For context, this journalist needs to elucidate the following in the first person. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the 90s iteration of American Gladiators (AG), viewing these instead of episodes of ‘Friends’ (which I still cannot stand) on VHS tapes that fellow high school friends captured whilst on holiday in the US.
To me, Malibu (Deron Michael McBee) was the epitome of confidence, matched by incredible ability and the profound knack for engaging the crowd simply with cues and mannerisms. There was a truly spectacular roster of American Gladiators, with a range of diverse athletic background and sports. Personally, having written professionally within the sport of bodybuilding, I could assert the valid hypothesis that AG was instrumental in further promoting an otherwise niche sport of bodybuilding and/or fitness to a mainstream audience.
Indeed, like many chaps around the world, as a teenager I adored the gorgeous Diamond (Erika Andersch), the stunning Gold (Tonya Knight), and alluring Ice (Lori Fetrick) – but I always looked up to Malibu as a personal hero.
For all intents and purposes Malibu was and still is the coolest American Gladiator ever. He was handsome; boasted a bodybuilder physique; moved like a skilled martial artist and had this cheeky, cheerful disposition that made him such a fan favourite. The women would swoon over him, men would be inspired by him and young kids would look up to him. The brilliance of this persona was that its owner, Deron McBee wasn’t too over-the-top nor was he retiringly conservative in how he presented himself. He’d saunter out into the arena, with the deafening cheers of the crowd echoing all around him, yet unperturbed he’d wave to his legion of fans and get ready for battle. In many ways, he was both an iconoclast and renaissance; whilst some of his contemporaries may have presented as one dimensional, Deron defied the caricatures and moulded his characterisation with clear purpose. It’s reminiscent of how the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, proactively asserted his own idiosyncrasies on the bodybuilding stage, which cemented him in the hearts and minds of the masses. Similarly, Deron’s turn as Malibu, refused to be a one note cultural touchstone of the 90s but also emerge as someone so marketable – and he succeeded.
Whilst the garish colour palate of his outfit was definitely a product of its time, reflecting the 90s sensibility Deron transcended the cliché but asserting himself with his own unique on-screen persona. Boasting a bodybuilder’s physique, handsome looks and long flowing blonde locks, he could have easily been the archetypal performer to play Thor if such a vehicle was available at the time. Intriguingly, this did transpire in 2001 where he played the Norse God alongside Larry David in ‘CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.’
Whilst his on screen American Gladiator persona was the ‘laid-back surfer dude’, Deron had hilariously admitted that he had never surfed a day in his life. Yet the resourcefulness of this true performer, showed a complete and utter versatility into the essence of his craft. Consequently, he remained one of (if not the most) popular male Gladiator on American television at the time, certainly the most memorable chap on the roster. Not resting on his laurels, the perpetually ambitious and equally talented Deron also pursued other media opportunities such as performing as a co-star on the ‘THE ADVENTURES OF CONAN’ TV Series, alongside that fellow behemoth that is Ralf Moeller.
It is therefore such a surprise to see a man of his size was so nimble on his feet, but it soon becomes apparent that he had extensive martial arts pedigree in addition to his bodybuilding and gym training. Being the late 80s and early 90s he was touted as the laidback surfer type, but on the Gladiators field he was anything but that. There as a smouldering intensity to him, which easily translated to his most explosive movements, being able to dominate his opponents with his larger physique but also outwit them with a calculating mindset and blistering speed.
In the high-risk world of this sports entertainment, Deron was certainly not immune to the pitfalls of the highly physical game and in 1989 he suffered shocking injuries in the Human Cannonball event, after he was struck in the chest by a player. This had resulted in, two broken ribs, a torn bicep, a broken thumb and concussion. Whilst horrific and potentially career changing, Deron was adamant in continuing his role on the TV series but soon transitioned into acting on a broader scale.
It is therefore no surprise then that the World Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment) came calling with the CEO Vince McMahon, pursuing this talented athlete with much enthusiasm. Whilst, Deron had the requisite goods to excel in pro-wrestling (even having a short career as ‘Kid Fury’) he politely declined a longer tenure, which would prove to be far more advantageous in the long run.
