring in HBO’s new superhero drama Watchmen as well as the big-screen whodunit Knives Out (out November 27). “It’s a very rich time,” he says.
That goes for his personal life as well. He and wife Kelley Phleger celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this year. “They want their time together with their family to be sacred,” a friend tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “They live a charmed life.”
This wasn’t always the case for Don. He was born in Flat Creek, Missouri, to teenage parents — a farmer and a beautician. At 12, he was sent to reform school for stealing cars, and he got involved with drugs and alcohol at a young age. “A lot of my friends didn’t make it,” says Don. “And the ones that lived, some of them are irreparably damaged.”
Acting proved to be his creative salvation, but he struggled professionally for years before landing the role that would change his life: cop Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice. “For someone coming from Missouri with absolutely no contacts or no understanding of the business, I was very lucky,” he says.
Throughout the ’80s, Don’s personal life was turbulent. He had a son, Jesse, 36, with actress Patti D’Arbanville in 1982, and in 1989, he reunited with Melanie Griffith, to whom he’d briefly been wed in 1976. Their second marriage, which lasted until 1996, provided plenty of tabloid headlines — as well as a daughter. “It was simply a matter of two old souls connecting so that Dakota could be born,” says Don of the actress, 30, who has followed in her parents’ footsteps.
While he was playing the title role of a San Francisco cop on Nash Bridges, Don met Kelley Phleger, a teacher and socialite, at a birthday party for the city’s mayor, Willie Brown. “This statuesque brunette was clearly a woman of substance,” says Don of Kelley, now 50. “I made it my business to meet her.”
The same year they wed, their daughter, Grace, 19, was born, followed by sons Jasper, 17, and Deacon, 13. Domestic bliss finally inspired Don to get sober. “I’d been out for a weekend’s foray into the world of hanging out with my buddies and running wild,” he recalls. “I walked in and there was this wonderful little scene of Madonna and child at the breakfast table. And that’s when it hit me.”
Don maintains a close relationship with Jesse and Dakota, but “he’s trying to make up for lost time with them,” says the friend. “He’s a doting, involved dad with the younger three. And nothing makes him happier than when his whole brood is together.”
His most important job these days is to be a good role model. “I do what I can to make sure young people understand that drugs can destroy their lives,” he says. “I’m the perfect example of what people can accomplish when they have regained a sane body and spirit.”
After his long, tough road to serenity, “I don’t have any vices,” Don says with a grin. “Except my children.”
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