Steve James was born on February 19th 1952 and raised in New York City. His father was trumpet player Hubie James. His uncle was James Wall, who played Mr. Baxter on the children’s television series Captain Kangaroo. His godfather was Joe Seneca who, among many roles, played Danny Glover’s father in Silverado. Joe Seneca was instrumental in Steve becoming interested in action films as he took him to movies on 42nd Street when he was a child.
James graduated from Power Memorial Academy in 1970, then attended C.W. Post College as an Arts and Film major. Upon graduating, he became involved in stage work and TV commercials. James started his film career off as a stuntman for such New York based film productions as The Wiz, The Warriors, and The Wanderers. In The Warriors James made an onscreen appearance as a member of the Basebull Fury gang.
TV appearances were also racking up for James, with notable roles in T.J. Hooker and The Dukes of Hazzard.
James also practiced martial arts and was an expert in Fu Jow Pai, a system in Tiger Claw Kung Fu. He was also a film buff with a passion for the Three Stooges, Sergio Leone, Karloff and Lugosi, Kurosawa, Ford, Scorsese, Coppola, James Bond, and Hong Kong cinema.
“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.”
James made an appearance in 1985’s Mask:
In 1988 James played Kung Fu Joe in the blaxpotation/action movie spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka which led on to a further tv movie in 1990: Hammer, Slammer and Slade.
On December 18th 1993, James died of pancreatic cancer in his home in Burbank, California at age 41. He is survived by his wife, Christine Pan James, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Debi James. His widow is a writer and actor, his daughter a model and singer.
His last roles were in the feature film Bloodfist V: Human Target with Don “The Dragon” Wilson and the pilot for the TV series M.A.N.T.I.S.. The pilot first aired on Fox just a few weeks after his death. He was also scheduled to star as Jax Briggs in 1995’s Mortal Kombat until his death. Eulogies at Steve’s funeral service were delivered by Sidney Poitier (as his widow, Chris, was employed by Mr. Poitier), his father Hubie James, his friend John A. Gallagher and Christine Pan James. His urn resides on the mantle of his home in Burbank, California.