For you see, Deron has had a healthy career in entertainment starring in both television and cinema, and working with some of the biggest names in the industry. He starred as the memorable villain Motaro in ‘MORTAL KOMBAT ANNIHILATION’ (1997), and although this was critically panned by fans, most are quick to concede that Deron was easily the stand-out and should have been given more screen time. In addition, his extensive film career included (but was not limited to) starring roles in ‘WALKER, TEXAS RANGER’ (2000) with Chuck Norris, ‘VERONICA MARS’ (2004) with Kristin Bell and even going toe-to-toe with Val Kilmer in ‘BATMAN FOREVER’ (1995). One of his more recent roles had him up against the martial arts action star, Michael Jai White in BLACK DYNAMITE TEACHES THE HARD WAY (2008), where Deron actually played himself.
Now at the age of 61, Deron still boasts an impressive stature and retains that iconic lion’s mane, albeit now it is less blonde and of a darker shade. Whilst in the bygone era he resembled a pro wrestler in their prime like Triple H or even Edge, these days Deron looks more like a very built statesman and now somewhat resembles a legendary thespian like James Coburn. Gone are the surfer-quips and cheeky delivery, replaced by the more-calmer, measured voice of a worldly and polite intellectual. Even as he recounts the awful 1989 incident, Deron presents the experience with some sardonic humour, rather than expressing it with bitter hatred towards his opponent. One could opine that this level of forgiveness, stems from Deron’s principled religious approach forgoing any resentment and instead embracing a spiritual mindfulness that is at the cornerstone of redemption; that is a form of unconditional positive regard. In interviews, it is impossible not to be compelled to listen intently to Deron, as there is an eloquence and classiness in how he discusses pivotal moments in his life and how he dealt with adversity in any form. One could argue that its Deron’s level of self-awareness and ability to self-evaluate with an unfiltered and free mind, that enables him to push through any obstacle with his signature cheery grin.
Unsurprisingly, Deron has used his experience and creative abilities to create his own vehicle, an action thriller called ‘INSTRUMENTS OF JUSTICE’ – the trailer of has recently been filmed for studio investors. This has been in development for a number of years, with Deron painstakingly developing the script, recruiting the actors and engaging in all movie related construction with that same pure gusto he is known for. Needless to say, as a long-time fan who has looked up to Deron since the early 90s the prospect of seeing him headline and spearhead his own production is simply incredible.
The ever humble Deron McBee graciously sat down with this journalist to share some insights; ranging from his extensive media career, training and even discussing the prospect of Deron being ‘that-guy’ who invented the ‘too sweet’ gesture predating WCW NWO and the NJPW Bullet Club!
Firstly Deron, thank you for your time; when you look back over your impressive media resume, what would you say were the most career defining moments and why?
My career defining moments started with my first acting gig on a show called ‘MARRIED WITH CHILDREN’ then I started in 22 National Television Commercials which got me a lot of press & notoriety but the biggest career defining moment was on ‘AMERICAN GLADIATORS!’ Suddenly everyone started noticing me on the streets & asked for autographs which really blew me away!
Was it true that you had pursued weight training and martial arts to defend yourself against bullies?
Yes, I began my weight training & martial arts regimen because I was bullied in High School and was deeply insecure about my skinny physique.
How would you define your style of karate and did you ever consider stepping into tournaments?
My Martial Arts background is really a mixed bag of different styles with Boxing thrown in for good measure (laughs) As far as competition I have no desire to step in the ring & get my face rearranged by another guy (laughs) Seriously though, I have the greatest respect for those men & women who compete in the MMA or Boxing arena.
In terms of your bodybuilding, and building size and honing vascularity what were your secrets in terms of training, nutrition etc? Did you ever consider pursuing a career as a bodybuilder?
When I started working out, I never set out to compete as a bodybuilder but rather I wanted to make myself look like a Comic Book character along the lines of Tarzan or Conan both of which I’ve played in commercials.
When you were cast for American Gladiators (AG), and your character was shown to you what was your initial reaction?
When I was first cast on ‘AMERICAN GLADIATORS’ they wanted to call me ‘Domino’ & I said with a smile ‘No Way am I a Pizza Delivery Boy, call me MALIBU’ The producers howled with laughter!
