Dirk Benedict survived cancer just before becoming ''Faceman''

By: H&I Staff     Posted: January 9, 2024, 8:40AM    Tags: The A-Team, Dirk Benedict

When The A-Team premiered in 1983, screenings following the Super Bowl helped spike ratings and make it an instant hit.

As most fans know, the cast seen in the pilot slightly shifted when the original actor cast as Templeton "Faceman" Peck — Tim Dunigan — was suddenly replaced in following episodes by a more well-known actor, Dirk Benedict.

Benedict had made his name by featuring in two Seventies series, a short-lived drama called Chopper One and the sci-fi epic Battlestar Galactica.

Replacing Dunigan on The A-Team’s all-star cast, Benedict fit perfectly as the new "Face."

A critic writing an early review in the Miami Herald praised the new show, calling it the "naughty-boy Mission: Impossible" and proclaiming, "The writing is bright and the acting is crisp."

For Benedict, joining The A-Team marked the next phase in his career, where he was happy to let Mr. T and George Peppard take over the spotlight to become the show’s stars.

It gave Benedict less to worry about, as any time filming paused, he wasn’t off to do press events, but instead flew his private plane back home to Montana to go fish in the creeks where he was raised.

By 1983, Benedict had gained a new outlook on life after receiving a cancer diagnosis in 1975, when his weight had dropped from 200 to 135.

His skin began yellowing and doctors discovered a large tumor.

Instead of fearing for his life, Benedict found peace in the diagnosis.

"You’d say this guy was in a bad way," Benedict told The Alternative Press in 1983. "I was so at peace. I was living from moment to moment."

When he got the news, he told doctors he didn’t even want to know for sure if the tumor was malignant.

"I refused a biopsy and doctors won’t say you have a malignancy without a biopsy," Benedict said. "But when you’re 20 and have a tumor the size I had, if it’s not malignant, it soon will be."

Benedict continued acting, seizing each moment by taking on the role of Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica and joining casts of Broadway shows. However, he did decide to make one major change in his life, which he later attributed to clearing out the cancer in his body.

Growing up in Montana, Benedict was raised eating wild game like grouse, elk and deer, and he said even after he left Montana, he continued to prefer eating wild meats.

When he started feeling badly in 1971, he gradually cut meat out of his diet, and by the time he got his diagnosis in 1975, he had also cut out dairy.

He said that it was extremely hard on his body to shift his diet so dramatically, but worth it.

"Changing my way of eating caused terrible changes in my body," Benedict said. "I nearly died once. You have withdrawal from eating meat and dairy products. It caused a tremendous reaction that lasted for years. I had cramps, I had headaches that made me want to put my head through the wall. It was in 1975 that I really got strict. I only ate grains, certain beans and Japanese condiments. I changed myself from one kind of human being to another. I became a different person. I went back to the body I had when I was 12 years old."

Then, in 1983, after eight years of clean eating, Benedict went to the doctor’s office and a physical exam showed the tumor had disappeared. Benedict beat the cancer, and the actor is still working in TV and movies today.

You could say that paying attention to what he was eating was always a major factor in his success in life.

Back when he was starting out, he was just a young actor named Dirk Niewoehner, having breakfast with his agent.

His agent suggested that he find a stage name that would be easier to remember and stick with casting agents and fans.

Dirk had to look no further than his own breakfast plate to find a name that worked.

"We were having breakfast, and I saw eggs Benedict on the menu," Benedict told The Kansas City Star in 1983. "I not only ate them; I made it my name."

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