American actor, stuntman and martial artist, Steve James was born on February 19, 1952 and unfortunately died at 41 of pancreatic cancer on December 18, 1993. He was often cast in movies as the sidekick, but he was an excellent actor and martial artist and his fighting and acting abilities were often better than the Stars. He can be seen the American Ninja series, as well as in many other action films including The Delta Force (1986) The Exterminator (1980) and The King of Kung Fu (1978). James played Kung Fu Joe in the 1988 action comedy spoof film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and its 1990 television pilot spinoff Hammer, Slammer, & Slade.
Steve James was born and raised in New York City. Both his father and his uncle were performers. His father was trumpet player Hubie James. and his uncle was James Wall, who played Mr. Baxter on the children’s television series Captain Kangaroo. His godfather was an American film and television actor in the 70s, 80, and 90’s named Joe Seneca. Joe played Danny Glover’s father in Silverado and it was Joe who took Steve to movies on 42nd Street when he was a child and it was watching those movies that piqued Steve’s interest in martial arts and acting. Hi wife Christine Pan James says of Steve,
He would come home and recreate the entire movie, including every actor’s lines word-for-word. He had a photographic memory and his happiness came from films.
Of himself, Steve said:
I don’t like getting beat up much in films, but Jackie [Chan] could beat me up anytime. My first influence was Bruce Lee, and then I saw Jackie afterwards, and it was entirely different. When people ask me who I think is the best action star, I don’t say Stallone, I don’t say Schwarzenegger, I say Jackie. He’s my influence, I learn from him, that’s why I’m here.
Having fallen in love with with theater in high school, Steve James attended C.W. Post College as an Arts and Film major. After graduating, he became involved in stage work and television commercials. He began his career in film as a stuntman, working in New York productions such as Ghostbusters, The Wiz, The Warriors, and The Wanderers. He played his first major role as Robert Ginty’s sidekick, Michael Jefferson in the major film The Exterminator. He play sidekick roles to Michael Dudikoff in the American Ninja Series of action films, to David Carradine in Behind Enemy Lines, and to Chuck Norris in The Delta Force. His last 2 films were the pilot for the TV series M.A.N.T.I.S. which aired on the Fox network just a few weeks after his death. Bloodfist V: Human Target with Don “The Dragon” Wilson also premiered after Steve’s death.
Steve James practiced Fu Jow Pai or tiger claw kung fu and was an expert martial artist.