One of the leading heartthrobs of early 1980s Hollywood, Ralph Macchio was a contemporary Sal Mineo, faring best playing New York street kids wavering between going bad or succeeding in life. He first gained stardom as the doomed Johnny Cade in the must-see teen classic, "The Outsiders" (1983) before reaching superstardom as the bullied but ultimately triumphant Daniel LaRussa in "The Karate Kid" (1984) and its two sequels. But like Michael J. Fox, he was hampered by a boyish look that belied his age, causing a career stall by the 1990s. Despite successes like "My Cousin Vinny" (1992), the former leading man-turned-supporting actor, bowed out of Hollywood, choosing to raise his family far from the spotlight. So beloved was the actor, however, that whenever Macchio did return to the screen – sometimes in cameo roles as himself on shows like "Entourage" – it was always cause for celebration, as Macchio's fan base remained devoted for well over two decades.
Born Nov. 4, 1961 in Huntington, Long Island, NY to a devoted Italian family, Macchio began his career landing NY-based TV commercials. By 1980, he was landing roles in feature films, playing the "operator" Chooch in MAD magazine's "Up the Academy." Following its release, he joined the ABC series "Eight Is Enough" (1977-81) playing Betty Buckley's nephew, Jeremy, with hoodlum tendencies who needed a good straightening out by the Bradford Family. Macchio's energy added much needed life to the mild-mannered series, resulting in the teen's face smothered across every month's issues of Tiger Beat and Teen Beat. Although the show was canceled following his 1980-81 season, Macchio's work on "Eight" helped land him the lead in the CBS Afternoon Playhouse production, "Dangerous Company" (CBS, 1982). Macchio also starred in "The Three Wishes of Billy Grier" (ABC, 1984), playing a young man who asks for help so that he can do three things before he dies.
Around this time, Macchio was cast by Francis Ford Coppola and team in the iconic teen angst film, "The Outsiders" (1983). Based on S.E. Hinton's classic "young adult" novel, the film boasted a cast packed with the up-and-coming young leads of the day, including future stars Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon and Tom Cruise. While Howell held down the lead, Macchio was his best friend, the sympathetic Johnny Cade. Strongly reminiscent of Mineo's portrayal of Plato in Nicholas Ray's 1955 classic, "Rebel Without a Cause," Macchio's Johnny was a quiet, soulful youngster with a good heart and some bad breaks. Of course, he met a suitably tragic end – but not before being redeemed. Because Macchio took his role the most seriously of the partying pack of preteen and teenage boys let lose on location in Tulsa, OK, he generally received the best critical reviews of them all for his heartbreaking portrayal.
Enjoying his post-Johnny Cade fandom among teenage girls, Macchio became a true leading man in 1984 when he landed the role of Daniel LaRusso – an east coast kid transplanted to southern California along with mom – who quickly makes all the wrong enemies at school in "The Karate Kid." Through martial arts training as taught to him by Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita, Macchio not only wins the competition at film's end, but the girl (Elisabeth Shue) as well. An unsuspected success that summer, Macchio starred in two lackluster sequels released in 1986 and 1989. His other starring roles included playing a troubled student in "Teachers" (1986), a young blues-loving urban man who offers to take a forgotten blues legend back to Mississippi in return for some songs in Walter Hill's "Crossroads" (1986), and a man abandoned by his Vietnam veteran father (John Lithgow) in "Distant Thunder" (1988).
Macchio outgrew the urban youth characterizations and watched as lead roles became few and far between – thanks in large part to his ever youthful looks. His last major showing on the big screen was as the arrested nephew who calls his sketchy cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci) for legal help in the minor comedy hit, "My Cousin Vinny" (1992). Macchio's thankless role was overshadowed by the furniture-chewing going on around him between Pesci and future (and surprisingly) Academy Award-winner, Marisa Tomei. It was two years before Macchio was again on the big screen; this time in the independent film, "Naked in New York" (1994), but it flew far under his fans’ radar.
Never one to wallow in past successes, Macchio shifted his big screen focus to the stage, making his off-Broadway debut in 1986 alongside Robert De Niro in "Cuba and His Teddy Bear," which was successful enough to make its way to Broadway. Macchio was again off-Broadway in "Only Kidding" in 1989. In 1996, he played Finch in the road company production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
Though often a "Whatever became of?" hallmark in the late 1990s and into the millennium, Macchio did make an onscreen appearance as himself on HBO's Hollywood hit, "Entourage" (2004- ) in 2005. Playing the old buddy of former teen star “Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon) – ironic, since in real-life, Macchio was friends with Kevin’s older brother, fellow "Outsider" Matt Dillon – Macchio barely let Kevin on his porch, let alone in his house. The humorous turn, something fans had not seen for some time, culminated in Dillon and Macchio starting trouble at the Playboy Mansion and nearly being thrown out by Hefner himself. He returned to the small screen in 2008 as politician Archie Rodriguez on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006- ). In both cases, fans were happy to see him back and, not suprisingly, looking as if he had not aged a day in decades.