No doubt there was great camaraderie between the cast and crew of AG, were there any that you built up strong friendships with and any you still keep in contact with today?
I still stay in close contact with the show’s creator Johnny Ferraro & Erika Andersch who played DIAMOND. Both are great people & great friends. I’m friendly with some of the other Gladiators but don’t speak to them much anymore.
Speaking of the series, the popularity is such that there is a retrospective on AG being released by ESPN (US), and ofcourse you feature in it – what can you tell me about this documentary?
The ESPN DOCUMENTARY will be awesome! The crew have been absolutely AMAZING. They came to my home to film me there then followed me to Church as my Christian Faith is a huge part of my Life story. They even came to Puerto Vallarta Mexico & filmed my wedding to my precious wife, Alesya. That was a magical moment. And of course they wanted background information & old photos etc. The whole experience has been a true blessing.
Given your look and presence, were there any opportunities to star alongside Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme? With your martial arts pedigree were there any overseas markets that beckoned you e.g. Hong Kong film industry?
I actually worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger on ‘BATMAN & ROBIN’, Arnold was great but many of the stars have rather MASSIVE EGOS so I’m perceived as a threat to their careers to them which of course is ridiculous. For example, I worked alongside Tommy Lee Jones for a month in ‘BATMAN FOREVER’ & when I asked for an autograph for my grandmother he totally blew me off. Later an assistant Director said the Tommy was totally envious of me & that I made him feel insecure. Again RIDICULOUS but true nevertheless.
Were there any particular movie roles you passed up on due to circumstance or personal preference?
I passed on at least 5 movie & TV projects because they wanted me to do nudity. I’ve been seen as a ‘Romantic Lead’ type of character so roles requiring nudity regularly popped up but I refuse to compromise my integrity. The Playboy Channel hounded me for months to do some shows with them & the last time they called me they said ‘Deron all you have to do is sit in a jacuzzi with 5 gorgeous naked Playboy Bunnies how can you say no to that?’ I must admit as a red-blooded man filled with Testosterone I was VERY tempted but I declined their offer.
Many fans around the world (including this journo) looked up to you, but who inspired you?
Honestly people who inspire me mostly are Biblical figures like JESUS CHRIST, PAUL, JOHN and other men of GOD. But honestly the people who truly inspire me are guys like you who are extremely talented in their Craft & pursue excellence in their personal life. I am constantly amazed by some people random acts of kindness & generosity. For instance, my friend Johnny Ferraro who I mentioned above found out that I was trying to raise $10,000 to get my Russian wife out of Russia now who became stuck there due to the War with Ukraine. After she went to visit her parents the whole country fell into chaos & airports closed & now I need to get her home. Anyways Johnny without blinking an eye offered me $2,000 to help bring Alesya home safety. Thanks to him I’m halfway to my goal of $10,000. That’s what I’m talking about but it can also be as seemingly small as someone telling you that you look nice or to have a great day. Stuff like that is what impresses me.
Given your overwhelming popularity on the show, what was the fan mail like? (You had numerous marriage proposals and the like).
YES! I’ve had marriage proposals from Men & Women and from many places across the Globe. Which always cracks me up because they really have no earthly idea if I’m a great guy or some egotistical psycho (laughs) In Truth over the years I’ve had 5 stalkers & 2 of them scared me! So there is a very dark side of fame.
Watching episodes of you as Malibu, I realised that you might have been the original guy that popularised the ‘too sweet’ finger salute before the likes of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Prince Devitt, AJ Styles etc – can you tell me about the origins of your signature gesture?
YES INDEED! I believe I was the First Ever to say the word “SWEET” as a tag line for my character. It’s been hilarious because there have been so many parodies of me on YouTube from my fans! I love it! By the way Scott Hall just passed away I believe from complications of Hip Surgery. I’ve had 2 hip replacement surgeries on the same hip so that story really hits home with me.
Speaking of which, the WWE did show a keen interest in you in the 90s can you tell me about your meeting with Vince McMahon and what made you decline a career in wrestling?
I met Vince McMahon at NAPTE Television Convention & he asked me if I wanted to be a Pro Wrestler? I was very flattered & enticed by the idea but after talking to Hulk Hogan (who I was starring in a commercial with) I decided not to. The main reason is the travel schedule for those guys is absolutely brutal! Three weeks out of the month!
