Since The Dukes of Hazzard left our TV screens in 1985, Tom Wopat has continued to see a fair amount of success in Hollywood. He appeared frequently in the ’90s sitcom Cybill, for instance, and starred as Gil Tatum in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Wopat even turned his hand to voice acting in 2010, with a small role in animated series Phineas and Ferb. In August 2017, though, some very serious charges were brought against the Luke Duke star. And it remains to be seen whether his career will survive in their wake.
Before Wopat became an actor, though, his great passion was music. He studied the subject at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in fact, before dropping out to try and make it with a rock band. And his pursuit of musical stardom even led him to the Houston Grand Opera. It turned him down, however, so Wopat headed instead for Broadway in order to pursue a career on the stage.
And, gradually, Wopat started getting work in musicals. He made his Broadway debut in I Love My Wife in 1978, following that up with parts in productions of Oklahoma, City of Angels and Guys and Dolls. He also did occasional TV commercials and even had a small role in the soap opera One Life to Live. But his real big break came in 1979, with The Dukes of Hazzard.
Indeed, after Wopat showed up for his Dukes of Hazzard audition, he got the part of Luke Duke almost immediately. His character was one of two cousins who got into shenanigans in the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, usually evading Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane along the way.
Luke was the older and more sensible Duke cousin to Bo as well as the one who usually came up with the pair’s schemes. Most notably, he was also the first character on the show to perform the famous “hood slide” across the family’s car, the General Lee. And although that slide was actually a complete accident on Wopat’s part – not to mention one in which he injured himself in the process – it nevertheless became iconic.
The show, too, became a big hit – something for which Wopat hadn’t been prepared. “One thing I can assure you nobody knew is [that] Dukes would be such a hit and run for so many seasons,” Wopat told the Delaware County Daily Times in 2016. “We looked at it as a mild entertainment program that might get a following from guys who liked souped-up cars. It was a surprise when we became so popular. I always figured I’d have some career in musical theater and maybe build a reputation from that.”
Once The Dukes of Hazzard came to an end in 1985, however, Wopat went back to his first love: music. He subsequently recorded eight albums, most of which featured a combination of country music and rock. Meanwhile, a spell in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway even saw him receive a 1999 Tony Award nomination.
“The career I expected came after Dukes, which in a way gave me the luxury to do a lot of good work,” Wopat added by way of explanation to the Daily Times. “Considering I was scared to death that first day on the Dukes set, all has turned out all right.” And for a while it seemed it had, as Wopat entered the new millennium as a well-respected actor and musician.
Furthermore, during his decades in the spotlight, Wopat never really made headlines for anything other than his work. That all changed in August 2017, however. That month, he was suddenly and unexpectedly arrested. And the story behind his apprehension was a rather shocking one.
Specifically, Wopat had been accused of inappropriately touching a woman during work on a production of 42nd Street. Then, when police came to arrest him following that allegation, they searched his car and found two bags of what was assumed to be cocaine. As a result, Wopat was apprehended on a charge of indecent assault and battery – a felony – and one of drug possession.
According to The Boston Globe, Wopat’s accuser had claimed that he had “grabbed her buttocks.” Not only that, but according to the report other women had also made complaints about sexual harassment from Wopat. The newspaper also stated that the actor had turned up drunk to a 42nd Street rehearsal.
The day after his arrest, however, came the arraignment, during which Wopat chose to plead not guilty. He was subsequently released on bail. But public opinion of Wopat may have been swayed by a TMZ report featuring information that, if true, was damning. Allegedly, two further incidents had taken place during 42nd Street rehearsals. These both involved the star touching women while uninvited to do so.
According to TMZ, though, Wopat had claimed to law enforcement that he had not behaved in an inappropriate manner. Instead, the actor had said, he had only “lightly touched the hip” of a woman he was working with and told her, “I like the way you work.” The cocaine, meanwhile, was all for his own use, according to a court report; he bought the drug “in large quantities and use[d] it over time.”
Then on August 8, Wopat and his spokespeople released a statement addressing the charges that had been brought against him. In it, the star said that he expressed his “deepest regrets to friends, family and his many loyal fans.” Nevertheless, he still insisted that he was innocent of sexual assault. “Mr. Wopat urges everyone to keep in mind that these are allegations,” the New York Daily News quoted Wopat’s representative as responding.
And his statement went on to say, “Tom has faith that the truth will be revealed and his good name will be restored.” The cocaine charge was addressed, too, with mention of Wopat “taking personal time to address his ongoing struggle with substance abuse.” It added, “Tom definitely understands that sobriety is the sole course for a successful future and will take immediate steps to achieve it.”
Whatever the outcome of Wopat’s brush with the law, though, one thing was certain. That is, he would no longer be appearing in the production of 42nd Street. As a result, he was replaced in his role by Rich Allegretto, and all mention of the show disappeared from his Twitter page.
Then at the end of September 2017, yet more allegations came to light – and these ones involved an underage girl. According to TMZ, Wopat had reportedly jabbed a 16-year-old in the stomach and told her, “I’m a creepy old man, you’re really talented and really cute.” He was later called out on this by another member of the 42nd Street crew, however. In response, the actor allegedly replied, “Don’t worry because my wife is 17 years younger than me, so I’m good.”
The New York Daily News subsequently asked Wopat’s representatives to give a statement on these new allegations; they chose not to comment, however. Then in the following days, two of Wopat’s pre-booked musical concerts, scheduled for September and December 2017, were quietly canceled. And the Dukes of Hazzard star subsequently found himself facing yet more charges. This time, he would be indicted for “indecent assault and battery on a person over 14,” according to the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office.
But Wopat is far from the only celebrity who has had sexual assault allegations made against him in recent years. Only days after the new claims against Wopat had gone public, in fact, an even bigger scandal rocked Hollywood. In October 2017 it emerged that film producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment against multiple women, some of whom were famous actresses. Weinstein was fired from his company amid the chaos, although he hasn’t as yet been charged with anything by police.
And it remains to be seen if Wopat’s reputation can survive his own scandal. After all, accusations of inappropriate behavior with minors can often lead to dramatic downfalls and the complete loss of careers. However, it is important to note that Wopat hasn’t defended himself against the latest charges brought against him yet – his court date is set for October 23, 2017. What will happen from there, however, is anyone’s guess.