Sonny Landham carved out a tough-guy reputation in a series of big-screen roles, from roughing up Sylvester Stallone to getting tossed out a window by Carl Weathers. He pulls no punches in his newest role: Libertarian challenger to a man known for political toughness, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Now 67 and living in northeastern Kentucky, the man who played Billy Bear in "48 Hours" and was killed by an alien in "Predator" admits his action-movie days are behind him. "I think I'm having wild action when I take two aspirin with my hot chocolate at night," he quipped.
The actor known for his powerful physique, booming voice and his American Indian heritage says he's serious about his longshot bid, because too many politicians are indifferent to voters' problems.
Landham refers to McConnell, a four-term Republican, as "Boss Hogg" after the corrupt politician from "The Dukes of Hazzard" TV show. He bluntly called Democratic candidate and millionaire businessman Bruce Lunsford an "elitist."
Even President Bush is a target: "He took us into a war on lies," Landham said, claiming the actual intent was "to put 'Big Oil' back into Iraq."
To qualify for the November ballot, Landham must collect at least 5,000 valid petition signatures by Aug. 12. State Libertarian Party Chairman Ken Moellman said the petition drive began recently and he believes Landham will make it.
But the bid includes some campaign baggage that seems scripted for Hollywood, instead of socially conservative Kentucky. Early in his acting career in the 1970s, Landham bared it all in adult films.
Asked whether that could hurt him politically, Landham replied, "What can I do? That was a part of my life you cannot call back."
But he does express regrets.
"If I was going to do it now — knowing that I'm going to have four children, knowing that I was going to run for office — no, I wouldn't make that choice," he said. "But at the time I made the choice of getting a paycheck, staying alive for your big break."
Landham also served more than 2 1/2 years in federal prison after being convicted of making threatening and obscene phone calls to his ex-wife. The conviction was thrown out by a federal appeals court that found he committed no crime.
Libertarians, with their "live and let live" philosophy, look past his history.
"We look at the character of the man today, not what he did 30 years ago," Moellman said, noting the actor "asked his Maker for forgiveness, and that's all you can ask a man to do."
He said Landham lives "a better lifestyle" today, residing in Ashland with his fifth wife and three of his children.
Minimal impact on the race
The cast of 1987's "Predator" featured two future state governors: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura. But the prospects of winning office seem far more remote for Landham.
Political scientist Michael Baranowski, of Northern Kentucky University, predicted minimal impact on the Senate race, though Landham could take some votes from McConnell.
"I'm not sure which is more of a hurdle for Landham, being a former porn actor or being a Libertarian Party candidate," he said. "But if the race between McConnell and Lunsford is tight enough, the votes Landham pulls from McConnell might be critical."
McConnell campaign adviser Scott Jennings said Landham won't push the Republican incumbent off his message of how he has "delivered for the commonwealth time and again."
This isn't the first dabbling in politics for Landham, who struggled to get odd jobs after being released from prison. Now he still dabbles in acting, but Social Security checks and an acting pension are his main income.
He flirted with running for governor as a Republican in 2003, left the GOP and promised an independent run. He ultimately stayed out and backed Republican Ernie Fletcher, who won.
Landham is as blunt on issues as he is skewering rivals. He equates abortion with murder. He supports scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement. As for political correctness, he said, "PC is BS. Say what you mean, mean what you say."
Moellman said such unscripted frankness will grab voter attention.
"Sonny is very upfront," he said. "You ask Sonny a question, he'll tell you the answer. He isn't going to pull any punches, which is why I know this race is going to be a lot of fun."