Was John Diehl wasted in the Larry Zito role on Miami Vice? You could make a case for that. Diehl certainly would have liked more work on the show. That’s ultimately why he requested Zito be killed off. To Diehl, the Miami Vice paycheck wasn’t worth the dearth of artistic challenges.
“I didn’t have much to do,” Diehl explained to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1986. “And it was our third season, [so] I didn’t see that changing.” Ironically, the final Zito episode represented Diehl’s finest hour on the classic series.
It came in “Down for the Count (Part 1),” which aired as season 3 episode 12 in January ’87. In that gripping farewell to Zito, Diehl got to hop into the ring and showcase a few moves he picked up in his professional boxing career.
John Diehl used his real-life boxing skills in his last ‘Miami Vice’ episode
The first part of “Down for the Count” is Miami Vice at its best. It features tight pacing, menacing gangsters, a shotgun murder, and an appearance by Don King in the opening reels. (Any self-respecting noir series must have boxing tales.) Along the way, Zito (Diehl) works to get close to a rising-star boxer (Mark Breland) managed by Zito’s old friend (“Tex” Cobb).
That gets Zito into the boxing ring for a sparring session early on. Before Zito gets knocked out, Diehl put on a convincing show as a slightly over-the-hill boxer. Diehl wasn’t faking it. Around the time they were shooting “Down for the Count,” Diehl fought two professional boxing matches.
You can find Diehl’s record on the boxing site BoxRec. In December ’85, Diehl won his debut fight by TKO in the first round. Then he lost his second bout in Los Angeles after four rounds (on points). Diehl worked up his taste for the “Sweet Science” while hanging around Miami with nothing to do between shoots.
“I love it, but I don’t see myself pursuing it,” he told the Sun Sentinel in ’86. “I’m wiry — I weigh 160 pounds — and I love the training. But I’m 36 years old, which is over the hill for a boxer.” Rather than continuing fighting, Diehl moved to New York to pursue more challenging acting work.
Diehl shined in the ‘Miami Vice’ farewell to Zito
In the following years, Diehl would showcase his acting range in dozens of screen performances. His post-Miami Vice credits included recurring role on The West Wing, The Shield, and Point Pleasant. Diehl also starred in Wim Wenders’ Land of Plenty (2004).
His final turn as Zito in “Down for the Count” showed what Diehl could have done with a bigger opportunity on the show. “I had a blast making it,” Diehl told The New York Times in ’87. ”I’m in every reel. All of a sudden, after all this time, I was really working.”
But that’s network TV politics. Stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were going to dominate the majority of Vice episodes, so Diehl was wise to check out when he did. His partner Michael Talbott, who played Stan Switek, did not have the same sort of career after Miami Vice.