Fascinatingly your creative abilities are not just limited to film, I heard that you are also an accomplished graphic artist and painter?
I love to draw and paint. I’ve been an Artist for about 25 years & have around 60 original pieces. It’s so relaxing & a lot like therapy for me. I’m hoping to start selling my lithographs soon!
You are in the process of developing and finalising a new action movie called ‘INSTRUMENTS OF JUSTICE’ can you tell us abit about that?
About 20 years ago I came up with an idea for a movie concept that was full of non stop action plus was peppered with comedy throughout the film. It was styled after the great action films of the 1990’s like ‘LETHAL WEAPON’ starring Mel Gibson & Danny Glover. The title of the movie was ‘INSTRUMENTS OF JUSTICE’.
It was about 4 buddy undercover Police Officers who had to infiltrate a drug running organization that was making a very deadly Narcotic type Drug called ‘ Twilight ‘. But because the drugs were being sent out from a Country Rock styled Music Club our hero’s had to go undercover as a Country Rock Band. The only problem was that they had no idea how to play musical instruments! So as these Cops are pretending to play music they are secretly doing huge drug busts with jaw dropping action sequences but they come to realize that even the ‘ TWILIGHT ‘ drug ring was a ruse for a much more Evil problem. The owner of the club was getting his dancers & bar maids hooked on ‘Twilight’ then using them in SNUFF Films which are movies that actually kill people in them. It’s a Rollercoaster Ride of Crazy Action & some hilarious moments where our heroes are dealing with some very serious issues in the dark underworld of drugs & death!
You once referred to AG as the beginning of Reality TV, what are your thoughts on the ongoing obsession with reality TV shows now?
Yes I do believe that The American Gladiators TV show was the beginning of what we now call Reality TV. I think there are some phenomenal shows but unfortunately there’s a great deal of ABSOLUTELY TRASHY TV shows out there. Especially the ones where a bunch of sexy men & women go to an island paradise then spend the entire hopping in & out of each others beds; and most of them have a partner.
Your religious faith is something you have admirably discussed publicly, and you are from a devout Christian family (having an active role in Christian ministry) what impact has your strong faith had in your impressive career? (Can you tell me about ‘The Power Team?’)
I’ve been in Christian Ministry for well over 20 years & have been blessed to be able to have travelled across the USA & To countries abroad where I can speak in schools during the day & share my Faith in Churches during the evenings. I’ve met some very precious people over the years. The ‘POWER TEAM & TEAM IMPACT’ are both what’s called ‘STRENGTH MINISTRIES’ because we perform feats of Strength like tearing phone books in half, popping soda cans with our gloves hands, breaking cement bricks with elbow strikes & heel kicks, break brick that are on fire which really looks Dynamic) we also blow up hot water bottles & break handcuffs. All of the feats are done as a means to get people into the venue & then we preach a solid powerful Gospel message of hope!
Given your extensive movie and television career, what advice would you give to those who aspire to enjoy the same success you have had?
As for anyone who wants to get involved in the movie or TV industry I would say to really do a GUT CHECK to see WHY you want to be an Actor. Many become actors and actresses because they are VERY insecure people & that’s definitely the WRONG reason. But if you have a passion for the Craft of Acting I would say this; Find your niche and be the absolute best you can be in that area. Think about how you want to physically prepare yourself right down to the shoes you ware! And whenever you go into a Casting Directors office come in with a bright smile & look everyone in the eyes & say hello! YOU NEVER GET A SECOND CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION. And most importantly; HAVE FUN! Don’t take yourself so bloody seriously enjoy the wonderful process & the journey.
Deron McBee, thank you for your time!
For media and movie enquiries Deron can be contacted via the following:
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deron.mcbee.9
• Instagram: @deronmcbee
• Personal Website: https://deronmcbee.wix.com/deronmcbee
• Cell Phone: +1 818-612-4304
Deron has also kindly offered counselling to those in need, and can be reached on his cell phone or you can write to him at:
10319 Pendleton Street, Riverside California
Lead image: Samuel Goldwyn Television/Sports Illistrated via YouTube