Tall (6 foot) in the saddle, brawny, ruggedly handsome, and very much oriented towards outdoor life, actor Alex Cord became best known in Hollywood for his 60s and 70s work in action adventure. Born Alexander Viespi in Long Island, New York in 1933, he was riding horses from the age of 2. Stricken with polio at the age of 12, he was confined to a hospital and iron lung for a long period of time before he overcame the illness after being sent to a Wyoming ranch for therapy. He soon regained his dream and determination of becoming a jockey or professional horseman.
A high school dropout at the age of sixteen, he was too tall to become a jockey so he joined the rodeo circuit and earned a living riding bulls and bareback horses. During another extended hospital stay, this time after suffering serious injuries after being thrown by a bull at a rodeo in New York City's Madison Square Garden, he contemplated again the direction of his life and decided to finish his high school education by way of night school. A voracious reader during his long convalescence, he later studied and received his degree in literature at New York University.
Prodded by an interest in acting, Alex received dramatic training at the Actors Studio and began his professional career in summer stock (The Compass Players in St. Louis, Missouri) and at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut where he played "Laertes" in a production of "Hamlet". A British producer saw his promise and invited him to London where he co-starred in four plays ("Play With a Tiger", "The Rose Tattoo", "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Umbrella"). He was nominated for the "Best Actor Award" by the London Critics' Circle for the first-mentioned play.
The strapping, light-haired, good-looker eventually sought a Hollywood "in" and found one via his equestrian prowess in the early 60s. Steady work came to him on such established western TV series as Laramie (1959) and Branded (1965) and that extended itself into roles on crime action series (Route 66 (1960) and Naked City (1958)). Gaining a foothold in feature films within a relatively short time, Alex starred or co-starred in more than 30 movies, a number of them opposite Hollywood's loveliest of lovelies. He peaked at the very beginning as a dope addict in Synanon (1965) with Stella Stevens, as a cowboy in the remake of John Wayne's Stagecoach (1966) with Ann-Margret, as a jet-setting hitman in Stiletto (1969) with Britt Ekland and as a cryogenic test case trapped in suspended animation for more than a century by which he awakes more than a century in the future in Genesis II (1973). Co-starring with Kirk Douglas in the mafia drama The Brotherhood (1968), he wound up marrying beautiful actress Joanna Pettet that same year. The couple had one child, then divorced in 1976.
When his American filmload sharply declining in the late 60s and 70s, he turned to action adventure overseas with the "spaghetti western" Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire (1968) [A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die] and the British war drama The Last Grenade (1970) with Stanley Baker and Richard Attenborough. Around that time as well, he played the murderer opposite Sam Jaffe's old man in Edgar Allan Poe's dramatic short, The Tell-Tale Heart (1971).
It was TV, however, that provided more career stability for Alex, appearing in more than 300 shows, among them Hotel (1983), Fantasy Island (1977), Simon & Simon (1981), Jake and the Fatman (1987), Mission: Impossible (1966), Walker, Texas Ranger (1993) and Murder, She Wrote (1984). He also situated himself in a number of series, notably Airwolf (1984), in which he co-starred with Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine as the mysterious white-suited, eye-patched, cane-using "Michael Archangel".
Later interest in Alex was drawn from his title role in Grayeagle (1977), a viable remake of the John Wayne film, The Searchers (1956), in which he played the Indian kidnapper of Ben Johnson's daughter. Lana Wood, sister of star Natalie Wood (who appeared in the original), also co-starred in this film. Alex can still be seen from time to time in lowbudget film entries and a TV episode or two, but other interests have now taken up his time.
Outside of the entertainment field, his ultimate love for horses extended itself into work for numerous charities and benefits. He was a regular competitor in the Ben Johnson Pro-Celebrity Rodeos that raised money for children's charities, and he is one of the founders of the Chukkers for Charity Celebrity Polo Team which has raised more than $3 million for worthy causes. He also chairs "Ahead with Horses", an organization that provides therapeutic riding programs for the physically and emotionally challenged. Alex and his second wife, Susannah, are both actively involved on their horse ranch in north Texas where she is a dressage trainer and he ropes and rides cutters. Alex also turned to writing, thus far publishing two novels: "Sandsong" and "A Feather in the Rain". A third book, "Harbinger", was never printed. He has written and sold three screenplays, as well. Of his two children, daughter Toni Aluisa and son Damien Zachary Cord, his son (by Ms. Joanna Pettet) died tragically in 1995 of a heroin overdose at the age of 26. Alex, more recently, became a grandfather of twins, a boy and a girl.